At first glance, the plank might not look like much. What could be that great about holding up your body without even moving? As it turns out, holding a plank position has some serious benefits. Plank exercises challenge your entire body, giving you the most burn for your buck. This bodyweight exercise is especially excellent for working the core, which is crucial for mobility and pain relief.
But first, take a moment to learn how to do a proper plank. This will ensure that you're engaging the right muscles in the right way and help prevent injury. Once you've mastered the basic move, you can fully enjoy the benefits of the plank, below.
Planks strengthen the entire body.
Love multitasking moves? Target multiple muscles at once by doing planks. For starters, the plank works your glutes and quads, according to Candace Rhodes, personal trainer and founder of Rhodes to Strength. These muscles play a vital role in propelling you forward, which is extra helpful if you're a runner. Strong glutes and quads also stabilize the pelvis and knees, respectively, helping you move comfortably during exercise and daily activities.
The plank also targets your shoulders, arms, and core, aka the main stabilizer of your body, says Ashley Dean, personal trainer and founder of Apartment 3R. "When [you're] in a plank, your spine is in a neutral position," she explains. This forces the core muscles to engage and provide stability, ultimately making them stronger.
Planks improve your posture.
As the plank strengthens your core, it also promotes good posture. This is especially important if you tend to slouch or, like many people, sit at a desk all day. Here's how it works: According to the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, your core muscles are in charge of supporting your spine and keeping your body upright. This includes muscles like the diaphragm, pelvic floor, internal obliques, and abs, according to Dean. Doing planks keeps these muscles healthy and strong, ensuring they can brace your spine with ease. What's more, Rhodes adds that a strong core keeps your spine properly aligned, further helping your posture.
Doing planks can help reduce low back pain.
When it comes to pain, the plank (literally) has your back—and it's all thanks to the core-strengthening, posture-improving effects of the move. Need proof? As the center of your body, the core handles the load of your movements. According to Current Sports Medicine Reports, if your core is weak, that load is shifted onto the surrounding muscles, which start to overcompensate disproportionately. This can trigger back pain, especially in the lower back. Poor posture also places pressure on the muscles in your back, according to the University of California.
Enter the benefits of plank exercises. In a 2017 study, researchers found that stabilizing your core with exercises (like planks) can reduce low back pain. Planks can also provide relief by increasing your awareness of spinal alignment and posture, according to Rhodes. Translation: Doing planks can help you become more mindful of how you hold your body. This type of awareness, called postural awareness, is linked to back pain relief, according to a 2018 study.
Planks aid in preventing injury.
By stabilizing your core, planks reduce your risk of injury. According to the Journal of Athletic Training, a strong core helps transfer force to your extremities during movement. A weak core, on the other hand, is unable to handle the load. This places too much pressure on nearby muscles, causing "injuries in unexpected places such as the hips, hamstrings, or inner thighs," explains Dean.
The posture-related benefits of planks can lend a hand, too. According to Rhodes, good posture keeps you safe by evenly distributing your weight during activity. This helps you avoid doing awkward, incorrect movements that can lead to injury and pain.
Planks enhance your balance.
When you do a plank, you're forced to hold all your weight on your toes and arms without falling over. This improves your ability to balance, which is key for controlling your body's position. Having good balance helps you move in a way that prevents injury, whether you're walking to the mailbox or hiking up a mountain. Plus, balance issues tend to become more common as we age, so it never hurts to challenge your balance with moves like planks.
If you're a bit shabby in the balance department, don't worry—there are many ways to modify a plank. You can make it easier by placing your knees on the ground, which offers extra support while you build up strength. Another option is to lay your hands on a bed or chair to lift your upper body, suggests Rhodes. It sort of brings the floor up to you, making a plank easier to hold. "The more upright your torso, the easier the plank," she says. Looking for a challenge? Hold a plank for longer than usual, or elevate a leg or arm, says Rhodes.
Planks can lead to increased flexibility.
Though the plank doesn't feel like your typical stretch, it can totally boost your flexibility. According to Dean, doing a classic plank lengthens and stretches your hamstrings, the major muscles in the back upper leg that cause pain when they become too tight. The exercise also stretches the arches and balls of your feet, which improves balance and range of motion, says Dean. Meanwhile, the side plank stretches the obliques, making it easier to rotate your trunk with ease.