So... is it better to hold one long plank or multiple sets of short planks? While most trainers don't debate the fact that planks are one of the best exercises to strengthen your core muscles, how long you should hold one is highly contested.
The plank exercise, in which you hold your body in a straight line, supporting yourself on either your forearms or hands, is often part of a core strengthening program — and for good reason.
"The plank is actually a full-body exercise and works more than just your abdominal muscles," says Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault. This isometric move works your abs, glutes, quads, lats, pecs, back and even the muscles in your feet and ankles.
And yes, planks are more effective at strengthening your core than the classic sit-up and other dynamic core exercises, according to a June 2015 study in the The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Researchers reported that holding a plank requires the muscle to be contracted the entire time, while exercises like the curl up or crunch mandate a much shorter contraction.
But that still doesn't solve the issue of how long to hold this move for maximum ab-sculpting and core-strengthening benefits. Below, experts weigh in so you can find your optimum plank duration.
Depending on your fitness level, form and goals, you can hold a plank for anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 to 60 seconds or even up to 3 minutes.
Short Planks vs. Long Planks
You know why you should incorporate a plank into your exercise program, but how long should you hold the plank?
"None of us are trying to win the Guinness Book of World Records for planking," says Jonathan Jordan, certified personal trainer. (Fun fact: The World Record for planking is 8 hours, 15 minutes, 15 seconds.) "I tell clients 30 seconds to 60 seconds is a great goal for a plank."
Wickham, however, recommends holding it for 1 to 3 minutes. "Generally it is better to perform a plank for a longer duration with less sets, then to perform the plank for a shorter amount of time for more sets," he says.
"This is because there is more physiologic stress put on your muscles and nervous system toward the end of your rep, when your muscles are already fatigued. The last portion of your rep is where the real gold is when it comes to getting stronger or building muscle."
On the other end of the spectrum, Stuart McGill, PhD, the author of the study above, recommends holding a plank for just 10 seconds, but doing 5 sets, resting for a few seconds between each set.
With advice ranging from 10 seconds to 3 minutes, how long should you hold your planks? It boils down to your fitness level and form.
"The biggest key to performing planks is performing them with good technique and form," Wickham says. "I have seen people that can hold a sloppy plank for over 5 minutes with no problem, but when I correct their technique, they can barely hold a plank for 1 minute."
Jordan agrees, saying, "It depends on where you start. If just starting out and 20 seconds is hard, start with 20 seconds with good form."
If you're new to planking, start in the 10-second range and work your way up with time or adding more sets, always focusing on your form.
"You should rest and take a break when your form starts to break down," Wickham says. "You will know this is the case when your low back and/or hips starts to sag toward the ground, your shoulder blades start to sag toward each other or your butt starts to stick up in the air."
Proper Plank Form
- Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders stacked above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees.
- Step your right foot back and then your left foot to balance on your hands and toes. Your body should form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Tuck your pelvis in to engage your core and squeeze your glutes.
- Hold this position while maintaining a neutral spine.
Take Your Planks to the Next Level
Whether you're holding a plank with good form for 30 seconds or 3 minutes, there are things you can do to take them to make them more challenging besides adding more time.
“By nature, the plank is more of an endurance exercise than it is a strength exercise," Wickham says. To focus on building more strength in your core, he suggests wearing a weighted vest or putting a weight plate on your back while you're planking. As always, make sure you're watching your form with this added weight to prevent injury.
You can also make this exercise more difficult by adding plank variations, such as raising one leg up or doing a plank bird dog, Jordan says.