Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Aug

How-To: Proper Plank Technique

plankThis is the last in a series of posts (Pushups, Pullups/Chinups, Squats) covering proper technique for the 4 Essential Movements of Primal Blueprint Fitness. Check back tomorrow when I’ll be covering the first of many ancillary movement patterns that will be featured in Workouts of the Week (WOW).

I don’t like situps, crunches, or most of their derivatives, as “core workouts.” Yeah, doing a ton of crunches day in and day out will get you perpetually sore abdominals, but that’s an improper usage of our torso. The core does not exist to contract or bend over and over again; it’s there to resist force. We need strong cores in order to maintain a stable torso while putting in work, whether it’s lifting heavy things, carrying a heavy load, or transferring power from our hips while throwing a punch or a ball. Having that stable, strong core with the capacity to resist the influence of outside forces is far more important than having the capacity to perform a million situps.

The plank is a far more useful core exercise. The key to success with it is right there in the name: you’re forming an immovable, stiff plank with your entire body. From toes to head, you must be firm, not flaccid.

How to Do the Basic Plank

  1. Get in the pushup position, only put your forearms on the ground instead of your hands. Your elbows should line up directly underneath your shoulders. Toes on the ground.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and tighten your abdominals.
  3. Keep a neutral neck and spine.
  4. Create a straight, strong line from head to toes – a plank, if you will.
  5. Hold that position.

Things to Remember

  1. Don’t let your hips sag down to the ground. Sagging hips makes the exercise initially easier, but it’s not a plank and it defeats the purpose of the exercise.
  2. Look down at the ground. This is a good prompt for maintaining a neutral neck position.
  3. When your form begins to suffer, pull the plug. You’re only benefiting from the plank by actually doing the plank.
  4. Level 4 of Primal Blueprint Fitness Lift Heavy Things also incorporates the Side Plank.

Even if you never progress (or choose to progress) to the other plank variations, the basic plank, performed properly, will be sufficient for developing good core stability.

Watch this video on proper form and technique for the first 4 of 9 total plank  movements in the PBF Lift Heavy Things bodyweight progression.

Find out where you should begin in the squat progression by taking the self-assessment test found in Primal Blueprint Fitness and then get started today!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is the one essential movement I have not previously incorporated into my movement routines. That is about to change…

    Aaron Blaisdell wrote on August 18th, 2010
  2. I do the plank using a stability ball. You really have to focus on your position to keep from falling.

    IBRobynb wrote on August 18th, 2010
  3. I shake a lot when I do the plank. Is that just because I’m not strong enough and that will go away as I progress?

    Andrea wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Yes, I think so. I start out rock solid, but I always get shaky as I approach the threshold of how long I can hold a plank.

      Matt wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • The shake should go away with new strength. Back in the day, I used to shake a bit doing very slow pushups and pullups, but not anymore. The ‘functional’ nature of the PBF movements will also reduce shake with time because they work all the little tiny stabilizer muscles that isolation workouts miss.

      Neil wrote on August 18th, 2010
  4. Planks are definitely the best of the core exercises for the reasons you mentioned. Another excellent one is the L-sit, where you hold both legs out in front of your body at a 90 degree angle. And if you are doing the “big lifts” such as deadlifts, overhead presses, and pull ups, you are getting an excellent core workout as well!

    Darrin wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Agreed! I find that a good set of Snatches will destroy my core pretty good. In the good way.

      Neil wrote on August 18th, 2010
  5. You know how some women in Africa carry big water jugs on their heads? That seems like a great core workout. I’m thinking of carrying my laundry hamper on my head on the way to the laundromat. (just joking, but only barely)

    Guy_From_Amelie wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • I do. After seeing that everyone in Guatemala carries stuff on the head or back (saw some 5’4″ guys carrying bundles bigger than they were on their backs w/ no problem), I carry stuff on my head whenever I can. Usually in the house, but not always – like carrying 2gal of water from the “comfort station” to our campsite last weekend.

      I’m sure it was an amusing site, but seriously, it’s the easiest way!

