How long should I hold the plank for maximum benefit?
As far as exercises go, the plank is one of the best ones you can do to strengthen and balance your core musculature. More than enough research has shown that the plank is not only safe and beginner-friendly, but it’s also quite effective (1, 2).
Now, a lot of people have a common question in their minds:
“How long should I hold a plank for maximum benefits?”
To answer this question accurately, we need to look at a few things. Let’s see what they are:
First Things First - Be Flawless in your form
Before anything else, we first need to understand that no matter how long you can hold a plank for, it won’t mean anything if you’re not maintaining flawless form. To do that, follow these two important steps:
Get down on your knees and place your elbows about shoulder-width apart as a base of support. Keep your hands flat on the floor for extra balance.
Use your toes as a balance point for your lower body and raise your hips off the floor, while squeezing your glutes and tightening your core.
At this point, your body should resemble a straight arrow, and you should feel the tension in your core muscles. Once you’re confident that your technique is good, you can then start worrying about other details, such as how long you’re holding a plank.
How Long Should I Hold a Plank for Maximum Benefits?
In order to really answer this, we’ll be taking a short stroll through evolution, so bear with us.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the human body could care less about building muscle mass or developing a stronger core beyond a certain baseline. Those adaptations aren’t very high on its priority list, simply because they are not that important for survival. You see, beyond the baseline level of muscle mass and core strength, the body doesn’t deploy its resources to low-priority adaptations - therefore if we want to get stronger and build more muscle continuously, we need to force the body to do that.
And this is where the question of “how long I should hold a plank” comes up. As with many things, the answer is - It depends.
It depends on the level of stress your body is currently adapted to. For some, the answer might be 30 seconds, for others 2 minutes. For someone with average fitness, aiming for 30 seconds to begin with - or even doing multiple sets of 15 second planks can be beneficial. By increasing the tension on your abs and glutes, during even a 30 second plank, you can get even more benefit.
But, one thing is for sure - the stronger and more developed your core becomes, the longer and more challenging the plank would need to be to force further adaptation.
There is a progressive overload principle, which states:
For a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced.
In other words, no matter what your starting point is, and whether you can hold a flawless plank for 20 seconds or 3 minutes, you need to continuously push yourself if you want to reap maximum benefits from the plank, or any other exercise for that matter.
So, What Does This Mean For You?
A good place to start is to hold a plank for as long as you can without allowing your technique to break down (e.g., butt sinking or raising up). Take a timer and measure how long that is. Or even better, use the upcoming Flawless Plank app to automatically measure it.
This will be your starting point. Even if it’s nothing to write home about, this is what you’re working with — ten, twenty, thirty, forty seconds. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you then slowly progress and add seconds to that number. Maybe you add ten seconds this week, another ten the week after - working daily or using a 30 day challenge as a way to force discipline on yourself.
Add seconds gradually, maintain good form, increase body tension and you’ll ensure that you’re reaping maximum benefits from the plank and any other isometric exercise that you’re utilizing.
All the best!