How to Do a Plank: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do planks to strengthen and stabilize your core, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Oct 18, 2023

How to Do a Plank: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do planks to strengthen and stabilize your core, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Oct 18, 2023

How to Do a Plank: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do planks to strengthen and stabilize your core, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Oct 18, 2023

How to Do a Plank: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do planks to strengthen and stabilize your core, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Oct 18, 2023
Table of Contents

Think of planks as the little black dress of exercises. They’re simple and versatile. There are versions that suit virtually everybody. And while they may look understated, they can make a major impact. 

Planks improve full-body strength and mobility — particularly in your core (your abdominals and back). Working your core can also give your balance a boost and promote good pelvic floor health. And let’s not glaze over that “full-body strength” part, because any exercise that hits all of your major muscle groups at once gets a big thumbs-up for being an effective, time-saving life hack. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Plank?

A plank looks like a raised, regular push-up, but rather than lower and press back up, you hold the “up” part of the move. Planks are a type of isometric exercise — meaning a single position that you hang out in for a period of time without moving. They should be a part of your routine because they work your muscles in a slightly different way than traditional resistance exercises, such as biceps curls, and they can be easier on your joints. Plus, mixing it up is always important for success.

What Muscles Do Planks Work? 

Below are the main muscle groups that planks work. But remember: Because this is a full-body exercise, you’ll also be hitting lots of other muscles, including your hamstrings, quads, arms (biceps, triceps), chest, and several other back muscles, like your multifidus, and latissimus dorsi.

  • Rectus abdominis.  You may know it as the "six-pack" muscle. The rectus abdominis enables you to flex forward at the waist, so you can do things like sit up in bed or bend over to pick something off the floor. 

  • Transverse abdominis. This muscle lies deep within your core underneath your rectus abdominis. It runs parallel to your pelvis and wraps around your midsection to your back — acting like a corset, keeping your torso tight and strong, and protecting your internal organs. 

  • Glutes. Your glutes are not one, but three different muscle groups (the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius). Holding a plank requires you to fire all of these butt muscles to keep you stable and prevent your hips from sagging.

  • Quadratus lumborum is a muscle deep in the lower back that’s essential for spinal stabilization. Strength here has also been associated with reduced back pain.

  • Rotator cuff muscles. These muscles, located around your shoulders and scapula (shoulder blades), get an amazing strength workout by holding up your body weight to maintain the plank position. 

  • Erector spinae are muscles that run along either side of your spine, and help with back extension, rotation, and stabilization. They’re one of the most powerful muscles in your back.

Benefits of Planks

Here are some of the perks of this do-it-all move:

  • Strengthens all of your major muscle groups, especially your core. 

  • Builds balance and stability that may reduce the risk of falls and injury. A stable core supports many activities like walking, hiking, and lifting and carrying objects. 

  • Encourages a comfortable posture. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Perfect posture is a myth. But a strong core can help you maintain a comfortable upright position, whether you’re walking the grocery store aisles, sitting at your desk, or shooting hoops with your kid. 

  • Makes pushing and pulling movements easier. This could be any activity from mowing the lawn to opening a heavy door.

  • Reduces back pain. Improved core strength has been shown to lessen back pain

  • Alleviates arthritis symptoms. Isometric exercises, in particular, appear to be good for managing aches, pains, and stiffness related to arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moves like planks can also help those with arthritis stay more active because they don’t require moving through a full range of motion (like you would doing a shoulder press or squat), which can sometimes be uncomfortable during pain flares. Holding a single position gives you the benefit of strength training in a way that may feel better for your body if you are living with arthritis.

  • Lowers blood pressure. Physical activity in general is known to help reduce BP numbers, but a recent study found that isometric strength moves — the researchers tested planks and wall sits — were more effective than several other types of exercise, including dynamic strength training (doing exercises that involve movement) and cardio. Isometric moves such as planks were associated with an average drop in systolic blood pressure of 8.24 mmHg, and a 4 mmHg decrease in diastolic blood pressure. Tensing your muscles, and holding the contraction for a certain amount of time, could enhance blood flow to those muscles which may, over time, lower blood pressure. 

Planks: Exercises and Modifications

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Planks

Planks

Planks

Planks

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

To do planks:

  • On a yoga mat or other soft surface, start on your hands and knees with your arms straight and hands placed directly under your shoulders. 

  • Extend your legs back behind you, supporting your body on your hands and toes. Your body should form a straight line from the back of your head to your heels (like a regular, raised push-up position). 

  • Hold this position, squeezing the muscles in your core and glutes to keep you in alignment. 

  • Don’t let your hips dip toward the floor or pop up in the air. 

  • Aim to hold the plank for 10 seconds, working your way up to 30 seconds or more.

  • Relax your knees to the mat, returning to the starting position.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your core, shoulder, and arm muscles working.

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify this exercise to meet your needs.

Plank Modifications

Plank Modifications

Plank Modifications

Plank Modifications

To make planks easier:  

  • Do planks with your arms bent and forearms on the floor. Being on your forearms rather than your hands disperses some of the pressure, making the move a bit easier. 

  • Try planks on your knees. Get into a plank position (arms straight, hands on the floor under shoulders), then lower your knees and rest them on the ground as you hold the exercise. 

To make planks harder: 

  • Alternate lifting one foot or hand as you hold the plank position. This will add an extra challenge to your muscles and balance.

  • Aced that? Then try side star planks.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

$0 Cost to you

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Join more than 800K members and over 1,700 companies that trust Hinge Health to get relief.

References

  1. Laskowski, E. (2018). Are Isometric Exercises Good for Strength Training? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/isometric-exercises/faq-20058186

  2. Smrcina, Z., et al. (2022). A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Core Stability Exercises in Patients with Non-Specific Low Back Pain. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 17, no. 5, 1. doi:10.26603/001c.37251

  3. Edwards, J. J., et al. (2023). Exercise Training and Resting Blood Pressure: A Large-Scale Pairwise and Network Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, published online first. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2022-106503