      MamaGrok wrote on August 18th, 2010
  6. I have a suggestion for future videos. I guess you don’t want to come across as a show-off, but I think you should take your shirt off while demonstrating. I was particularly noticing in this video that people might have a better idea of correct positioning if your shirt wasn’t covering things up.

    dragonmamma wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Are you the first to mention the clothes, dragonmamma? I think these videos are awesome, but I can’t help thinking that Mark looks a bit like an old man in the loose shirt and baggy shorts. I’d like to see him in bike shorts and a tighter shirt—not so I can leer, but so we can really see how well the PB works, and the proper form.

      Ditching the shades would be nice, too. Just saying’. Love the videos and the instruction!

      Sara wrote on August 18th, 2010
      • If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a leer-er. ;)

        MamaGrok wrote on August 18th, 2010
      • I am perfectly willing to admit I like to leer at Mark…..it motivates me…well, it ALSO, motivates me…..who cares WHY….just take the shirt off……..please….

        dotsyjmaher wrote on February 11th, 2014
    • I second that.

      There’s no escaping it Mark, to show off good posture you have to strip down to your tighty whities! ;)

      But seriously, this is great material. Thanks!

      Tom wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Do you know I was thinking just the same thing with the Push up video, and the pull up, and the squats … ;-) … LGN after all :-)

      Kelda wrote on August 18th, 2010
      • Maybe Marc can break out that yellow Speedo he was sportin’ back in the eighties . . .

        Duncan wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • So I’m actually a guy and I was thinking the same thing because I was thinking it would be easier to get an idea of the correct position by actually seeing the muscles work and tighten.

      CARR wrote on August 25th, 2013
  7. I have just started doing planks in the last two weeks – my trainer at the gym is manical about leaving them until the end of my workout. I know they must be doing something good because they hurt like hell. So good, though.

    Kevin wrote on August 18th, 2010
  8. I’m loving this series of posts, Mark!! Very awesome stuff. Thank you for the progressions. Makes it easier to know how to move forward with proper form. Your generosity with information and knowledge continues to astound me. :)

    gilliebean wrote on August 18th, 2010
  9. This is one of two essential movements that I was not doing before this week. I did all 5 on Monday and the WOW today.

    I can’t wait to see what this does to my body!!

    Primal Toad wrote on August 18th, 2010
  10. Is there any evidence out there proving this is better than sit-ups/crunches and is a “core workout”?

    Looks really interesting, but I will need more convincing before I incorporate into routine.

    Oliver wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Go and try holding the plank with proper form for 90 seconds and then come back as say it isn’t a good core workout!

      I’ve been doing this one for about 5 years and believe me it’s a good core workout :-) , and for progressions try wearing ankle weights and raising one leg slightly whilst holding good form …

      Kelda wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • There is evidence that sit-ups and crunches put the spine in a horrible position and stretch and twist it like it wasn’t meant to be. Just think about it….it’s common since really. Humans do all sorts of things with the body that just wasn’t meant to be. For example….eat the wrong foods…..do improper exercises to look “good”…..catch my drift? I will say if you want your abs to be big and bulky you have to do weighted crunches and leg lifts etc. Then your back will really hurt…but you’ll have big abs….lol.

      Aaron Curl wrote on August 19th, 2010
      • Heh heh…

        I don’t think I want big abs…

        :-)

        jon wrote on October 23rd, 2013
    • There is plenty of evidence proving that repetetively end-ranging your lumbar spine into flexion as you do with sit-ups increases spinal degeneration and can provoke back pain.
      Also, weakness or inactivation of your gluteal muscles has been linked to back pain, as it causes hamstring overactivatition and tension. This will decrease the ability of your hip joint to flex, thereby making your spine do more of the work when you bend. When you train the abs in a sit-up position, you’re training them to work in isolation. They are designed to work with the gluteals to tip the pelvis up at the front (gluteals pull down from the back). During a sit-up your gluts are stretched out and unable to contract effectively, so become inactive, thereby increasing your chances of damage to your lower back.

      Chris Chip wrote on November 29th, 2012
  11. Not denying it will hurt during a workout…but thats not what i asked for.

    There must be something substantial going into depth about this exercise since its essentially saying (or mark is at least) “no” to the popular sit-ups and crunches.

    Oliver wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Sit ups and crunches place incredible loads on your spine. Check out the work of Stuart McGill – well renowned professor of spine biomechanics – well researched findings that basically support everything that Mark has posted,

      AverageJoe wrote on August 18th, 2010
      • Thanks, I will check him out.

