Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 18 2010

How-To: Proper Plank Technique

By Mark Sisson
62 Comments

This 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!

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62 thoughts on “How-To: Proper Plank Technique”

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  1. I do the plank using a stability ball. You really have to focus on your position to keep from falling.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. Agreed! I find that a good set of Snatches will destroy my core pretty good. In the good way.

  4. 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)

    1. 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!

  5. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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….

    2. 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!

    3. 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 🙂

      1. Maybe Marc can break out that yellow Speedo he was sportin’ back in the eighties . . .

    4. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 🙂

  8. 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!!

  9. 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.

    1. 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 …

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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,

    2. “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.

  11. 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?

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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 ? ?/k?r, ko?r/ 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”.

  14. 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…

  15. Can we have more recipies please?

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

  16. 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

  17. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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!

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. Good exercise but can i lose my belly fat and how much time it takes and more important thing i am thyroid patient

  22. Some useful tips here, the plank is often overlooked when it’s actually a really good exercise.

  23. Whenever I do the plank I cannot feel my abs burning. However, my calf muscle and forearms hurt.

  24. 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?

  25. I did a plank and all it hurt was my arms/shoulders….i didnt feel it anywhere else…am i doing something wrong??

  26. When doing a plank, is it important to keep your feet next to each other or can they be shoulder width apart?

  27. I agree with the other two; I also only have pain in arms and shoulders while planking. It is “plank prohibitive.” My PT says I’m doing them perfectly. How can this be!

  28. yesterday I did 4 planks for 20 seconds each. That is all. Today my abs are barking! Great exercise for the core.

  29. As a PROFESSIIONAL PHYSIOTHERAPIST specialising in neck and shoulder injury, I love plank exercise, as it is performed by most of the population. Why? It generates enormous amounts of business for me!!

    In a world where most people’s daily lives, both at work and at home, involve large amounts of time, much of it stressful (think increased muscle tension, especially in the upper shoulders), nearly everyone’s neck and shoulders are already dominantly trained into a shoulder forward (protracted) and chin poking position.

    In more than 30 years in the health and exercise industries, and with more than 35,000 hours of clinical practice, I have only ever seen a handful of people capable of performing full anterior plank with perfect spinal and shoulder alignment. That includes year of working with exercise professionals, Pilates instructors, gymnasts and yogis .

    What I have seen, however, is many hundreds of people with anterior shoulder dominance due to chronic shoulder protraction, and, sadly, similar numbers of people with lower neck posterior compression, due to exaggerated chin poking while the spine is loaded. These can lead to headache, premature disc degeneration, numbness and weakness, rotator cuff degeneration and tears and even to the need for surgery.

    POORLY PERFORMED PLANK EXERCISE, ESPECIALLY WHEN SUSTAINED FOR MORE THAN A FEW SECONDS CAN BE DANGEROUS.

    I’m afraid, Mark, that even your model’s position (the female model on the frirst page) is very poor, AND IS LIKELY TO LEAD TO CHRONIC INJURY.

    This position requires significant strength, pre-existing muscle balance me a lot of understanding to be done well. The upside is that it can actually be a remedy for the very problems I have mentioned, BUT ONLY IF EXECUTED PERFECTLY, WITH PROPER SHOULDER BLADE SETTING, ACTIVATION OF THE DEEP NECK FLEXOR MUSCLES, AND THORACIC ALIGNMENT.

    The cue to ‘look at the floor’ is misleading. It’s a lot less relevant where you are
    Looking than what your deep neck flexors ( the ‘core muscles’ of your neck) and Thoracic extensors are doing. If these are ‘on’ and you are sufficiently trained, it is possible to extend the neck (I.e. Look up) safely.

    Folks, this has been a professional passion of mine for a decade, since ‘plankers’ started appearing aeverywhere. Yes, your abs will feel it, at least at first, but please consider the more delicate parts of your anatomy.

    Perhaps, Mark, you could recommend a more dynamic core workout, using plank and side plank as transitional movements, that, I believe, is more complimentary to the Primal philosophy anyhow, and in my professional opinion, will be safer and lead to less injury in our Community.

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