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May 08, 2021 9 min read

There’s no question whether you should do planks or not.  However, knowing how long to do planks for to get the best results is a whole other thing.

Considering that the current world record for the longest plank hold is more than 8 hours and it was achieved by someone who spent nearly 30 hours per week doing planks and just so happens to be jacked, this may make you think that holding planks for longer is going to make you more shredded. 

However, research shows that after a certain amount of time holding planks, their muscle-building benefits are lost. So, does the amount of time you spend in a plank help you achieve better results?  And, what’s the optimal amount of time you should spend planking?

 Strong man and a woman posing on a black background

Benefits of Doing Planks

There’s a reason why planks are one of the most popular ab exercises and exercises in general.  They’re a low-impact way to work your entire body and they can be done virtually anywhere because they require no equipment.  

1. Planks Use Bodyweight for Strength

Planks are a calisthenic exercise.  Calisthenics is a category of exercises that utilizes the weight of your body rather than that of dumbbells or barbells to build strength.  Other bodyweight exercises include sit-ups, curl-ups, and push-ups.

Not only are bodyweight exercises good for building strength, but they also:

  • Improve cardiovascular endurance and strength at the same time
  • Are generally low impact and don’t add a lot of stress to your joints
  • Require your entire body and particularly your core to complete

While it's helpful to have free weights and machines to build muscle, bodyweight exercises like planks can still do you well in terms of getting ripped.

2. Planks Are a Full Body Workout

Planks are most well known to help you build a six-pack.  However, they do far more than just that.  Planks not only work your core muscles, but they also work your:

  • Obliques
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Glutes
  • Quads

Moreover, planks are one of the best exercises for strength training as they require the work of your entire body.

3. Improves Posture and Flexibility

First off, planks help improve your posture by helping you to naturally stand up straighter.  Because they work all of the muscles surrounding your spine plus your core, you will resultantly hunch your shoulders and back less.

Also, planks help improve the flexibility of your legs.  When you’re in a long stretched-out line position during your plank, the fronts and back of your legs are going to stretch out a bit.  Even though you may not realize it, this will loosen up your quads and hamstrings.

First Define Your Goals

To begin with, when figuring out the optimal amount of time to plank for, you need to decide what your fitness goals are.  Try to think less about what you think you should be doing and more about what you want to achieve and how doing planks can help get you there.

Is Your Focus On Building Pure Strength?

If most of your goals are about building pure strength and muscle, then holding regular planks for extended periods of time probably won’t serve you well.  Think of it like this: If you want to work triceps but stick to the same tricep extension weight for weeks on weeks, will it really do you well?  Probably not.

Rather, consider doing planks but also adding in different variations.  So, as you get stronger, you can continue upping the difficulty through different variations so that your gains don’t plateau.

Is Your Focus on Gaining Endurance?

Want to hold the longest plank in the world?  Then you’re going to need a lot of endurance training.  Holding planks for a long period could help you do so. Therefore, create a routine in which you up the amount of time you spend planking every week. 

For example, hold for 2 minutes 3 times per day this week and 2.5 minutes 3 times per day next week.  Whatever you do, just keep upping the amount of time you spend doing planks.

Is Your Focus More Wellness Oriented?

Lastly, maybe you’re just starting your lifting journey or getting started on weight loss.  If that’s you then perhaps you should stick to getting the good form down before you start thinking about holding planks for long periods or doing other variations.

Also, maybe you’re into wellness-promoting workouts like pilates or yoga which utilize bodyweight exercises such as planks for overall wellness.  If that’s you, then focus on how planking can help your body become leaner and more agile rather than holding it for long periods.

muscular man doing a plank in a gym

Form is King

Even before you begin to ask the question of how long you should plank for, the most important thing is knowing how to do a plank properly.  Moreover, if you don’t have the correct form, you’ll not only miss out on some of the benefits of the exercise but you could also cause injury.

Here’s how to do a proper plank the right way with good form:

  1. Get on your knees on a soft surface and place your hands directly underneath your shoulders
  2. Lift your knees off of the ground so there is a straight line going from your heels to your head as you would in a starting push-up position
  3. Remain in a neutral spine by not dipping your hips too low or putting them up to high
  4. Stay looking down at the floor so your neck stays in line with the rest of your body
  5. Engage your entire body from your glutes to your core and shoulders

Perhaps the most important thing about planking is keeping your lower back safe.  It’s very common that people just getting started with planks will allow their hips to dip below the neutral spine position as a means to take pressure off of their core. 

If you’re having trouble holding the plank position, it’s better to do it well for a short amount of time than to try and hold it for longer with poor form.

Modified Forearm Plank

If you’re experiencing back pain from doing planks or just having a hard time holding the position, try doing them on your forearms rather than your hands.  This should make things a little bit easier on your core and shoulder muscles.

To do the forearm planks, just follow all of the same steps of the regular planks except go on your forearms rather than the palms of your hands.  Make sure that your elbows stay along the sides of your body rather than pointed out.

How Long to Hold the Plank For

Now to answer the big question: How long should you hold a plank for?  Unfortunately, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward because fitness experts and medical professionals are split on what’s best for you to do.

What Medical Professionals Are Saying

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Dr. Stuart McGill, Ph.D. told reporters that doing short spurts of planks is better than holding them for long periods of time.  Specifically, he said that it's best to do 3 planks at a time holding them for just 10 seconds each.

