Fitness Tips

If You’re a Beginner, Here’s the Unintimidating Way To Work Up To Holding a Plank

Photo: Getty/Westend61
There’s an artistry to many things in life, but few things require more diligence and care than the plank, a workout move known for challenging every last muscle in your core. In other words, planks are no joke and if you're a newbie to them, they can be quite intimidating For beginners, the key to nailing the move and holding a steady plank is breaking it down into easy-to-follow steps.

When you first attempt a plank, holding it for even 10 seconds may feel like a feat of strength and will. But the great thing about the move—and its many, many iterations—is that, over time, it will get easier.

Below, trainer Meg Takacs and Kristina Ewing, a trainer and certified personal trainer at Rumble Boxing in Los Angeles, CA, explain how to do a plank for beginners, the common mistakes to look out for, and plank variations to try out. With practice, you’ll be holding a 10-minute plank like Jennifer Aniston in no time.

What muscles do planks work?

If you’re brand-new to planking, the first thing you need to know is this: It’s a full-body workout. Planks work your shoulders, upper back, arms, glutes, and hamstrings, and of course, your core. Planks also help you build functional movement patterns over time. Meaning: Simple, everyday tasks like walking, carrying groceries, and sprinting down the subway stairs to catch your train will start to feel easier.

Plank for Beginners: How To Do the All-in-One Move the Right Way

  1. Come to all fours and stack your shoulders directly above your wrists. Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart.
  2. Look directly at the ground in front of you so your neck stays in line with your spine.
  3. Tuck your toes and lift your knees and hips, forming a plank shape with your body. Make sure your hips don’t drift too high or too low. Balance your weight between your upper and lower body.
  4. Pull your belly button toward your spine. Push away from the ground to engage your glutes.
  5. Voilà: You’ve found the ideal plank position.

How long should you hold a plank?

There is no correct amount of time to hold a plank, Ewing says. The key is building up your stamina overtime by starting small and increasing as you get stronger. Start by holding your plank for five seconds. Then progress to 10. As you work up you'll double the length of your hold, progressively getting stronger along the way.

On average, a beginner planker should aim to hold a plank for 15-30 seconds, according to Ewing. “[Make] sure the pelvis is tucked to avoid lower back pain, the shoulders are stacked directly over the wrists, and the core is braced,” she says. “You should be one long line from your head to your toes.”

Once you can hold a plank longer than 30 seconds, Ewing says you’ve officially leveled up to intermediate status. But, she says it only counts if you’re holding the plank with correct form and without movement. The same goes for advanced planking, which Ewing defines as holding a plank longer than one minute. “You just have to be careful above that minute mark to stay true to form while those muscles begin to fatigue,” she says.

5 other plank exercises for beginners

Side planks

Once you’ve nailed planks for beginners and you want to kick the challenge level up a notch, give side planks a try. “Side planks are great for the obliques,” Ewing says. To do them, stack your shoulders directly over your elbow. “Make sure your hips are directly in line with one another and lift them up off the ground. Finally, your feet can either be stacked one on top of the other, or staggered (one in front of the other) for more support.”

Reverse planks

For those who have reached the advanced category, Ewing says reverse planks are a great full-body move that works the shoulders, core, and glutes. Lay down flat on your back and place your hands directly under your hips. Push up so your chest is facing up. The goal: “You should be one long line from head to toes by maintaining your hips high and core engaged,” Ewing says.

Elbow plank

Regular beginner planks can put a lot of pressure on your wrists and shoulders. To give them a break, hold the plank with your forearms on the ground instead. Ewing says this is a great way to remove the tension from your shoulder and chest. But, rest assured, elbow planks are still an effective way to target the abs.

Side-to-side planks

One of Ewing’s personal favorite plank variations is the side-to-side plank, which will push you outside your comfort zone, in a good way. “A side-to-side plank, also sometimes called hip dips, are a forearm plank where you tip the hips side to side targeting the obliques,” she explains. “By moving side to side you are causing increased tension on the obliques and hips in order to stabilize between each movement. These are a fantastic way to get those awesome V-lines we love so much.”

Plank jacks

Want to add some cardio into the mix? Try plank jacks. They’ll elevate your heart rate real quick. “A plank jack starts in a high plank position, shoulders stacked over wrists, pelvis tilted, core engaged,” Ewing says. “Then you hop your legs in and out all while maintaining a neutral spine and plank position.”

Benefits of planking

Tighten and strengthen core

So why do planks? For one, planks help tighten and strengthen the core, aka your abs, like no other move. Having a strong core is essential for, well, everything. Ewing notes a strong core makes doing physical activities such as weightlifting, boxing, and training in general possible.

Help strengthen your push-ups

Ewing says push-ups are often the exercise most people groan about during a workout because they’re tough. Planks are a good transition exercise to help work your way up to proper push-ups because they help strengthen the chest and shoulders. “Focus on shoulders stacked over wrists, elbows locked in tight to the body, arms fully extended,” she says.

Improve posture

If you spend an ungodly amount of time hunched over a computer (same!), you’ll be happy to learn that beginner planks and plank variations help with posture and stretching. “Planks force us to elongate our muscles, and they can be used before and after your workouts to help release any tightness and pain from lactic acid build up in your muscles post workout,” Ewing says.

You heard the experts, people. Get your plank on.

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