When many people imagine building muscle and gaining core strength, they picture utilizing a gym membership or an at-home gym. But you can still prioritize your fitness even without the use of various machines! Whether you don’t have a gym membership, stay in hotels for work or live in a small space, there are still excellent ways to stay in shape with bodyweight exercises. And the best part? There’s no equipment required.
Most trainers will tell you that one of the most effective moves is the plank. It helps build core strength while also working many different muscle groups. Along with maintaining proper form, the time you hold a plank makes a difference.
We spoke to fitness experts to learn more about the time you should be holding a plank and the best plank variations.
How Long to Hold a Plank
Core stabilization exercises should be done in short, intense holds.
“A five-second hard plank hold repeated for 5 sets with a 45-60 second window is a great way to start if you are new,” says Zack Phillips, CSCS, strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer at the University of Texas at Austin. “Two to three sets of 10-20 second hard holds are what I normally use for my clients, focusing more on the intensity of the hold than the duration. 30 seconds of hard holding would be the most I would have someone do as I don’t think you will improve from holding any longer and would get boring.”
It might be surprising to hear, but it’s actually possible to get significant benefits from holding a plank for a few seconds, rather than striving for a full minute, Matt Scarfo, a NASM-certified CPT-OPT, CES, PES, FNS, and Precision Nutrition Pn1, explains.
Planks are great exercises because they build a lot of the deep core stabilizing muscles that we rely on for good posture. These include your shoulder muscles, your back, chest, glutes, quads, hip flexors, and, of course, your abs. All of these muscle systems come together for a great isometric workout that can improve your posture, your balance, and stability when running, lifting or just living your daily life, Scarfo adds.
In fact, a recent study found that you actually don’t need to hold isometric workouts very long to see results. In fact, holding a position for three seconds a day, five days a week for four weeks resulted in a 10% increase in strength. The importance of this study was that the workouts were done consistently, and for a max effort.
The bottom line is this: if you’re going to hold a plank, you must be using proper form and doing a difficult variation, Scarfo states. You can do this by doing a flexed version of the plank, which has more muscle engagement than a stability version, for example.
Related: 10 Benefits of Planks That Will Convince You to Actually Do Them—Plus How to Do the Perfect Plank
“You can incorporate any of these planks into your program,” says Scarfo. Just make sure you’re doing them for a max effort if you’re trying to get the best benefit with the least amount of time.
The basic plank is one that focuses on stability.
How to do it:
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- You can start on your toes, and on your forearms or hands.
- Keep your body straight, with your glutes flexed so your back doesn’t sag.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds.
Related: Want Your Strongest Core Ever? Try This Trainer-Approved 30-Day Plank Challenge
This plank is more intense than a basic plank and involves activating all your muscles.
How to do it:
- Press into the floor with your palms and flex your triceps, flex your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
- Finally, activate your back by curling your hips forward slightly. This active posture will increase muscle engagement, making your plank more effective.
- Hold for 10 seconds.
This plank variation is great at targeting your hip abductors, obliques and lats.
How to do it:
- Position your right elbow under your right shoulder with your forearm pointing forward and your hand formed into a fist.
- Raise your hips off the floor until your body is in a straight line and hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat on the left side.
The reverse plank helps you build the shoulder complexes and back body.
How to do it:
- Press into the floor with your palms and lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Keep your toes pointed, arms and legs straight and hold for 10 seconds.
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