‘I’m a Trainer, and This Is Why You Aren’t Getting Better at Planks’

Photo: Getty Images/martin-dm
Planks are a true full-body workout. Because they work so many muscles (there's a reason why your core, shoulders, and glutes are on fire after you do 'em right), it can take some time to nail down proper form... and then figure out how to hold the pose for the long haul.

“Planks are difficult because they are a total body exercise which requires you to utilize a multitude of different muscles from your abdominals, shoulders, lower back, hips, and legs,” says John Shackleton, MS, CSCS, a strength and conditioning coach and Men’s Basketball Coach at Villanova University. “Holding yourself in the plank position for an extended period of time takes a lot of mental strength as well and I think a lot of people struggle with that aspect of it too.”

Experts In This Article
  • John Shackleton, MS, CSCS, professional trainer and performance coach for the National Championship Villanova University Men’s Basketball Program

With that in mind, if you've been practicing your planks for years and just can't seem to hit a perfect plank, there are a few things you might be doing wrong. Keep scrolling for Shackleton's tips, and you'll be well on your way to holding a Jenifer Aniston-style, 10-minute plank in no time at all.

1. You’re Hurting Your Elbows

“A lot of people struggle with planks because of the stress it can put on your elbows and other body parts,” says Shackleton. Pain is a good reason to resist doing planks—and elbow pain can occur if you’re doing a plank on a hard surface or without some kind of cushioning on the ground for support. To remedy this, simply use a yoga mat or soft pad under your elbows. "This will lessen that tension and allow you to focus on good form,” he explains. This way, the only discomfort you'll have to deal with is the quaking in your core.

2. You’re Not Breathing Properly

Though you may be focused on engaging your muscles while you plank, it's important not to forget to breathe as you hold the position. “It is key to make sure you are breathing deep through your nose and out your mouth while doing the plank exercise," says Shackleton. “By breathing in a controlled manner you will be able to stay calm and also properly contract all of your muscles, which will help you work them properly and advance in your planks." Inhale for 3-4 seconds, then exhale for 3-4 seconds, then repeat this cycle 10 times to complete a full set. Try three sets total with one minute of rest in between, per his recommendation.

3. You’re Taking on Too Much of a Challenge at Once

There’s no shame in modifying your moves (we repeat: there's no shame in modifying your moves!), and doing so in your planks can help you get the hang of things before you move on to the full expression. Instead of holding a traditional plank, try letting your knees touch the ground for additional support while still keeping your back flat and engaging the muscles in your core. “This will make it a bit easier for you to practice the exercise and build your way up to a true plank position,” says Shackleton. “By not overexerting yourself and utilizing a modified plank you will build the strength and confidence to keep getting better and improving,” he says. Plus, listening to your body and not pushing beyond your limits will help you avoid injury.

4. You’re Sinking Your Hips

Bad posture and sinking of the hips will prevent you from improving in your planks due to improper form. “A lot of people will let their hips sink when they get fatigued but this is not good form as you will be putting additional strain on your lower back and can later cause injury,” says Shackleton. To fix this, walk your feet out a bit to give yourself a more stable base and then really focus on squeezing your glutes and lifting your butt as you perform the move. Be more in tune with your body and mindful of any dipping of the hips—if you notice it, fix it ASAP.

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