        Oliver wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • “Having that stable, strong core with the capacity to resist the influence of outside forces is far more important than having the capacity to perform a million situps.”

      I believe that’s the crucial sentence.

      I started doing planks about 5 years ago because of continuous back pain which was only made worse with sit-ups and crunches. Now my back can handle pretty much anything I throw at it, literally. Somersaults, backbends, medicine ball slams as well as crunches and sit-ups; I don’t think it would be possible for me to do any of those without pain if I didn’t have the core stability from doing planks.

      dragonmamma wrote on August 18th, 2010
  12. Hey Mark,
    Having a strong core is obviously a good thing, but the fitness industry has overstated its importance. Here is a very good article discussing this:
    http://www.cpdo.net/myth_of_core_stability.doc
    by Professor Eyal Lederman.

    I believe any fitness enthusiast or health professional should read it.

    Also, the plank is a good ‘stability’ exercise, but not strengthening the core muscles in ranges outside neutral may prove detrimental, especially since most activities involve breaking the neutral position. Although the jury is out, research is leaning towards the fact that muscles only strengthen in the range you train them in, which has been an argument against isometric exercise for a long time.

    Thoughts anyone? Mark?

    Tony Ingram wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • Bummer that no one else replied to this. I would be interested to hear some responses.
      So if core stability/strength doesn’t help chronic lower back pain, then what does?

      I would be curious though, a plank isn’t just about “core,” it engages so much more than the core. Maybe that is part of the key to relieving the pain, it is engaging the *entire* body rather than the (poor) attempt at isolation exercises like crunches.

      Very curious indeed.

      Ginny wrote on July 7th, 2014
  13. HI Mark

    I have been following Primal for well over a year now, I am very strict with it and all I allow myself is dark chocolate and that is literally 4-5 sq a week sometimes not even that. Ok so heres my problem, weight! I am not losing my weight. I hurt my back so I only walk now and swim and everyday pilates for an hour and core work. So no weight training as I can’t. So tell me why cant I lose weight? It seems a bit weird to me. I sleep 8-9 hours a night. I would really appreciate your feedback.

    Jo wrote on August 18th, 2010
    • you’re probably eating too much. Even if you eat primal, if you’re calories in is greater than calories out, you’re gonna maintain/gain fat. Figure out your deficit and cut calories accordingly.

      jd wrote on August 24th, 2010
  14. I would like to share some thoughts I had spontaneously as I read through this conversation. I have not polished this comment and so it may appear a bit direct.

    Considering the idea of exercising your “core”; The term “core” itself means (from dictionary.com
    [quote]
    core
    1    /kɔr, koʊr/ Show Spelled [kawr, kohr] Show IPA noun, verb, cored, cor·ing.
    –noun
    1…
    2.the central, innermost, or most essential part of anything. [/quote]

    In the physical therapy field we often say that “distal mobility is dependent on proximal stability”.
    What this basically means is that the lifting of heavy things with your hands, or the sprinting for a 100 yard dash with your legs, are dependent on the proximal or central part of your body being firm and stable (without moving, fixed).
    While sit ups and crunches and leg lifts are excellent dynamic abdominal exercises, they are not designed to train the body to be “stable”, but to move.
    Also, while the plank exercise does hit the abdominals, it also does a good job of working the psoas muscles which are deep, attaching directly to the spine and are primary spinal stabilizers.

    Unlike the abdominals which “support” the back and spine, the psoas literally assists in keeping you upright against gravity. Thus, the plank exercise is a very effective way to exercise your “core”.

    Bryan - Workouts Without Weights wrote on August 18th, 2010
  15. I find that the plank really kicks my ass, especially when you go for a full 90 seconds or even longer. My core always feels nicely worked out after that. I also find that the plank exercise is less boring and time consuming than trying to do 100 situps or something like that…

    Kevin@InvestItWisely wrote on August 19th, 2010
  16. Can we have more recipies please?

    Watching all this exercise has made me hungry and I need some snacks.

    debbie_downer wrote on August 19th, 2010
    • Recipes are published every Saturday here on MDA. Stay tuned!

