The Plank Exercise

The plank exercise is probably the best all around core strengthening exercise.  Having a stronger core is something everyone should have because it stabilizes the spine in everything you do AND it will help tone all of those muscles of the midsection! 

"The only preventive solution I've found for back pain is exercise," says Michael Hisey, MD, orthopedic surgeon and president of the Texas Back Institute in Denton, Texas. "The fix is to stretch and strengthen your core muscles."

The obliques -- the abdominal muscles on your sides -- are especially important for back stability, Hisey tells WebMD.

Girl doing plank exercise

This single, stationary exercise works just about every muscle in your body, and yes, especially your abs!  Tightening up your core muscles will help you to have a more trim appearance as you also shed the fat.

Let me share a memory with you...I remember the first time I did a plank exercise…..

it was in basic training for the Army.  Drill Instructors love to punish the poor, young bodies of their recruits, and they have creative ways of doing so.  One time, we had done something to deserve punishment (I don’t remember what it was). 

Instead of pushups, the Instructor thought that “we should think about what we had done”.  So he put us in a thinking position:  instead of a regular plank, he modified it a bit.  In the pushup position, he told us to get on our elbows and put our fists on our chins.  We stayed that way and “thought about it” for a couple of minutes until are bodies were violently shaking.  I remember thinking how I wish we were doing pushups instead!  Ahh, good times…good times.

Plank Exercise

To do the basic plank exercise: 
Lay on the floor on your stomach.  Bend your elbows and put your forearms on the floor close to your chest.  Some people like to keep their hands apart, roughly under their shoulders.  Others prefer to clasp their hands together in the area of their upper chest.

Before you lift off the floor, tighten your abs.  If you are not sure how to do that, forcibly exhale and you will feel it then.  Now lift your body off the floor so that your body is supported by only your forearms and toes and it is straight from your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.

If you are unable to hold this position, keeping your body straight for about 15 seconds, then you need to work up to it by performing an easier variation.  Your back should NOT sag.  You shouldn’t feel any pain in the back.  If so, try an easier version or see your doctor. 

Plank Exercise Variations


  • On your knees (best to have knees bent about 90 degrees)
easy variation of Plank on knees

Stay in the “up” position of a pushup (on an elevated surface, like a chair, a table, etc.)

Girl doing easy plank by leaning on a bench

Next, do a high plank on the floor.

Plank in pushup position

Once you can hold one of these easier variations for 1 minute, then go to the next hardest variety until you can do a regular plank with good form. 

Plank on one arm and leg!


Crank up the difficulty:
Changing the center of gravity by moving your arms and legs can add variety and really challenge you!  Here are a few advanced plank exercise variations…

  • Raise a foot or an elbow off the floor a few inches. 
  • Raise an elbow AND foot off the ground at the same time (same side or opposite).  I like doing opposite sides because I feel it more in my obliques.

Kick it up even more! 
Don’t just raise an elbow a couple of inches – go ahead and extend it out like Superman!  You can also extend the arm out to the side. 

Same with legs...
When you raise a foot off the floor, swing your leg out to the side.  This makes it way harder! 

Add some movement…
With an arm off the floor, hold it along your side and move it out to the side and then out front, making a semi-circle.  With the legs, lift a foot and swing it out to the side as far as you can and then back again like a pair of scissors.

Plank on a stability ball

Stability ball…
Once you have mastered the plank on the floor, assume the same position on a stability ball.  The constant movement of the ball makes this fun and pretty tough at the same time! 
Try adding movement here too – move the ball around in a circle like you are stirring a huge pot. 
Also rolling the ball further away from you a few inches and bringing it back is pretty difficult. 

Do the plank exercise as part of a circuit with other full body exercises, or do it with other core strengthening exercises. 

Your back AND your abs will thank you! Make sure that you make this awesome core abdominal exercise a regular part of your routine!

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