In traditional strength-training exercises, the movements are made more difficult by increasing the amount of weight involved. For example, if you’re doing biceps curls with 8-lb weights and want to make the move more difficult, you’ll exchange your 8-lb weights for a set of 10-lb weights. With isometric exercises, like plank poses, the level of difficulty is increased by holding the pose for a longer period of time.
People often wonder how often they should be doing plank poses and for how long they should hold each pose. Here are some basic guidelines that will answer those questions.
Beginning exercisers or anyone with weak core muscles should gradually incorporate plank poses into their exercise routine. We suggest doing basic plank poses or elbow plank poses every-other-day, so that the muscles have 24 hours to rest in between each workout.
Beginners should start by mastering the basic plank pose. If the basic plank pose is too difficult or places too much pressure on the wrists, an elbow plank pose is an excellent alternative. Once either pose is mastered, the pose should be held for a short amount of time, 10-15 seconds. A basic plank pose or elbow plank pose should be completed four times with a short break between sets. In fitness terms, this is referred to as one set of four repetitions. When holding each repetition for 10-15 seconds becomes too easy, the holding time should be gradually increased. People with very weak core muscles may not be able to execute a basic plank pose or elbow plank pose. When that’s the case, they can begin either pose with one or both knees on the ground to make it easier. When their strength improves, they can begin performing the plank poses with both knees off the ground.
People whose core muscles are fairly strong should hold their individual plank poses for 30-60 seconds. As with beginners, intermediate exercisers should aim for one set of four repetitions. Intermediate exercisers who wish to incorporate more plank poses into their exercise routines may wish to try a variation of the pose that works the muscles in a different way, such as side plank or raise one arm (or leg). In this way your abdominal muscles get much more load than in regular plank.
People with excellent core strength should gradually work up to holding each plank pose for 1-2 minutes. The goal for advanced exercises is to complete one set of four repetitions, resulting in a grand total of 4-8 minutes of active pose time. They may also wish to incorporate new plank pose variations into their workout routines, such as reverse, superman or dynamic plank. Some variations involve movement, like plank jacks. Plank jacks start with a basic plank pose and then the legs dynamically open and close on the ground in a jumping jack-like motion. The plank jack is a great cardio move as well; it raises the heart rate while working both your lower and upper body.
Some athletes boast about holding their plank poses for extremely long durations, 3-5 minutes or event longer, but does that provide greater fitness benefits than holding them for two minutes or less? Probably not. Dan John, a contributor to Men’s Health magazine, stated that there are no benefits in holding plank poses for more than two minutes. “Enough is enough. It’s just a plank. More is not better.”
Tom Hoel, who held the record for the longest plank until 2014, agrees. Hoel said that, “Very few people will benefit from the plank training I’ve been doing.” Hoel is a gym owner, group fitness instructor, and personal trainer. In his classes, he doesn’t go beyond three-minute holds.
People who are preoccupied with holding plank poses for long periods of time often focus on quantity over quality. When done incorrectly, plank poses can place unnecessary stress on the spine, elbows, or wrists, which can lead to discomfort, pain, or injury. Also, when plank poses are done incorrectly, the core muscles are not effectively challenged. It’s always better to prioritize proper form ahead of the amount of time that you want to hold the pose.