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How to Do a Plank Correctly and Effectively

man and woman doing planks
Planks help improve your core stability, which can help to protect the spine.

Although a plank might look like a simple exercise, it's a key part of any workout routine. This functional movement can help improve your core strength and stability, in turn protecting that vital spine of yours. Best of all, it's easy for beginner gym-goers to try, and requires no equipment at all.

Before adding this exercise to your regular workout regimen, it's important to consult your physician to confirm that it's safe for you to do. Here's the low-down on how to do a plank correctly.

Set Yourself Up for Success

The easiest way to perform a plank is by starting in a four-point kneeling position, with hands and knees on the floor and torso in a "table-top" position. The most important aspect of the plank, in terms of both safety and technical effectiveness, is bracing your core. Once you're in this position, activate your stomach muscles and try to keep your spine as straight as possible.

Keep your stomach muscles tight, with the bottom of your ribs pulled in toward you. It's important to hold this core position throughout the movement.

It's All in the Hips

Now you should be on all fours, with your hips positioned correctly and core braced. While maintaining this position, come down onto your elbows, one at a time. Your elbows should be just outside the width of your shoulders and your hands should be flat on the floor.

Next, extend one leg at a time so that they are stretched out behind you and only your forearms and feet are touching the floor. You're officially doing a plank!

At this point, check your hip position to see if you need to bring your hips down slightly (you probably will). You don't want to stick your butt in the air or allow your hips to drop; try to find the right balance in between.

Breathing Is Key

Your focus during a plank should be on your breathing. When breathing in, imagine that you're sucking air through one of those tiny cocktail straws. When breathing out, imagine that you're quietly "shushing" someone, as exhaling through closed teeth and pursed lips can help keep the tension in your core.

When done properly, a plank should start to feel difficult almost right away. If you're able to easily last over a minute, you can make the exercise more difficult by raising your feet onto a stool, bench or exercise ball. While remaining rigid and straight, your body should be on a decline.

Keep in mind that when performing a plank, it's actually best to count your breaths, rather than timing the exercise.

Mix It Up

For a slightly easier version of the plank, only extend out the legs, leaving your arms in a fully extended position as if you're about to do a push up (instead of coming down onto your elbows). Everything else about the exercise should stay the same. If you feel like this is still too challenging, try propping your hands up against a sturdy object such as a weight bench or countertop.

Why is this position easier? The short answer: gravity. The higher incline means that you don't have to work as hard to stay in that position. This is the same reason that raising the feet — for a decline plank — has the opposite effect, making the exercise harder.

Now that you've learned how to do a plank, try and run through a mental checklist of these steps next time you hit the gym. Happy planking!

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.