Motivation Monday: the power of the plank

It is a task more daunting than the one mile run. It is an exercise more demanding than the dreaded wall sit. It is a feat even more despised than a set of burpees. I am talking about the powerful position known as a Plank. With the numerous health and mental benefits that this exercise possesses, why are people hesitant to incorporate planks into their fitness routine?

One reason, that will become apparent fifteen seconds into your first round, is that holding a plank is physically difficult. During a standard, proper plank, all of one’s upper body weight is resting on the forearms, while some of the lower body weight is supported on the balls of the feet.

This exercise is significantly felt in the abdominals and back which are the muscles that help stabilize the entire body. The core (abdominals, upper back, lower back) tends to be a weak area of the body for many people, which makes supporting body weight, in that area quite strenuous. Ironically, the plank is one of the best core strengthening exercises according the American Council of Exercise (ACE).

Another reason why planks prove to be such a challenge is because just 60 seconds of holding a plank is a full body workout. Like I previously mentioned, planks require a good amount of upper body strength. Whether performing a traditional plank while balancing on the forearms or going for a more intermediate position of balancing on the hands, this exercise will engage the biceps, triceps, shoulders and chest all in one move.

Along with the obvious core work, one can get a great gluteal workout as well. Squeezing the glutes (butt muscles) while in the plank position will help to stabilize the body. So simultaneously flexing the arms, abs, and glutes is the key to keeping the body hovering above the ground. It is also the key to a quick but effective muscle toning session.

Planks require just as much mental strength as it does physical strength. Like running a mile for the first time, passing the 45 second mark of a two a minute wall sit, or struggling through the last five burpees of the set, it is a common reaction to want to concede and quit during a plank.

Your muscles will tremble, breath will quicken, and sweat will drip. First-time gym-goers or people new to planks may give up before their timed set is over because the exercise became tough.

So you believe a plank is too advanced to add to your fitness routine? Your core and arm muscles aren’t the strongest? Perhaps you are strong enough, but you are doubting your own endurance? Well here are five tips to a stronger, longer plank:

“Your mind will quit 1000 times before your body will.”-Unknown

Glue your mind to your goal. Convince your brain to keep pushing even when your muscles begin to tremble. Get into an unbreakable zone. Listen to music with a fast tempo and uplifting lyrics. When you feel like collapsing on the gym floor, repeat this quote 5 times. This should take up about 14 seconds, which may be the last little push you needed to finish your set.

Start small.

You shouldn’t expect to be able to hold a two minute plank on your first attempt.  The key is starting small and building your way up. Try holding a forearm plank for 15 seconds then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat this five times. Then when you feel comfortable, begin to hold the plank for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat this four times. Work your way up to holding two one minute planks, resting one minute in between.

Keep proper form.

A 30 second plank with good form is far more beneficial than a minute plank with awful form. To properly and safely perform a plank, position your hands and knees on the floor as if you were a crawling baby. Raise your knees off the ground, coming onto the balls of your feet into a push up position. Slowly lower yourself onto your forearms and hold this position. Your shoulders should be in line with your elbows. Keep the lower back strong. Sagging the lower back could lead to injury.


Photos by Elizabeth Medlin



Remain up for the challenge.

When holding a standard one or two minute plank becomes less of a chore, there are alternatives to this exercise that will challenge your muscles even more. For instance, try holding a plank in a push up position with your feet balanced on a stability ball. Go from forearm plank position to push up position repeatedly in a move called the Up-Down Plank. You want to specifically target your oblique’s (the sides of your abdominals), hold a side plank in which you support your entire body on one arm and one side of your foot. Remember: If your effort become constant, then your body’s progress will remain constant as well.

Find a partner.

It is always better to “suffer” with someone else than to “suffer” alone. Find a family member, friend or gym buddy to join you in your quest to conquer planks. If they are new to the exercise, then you can find motivation in becoming a coach. If they have a considerable amount of experience, then you have found your own coach.

Overall, the plank is one of the seven wonders of the fitness world. It burns calories, strengthens the core, tones the arms, back, butt and enhances one’s endurance. By starting or finishing each daily workout with a minute or two of planks, you should quickly begin to not only feel the difference in your body, but see the difference as well. The plank is a powerful thing.


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