      Mark Sisson wrote on August 19th, 2010
  17. I really like all the new @primal@ exercises that you are showing the MDA community! great work! BTW : Slaying the boar exercise is tooo sickkkkk

    frank wrote on August 19th, 2010
  18. You are spot on when you say that the core’s job is to resist force! I am a physical therapist and that statement just put a smile on my face.

    Jason Mathew wrote on August 19th, 2010
    • I’m a physical therapist and this put a frown on my face. Please see my post above.

      Tony Ingram wrote on August 19th, 2010
      • I agree. I was just saying that I like the statement that the core’s job is to resist force in daily activities because most people think that you just need to do crunches and situps to work the “core.” That’s why you should incorporate many different functional exercises. Have you read any Shirley Sahrmann or Gray Cook? They have a lot of good info in their books. Gray Cook’s functional movement screen is superb.

        Jason Mathew wrote on August 19th, 2010
        • I totally get what you mean, crunches and sit ups and the whole idea of simply working the ‘core’ is silly, and even dangerous!
          I (personally) just think that working core muscles in one way, like the plank, is still an oversimplification. Under heavy loads, the core stabilizes, but functionally, its capable of a variety of movement. Saying the core is ‘meant’ to stabilize and remain rigid is ignoring the fact that it is capable of so much movement! Of course, Primal Fitness wonderfully encompasses this variety of movement in its other exercises.

          I haven’t heard of Gray Cook but I’ll definitely look him up.

          Caio!

          Tony Ingram wrote on August 20th, 2010
  19. I had some exposure to the plank pose at the beginning of this year when I was becoming Grok. It is a great excercise but excercise a little caution and make sure to do it on a mat or some other surface with cushion.
    I (over) did it on a thin rug on top of concrete and ended up fraying some elbow tendons.

    Grok on

    raygazzman wrote on August 19th, 2010
  20. I tried this today, and wow, can I feel it. Well goodbye sit ups. It sure didn’t look like it would be that beneficial, but judging by how I feel, I was wrong. I certainly don’t feel this after doing 75 sit ups. Thanks for this great core builder.

    ed h wrote on August 19th, 2010
  21. Hi Mark,
    I’m just starting the primal blueprint and am very excited about its potential. Thank you for this great site. I notice that in your series for the plank that you use straight arms. I find that this takes my focus off my core because my arms tire quickly. In this post however, I see you use the elbows on the ground position. Do you have any advice on which version I’m better starting off with? (I can hold over a minute in full plank on my elbows). Cheers, Suzanne

    Suzanne wrote on December 9th, 2010
  22. Another more advanced plank position to try is to do it on a Swiss ball

    Chris- Swiss Ball wrote on March 20th, 2011
  23. Great post! Anyone looking to keep up their plank motivation should join a group I started on Twitter called #PlankADay. See this link for more info: http://www.fudiet.com/plank-a-day-revolution/ Also check out PlankADay on FB, I will be crossposting this link!

    @DrSherryPagoto

    Sherry wrote on August 19th, 2011
  24. can i perform the plank progression by itself

    Brolic Prim wrote on June 12th, 2012
  25. Good exercise but can i lose my belly fat and how much time it takes and more important thing i am thyroid patient

    teena gomes wrote on June 27th, 2012
  26. Some useful tips here, the plank is often overlooked when it’s actually a really good exercise.

    Mark wrote on July 21st, 2012
  27. Whenever I do the plank I cannot feel my abs burning. However, my calf muscle and forearms hurt.

    Tony wrote on September 28th, 2012
  28. While training for volleyball nationals, the coach made us do about a minute of planking every 20 min… its been a day and my core still hurts like HELL! I cant plank for more than half a second.. is this normal?

    Rianne wrote on February 11th, 2013
  29. Why doesn’t my abs hurt when I plank

    Andreas wrote on February 6th, 2014
    • You’re either too skinny or too strong. Add weight.

      Erok wrote on February 6th, 2014
  30. I did a plank and all it hurt was my arms/shoulders….i didnt feel it anywhere else…am i doing something wrong??

    tammy wrote on April 4th, 2014
  31. When doing a plank, is it important to keep your feet next to each other or can they be shoulder width apart?

    wendi wrote on June 24th, 2014
  32. Starting planking how long do I do each plank? The exercise says ten planks….ta

    flossiey wrote on July 1st, 2014

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