Finally. The six-pack you’ve always dreamed of is only a plank (or two!) away. You might have mastered the plank upgrades that can reshape your body. But there’s just one catch: While the act of planking is pretty straightforward, how long you should actually hold one is probably a bit less clear. Thankfully, the experts have you covered.
To reap the most rewards, holding three planks for up to 60 seconds each is ideal, according to Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of PhilanthroFIT in New York City. “[Holding a plank for] 60 seconds with good form demonstrates an ability to utilize your core muscles under control for roughly the amount of time you may be performing other exercises,” Sklar says. (To switch up your plank game, check out these four easy plank exercises that will transform your abs.)
However, keep in mind that if you’re new to planking, you don’t want to risk injuring yourself in the name of a slimmer waistline. “As with any exercise, proper form reduces the risk of injury. Allowing your hips to drop puts you at risk of hyperextension of the spine which can result in back pain,” Sklar explains. “Imagine a straight line through your body passing from your ears through your shoulder, hips, knees, and down to your ankles.”
Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and nutritional advisor to Promix Nutrition, breaks the form down further: Keep your fingers spread and hands shoulder-width apart, with wrists at a 90-degree angle and shoulders directly over wrists. Push the ground away from you as much as possible, and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Try to keep your feet and legs together. Squeeze your glutes and tighten your abs, so your hips tuck under and your low back flattens. Keep your neck in a neutral position.
If you have trouble maintaining this position, start with shorter plank holds, focusing on good form for five to 10 seconds. And then, as you maintain strong form and good posture, gradually increase that time, Sklar suggests. Aim for a set of three (holding for 10 seconds) and see if can maintain your body position before holding for longer. Also, don’t worry about losing out on any gains in the meantime; planking for shorter periods of time can still amount to a solid workout.
On the flip side, holding a plank for one minute might be a breeze for you. If that’s the case, Matheny recommends increasing the difficulty by adding some movement to the plank. Try tapping your shoulder with your opposite hand or driving your knees in, one at a time, for mountain climbers. (Also, try this one exercise that will give you a flat stomach in 10 minutes.)
Remember this for all plank variations: “Without proper form, you are not working your muscles, you are just putting stress on your joints or spine which can lead to injury,” Matheny says. “If you are not actively holding tension in your plank you are either relying on your joints/stacking of bones to keep your position, not your muscles.” So keep your full body strong.
Tired of the same old plank position? Mix up your workout routine with these exercises that flatten your belly—without a single crunch. Or skip the gym completely and turn to a few flat-belly tricks that don’t require a lick of exercise. You’ll be on your way to a stronger, toned core in no time.