A fitness pro weighs in on how long you actually need to hold a plank to score its key benefits.
It’s the golden age of plank challenges, folks. TikTokers are flowing through plank variations synced with the beat and choreography of the 2000s bop “Cupid Shuffle.” The Beckhams are combining high planks with a Whac-A-Mole-style game. And in fitness classes and gym settings, some exercisers are holding their planks for as long as five minutes.
But is it really necessary to hold a plank for the length of a full Harry Styles song? Here, an expert breaks down how long to hold a plank to score all of the exercise’s benefits and shares common form mistakes that could make the move less effective.
What Is a Plank?
Reminder: A plank is a bodyweight, isometric exercise, meaning your muscles are contracting but not actively in motion. The move can either be performed on your palms (aka a high plank) or your elbows (aka a forearm plank), the latter of which is more difficult since your upper-body muscles won’t be as involved as in the former, says Denise Chakoian, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the owner of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree in Providence, Rhode Island. In both variations, your legs will be extended behind you, and your body will form a straight line from your head to your heels.
By holding this plank position, you’ll put your core’s strength, stability, and endurance to the test, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. ICYDK, your core consists of a group of muscles that work together to protect and stabilize your spine and keep you injury-free. A strong core helps you keep a more upright and erect posture, whether you’re going for a jog, standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting at your desk. And without enough core strength and stability to support your spine, you’ll likely struggle to complete any strength-training exercise with proper form and may end up compensating with other muscles, which can lead to injury, as Shape previously reported.
Exactly How Long to Hold a Plank
While there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for how long to hold a plank, generally, you’ll want to aim to perform the exercise for one minute straight with proper form, says Chakoian.
By holding your plank for 60 seconds, you’ll challenge and improve your core’s muscular endurance — your body’s ability to work for an extended period of time — particularly that of the transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscle that provides stability and prevents hyperextension and overflexion of the spine), she explains. “The longer you hold the plank, the deeper you’re actually getting into the core,” says Chakoian. “You’re still working the core with a 20-second hold, but you’re not [engaging] the deep fibers [as much].”
And core endurance shouldn’t be neglected: Maintaining core endurance is necessary for preventing injury and performing well in sports, research shows. For example, long-distance running can lead to fatigue in your core muscles, as they’ll need to keep your torso upright and stable for a prolonged period of time. If you’re short on core endurance, your running kinematics (read: how your body is moving) may suffer, and the load placed on your lower extremities will increase, according to a study published in the journal PLoS One. Improving your core endurance, however, can help improve your running economy (the energy required to maintain a constant speed) and thus boost your performance, according to the study. Plus, core endurance may help improve your ability to lift heavy in the gym and in your everyday life; core fatigue hampers stability within the muscle group, which consequently diminishes your ability to create force, research suggests.
That said, you shouldn’t force yourself to hit that 60-second goal if you’re a newbie. Oftentimes, folks who attempt a minute-long plank — but haven’t yet built up core strength and endurance — will end up disengaging their core and dropping their hips halfway through the exercise, causing the lower back to arch (hello, discomfort and potential injury), says Chakoian. At that point, “the plank is no longer beneficial for your body,” she adds. “So the biggest thing that you need to work on [first] is the control of the hips and the core.” (P.S. here’s how to properly engage your core while working out.)
Translation: Don’t stress if you can’t plank for a minute straight right off the bat. Instead, aim to do the exercise for just 10 seconds when you’re first starting out on your plank journey, suggests Chakoian. Once you can hold the plank for 10 seconds with flawless form, practice holding it for 20 seconds. After you hit that target without breaking a sweat, continue adding on 10 seconds to your plank time until you can hold the move for a full minute, she says.
Once you hit the 60-second mark, don’t feel the need to continue increasing the time you spend in a plank. Generally speaking, Chakoian doesn’t encourage her clients to hold their planks past two minutes. “Personally, I don’t think there’s any further benefit from holding [a plank] for more than two minutes,” she explains. “I don’t think the form is quite as spot-on after two minutes, even if you are really good at it.”
How to Do a Plank with Proper Form
Whether you’re aiming to hold a plank for 10 seconds or a full minute, remember to keep your back as flat as a tabletop, maintain a straight line from your head to your heels, and hold your neck in a neutral position by gazing toward the floor slightly in front of you, says Chakoian. It’s also important to keep your arms in the shape of an “L” if you’re opting for a forearm plank: Your shoulders are stacked with your elbows, your forearms are extended straight forward, and your hands are flat on the floor or in gentle fists, says Chakoian. Bring your hands together in the center, and your upper body will take on more of the work, she explains. Plus, “if the shoulder is behind the elbow, that means you’re using your shoulders to hold yourself up versus your core,” she adds. TL;DR: You won’t be training your core as much as you were hoping for while holding your plank.
If you notice your hips starting to drop, take it as a sign to end your plank right then and there. “When people feel the hips drop, they [tend to] lift the glutes up and bend their knees because their lower back is starting to fire as opposed to the core,” says Chakoian. In other words, you won’t be getting any of the endurance-building benefits the plank has to offer.
The bottom line? Holding your plank for a minute is pointless if your form is subpar, so don’t be ashamed to cut down your plank time and focus on polishing up your technique. Trust, you’ll get much more bang for your buck.