Who doesn’t know and love a good plank (remember middle school gym class)? A plank is a well-known bodyweight exercise that builds deep abdominals and tests muscle control including breathing. According to Denver trainer and coach Tess Yancey, throughout the plank exercise, you should be feeling your abdominals, shoulders, triceps, quads and glutes firing to keep you in proper form. So, let’s learn how to do a plank with proper form so you can get the toned midsection everyone wants AND safely protect your back from any injuries in the future.
- Plant your hands directly under your shoulders (slightly wider than shoulder width) in push-up position
- Push your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body. Your legs should be working, too — be careful not to lock or hyperextend your knees.
- Focus your neck and spine in one line by looking at a spot on the floor about 12 inches beyond your hands. Your head should be in line with your back in a neutral position.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds to start. The more comfortable you get with the move, you can hold your plank for as long as possible without compromising your form or breath.
The forearm plank is slightly easier than holding your body up with just your hands and gives relief to your wrists. To do this variation, place forearms on the floor with elbows aligned below shoulders and arms parallel to your body at about shoulder width. Place them flat on the floor with hands spread as wide as possible for stability. You can also clasp your hands together.
Common Planking Mistakes
Let’s go over some of the most common planking mistakes so you know what to feel and look for when you’re performing the exercises.
Collapsing your lower back
Instead of compromising your lower back by dipping your butt, focus on engaging your core by imagining your belly button pulling in toward your spine. This will help keep your torso and back flat and safe.
If you want to get super technical, have a friend gently place a broomstick or yardstick on your back. The top of the stick should make contact with your head, and the bottom of the stick should rest between your buttocks with even contact right between your shoulders indicating you are in proper alignment.
Reaching your butt to the sky
Planks are not a downward dog! To really feel your abs working the way they should in this position, keep your back flat to feel them engage from the top of your midsection to the bottom (directly below where your belt would be).
Letting your head drop
While the focus may be on keeping your hips, butt, and back in the proper position, form isn’t just about your core and lower body in this move.
Your neck and head are like an extension of your back. So remember to maintain a neutral position, think of a poll going from the crown of your head to your heels. Your eye should look about 12 inches in front of your hands.
Forgetting to breathe
It’s natural to hold your breath when you’re in a difficult position. But not breathing can cause dizziness and nausea, which are unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst.
Focusing too much on the stopwatch
Quality wins over quantity every time. When your form begins to fail, it’s time to call it! If your back starts to bow or your shoulders start to sink, take a break.