That may seem extremely short considering that we are often made to believe that holding them for longer is what’s best for you. 

However, Dr. McGill says, “There’s no utility to this kind of activity other than claiming a record,” in regards to holding planks for longer periods.

He says that if you really want to benefit your back and spine specifically, stick to what he calls the Big 3: curl-ups, bird dogs, and side planks.  While planks are beneficial, he says that, from a medical perspective, there are other exercises you can do that will make you both stronger and healthier than long-held planks will.

So, if your goal is more in regards to having a healthy body and maxing out the health benefits of a plank, stick to short bursts of planking rather than long holds.

What Fitness Professionals and Personal Trainers are Saying

Fitness professionals seem to have a slightly different opinion than medical professionals in regards to how long you should be holding planks for.  In interviews with The Independent, two different personal trainers offered different perspectives on planking.

First off, OrangeTheory personal trainer Benji Tiger says that you should hold planks for 30 seconds to see results. And, if you’re doing them in intervals, you should hold them for 20 seconds. On another hand, New York City Equinox trainer Rob Arreaga says that you should do them for at least one minute at a time to see results.

As you can see, different trainers have different perspectives on how long you should plank for. But, it seems like these two trainers can agree on a couple of key things:

  1. Planks are an effective way to strength train so you should do them
  2. It doesn’t matter as much how long you plank for but rather than you plank with the right form

Moreover, fitness professionals seem to agree that there is no one single answer to what the optimal amount of time spent planking is but that you should nonetheless still do them and do them with good form.

How Long You Should Plank For

As you can see, the answer to how long you should plank to achieve the best results isn’t so straightforward.  This is because:

  1. Not everyone has the same fitness goals
  2. Not all professionals agree on what is best

There are a few things that seem to be consistent though such as:

  1. Planking for times beyond one minute won’t do you any good
  2. You should do other plank exercises and variations in addition to regular planks
  3. Decide what your goals are and structure your workout routine accordingly

If your goal is to break the world record for the longest plank, that’s great.  If your goal is to get fitter and stronger, then maybe try some HIIT workouts that integrate planks and plank variations.

Nonetheless, just make sure you are doing planks with the proper form and are enjoying your workout. 

man doing side plank in a gym

Try These Plank Variations

Since planks are only effective for so long, give some of these plank variations a try.  Each of them targets different muscle groups to give you an overall strong core.

Side Planks

Side planks target your obliques, the muscles that frame your frontal abdominal muscles near the sides of your core.  If you want to have a totally ripped core, you can’t neglect your oblique muscles.

To do a proper side plank, follow these steps:
  1. Lie on the right side of your body with your legs straight to create one long straight line
  2. Stack your left foot on top of your right foot
  3. Place your hand right hand directly underneath your right shoulder and push yourself up
  4. Keep your hips up so that the right side of your body from your feet to your head is straight
  5. Engage the right side of your body to activate your obliques and hold

Once you finish up the right side of your body, do the same on the left side.

Single-Leg Planks

Next, level up the difficulty of your planks by doing them on one single leg.  Having to do the plank on one leg is going to require more work from your core muscles because they require more balance.

Here’s how to do single-leg planks:

  1. Get into a regular plank position on your hands
  2. Once you’re stable, raise your right leg off the ground so it is straight and in line with your core
  3. Hold the leg up without breaking form and then eventually switch to lifting your left leg

Additionally, single-leg planks are also going to require more work from your glutes and hamstring to help lift and hold your leg up in the air.

Plank Jacks

Plank jacks is a core exercise that also incorporates cardio.  They’re basically a combination of a plank and the traditional jumping jack.  Here’s how to do them:

  1. Get into a regular plank position on your hands
  2. Once you’re stable, start jumping both of your feet out slightly past shoulder-width apart and then jumping back to the starting position
  3. Continue to jump your feet in and out just as you would for a jumping jack

Because there’s a lot of movement going on with plank jacks, it’s extra important to channel your core strength so that you don’t break form.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are similar to plank jacks as you’re going to jump your feet around.  However, this time rather than jumping your feet in and out from your body, you’re going to jump them forwards and backward.

Here’s how to do mountain climbers:

  1. Get into a regular plank position on your hands
  2. Pull your right knee into the right side of your chest then set it back to its starting position
  3. Pull your left knee into the right side of your chest then set it back

Once you’ve got the movement going, rather than just stepping your feet back and forth, try picking up the pace by jumping your feet forward and back.

Bird Dog Planks

Lastly, bird dog planks are going to work your lower body including your abs, obliques, and glutes as well as your upper body, back, and shoulders.  They are essentially an even more difficult version of the single-leg plank.

Here’s how to do them:

  1. Get into a regular plank position on your hands
  2. Once you are stable, lift your right leg and left arm up off of the ground to create one straight line from your right toes to your left fingers
  3. Continue to balance on your left foot and right arm for as long as you can before switching sides

Bird dogs are going to create that six-pack look because they require the strength of your entire core.

Bottom Line: How Long to Hold a Plank

In conclusion, it’s hard to say if there truly is a single right amount of time you should do planks for.  Because everyone’s fitness goals are different and experts have mixed opinions on what’s best, you should experiment with planks while taking into account what the experts have to say. Then, you can come up with a plank routine that gets you to where you want to be fitness-wise. 

Bonus tip: For more calisthenic exercises that work your upper body, give tricep dips and their variations a try.