Nail the Perfect Plank Every Time With These Step-by-Step Directions

Keep your core engaged and your hips level to maintain proper plank form.
Image Credit: Maskot/Maskot/GettyImages

The plank is a seemingly straightforward and simple balancing pose that strengthens your abs and back muscles. But there's more to this move than mindlessly hanging out in one position for 30 to 60 seconds.

Even though planks primarily target your core, they're meant to be a full-body exercise. That means every muscle from head to toe is involved in keeping you hovering above the ground. So if you find your mind wandering or your form faltering, check-in with your body to make sure everything is active.

Here's your guide to proper plank form as well as what to watch out for as you hold yourself stable.

How to Do a High Plank

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Time 30 Sec
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie face down on your belly with your palms on the floor underneath your shoulders and your feet flexed with the bottoms of your toes on the floor.
  2. Take a deep breath and press through your palms to lift yourself up into the top of a push-up position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  3. Draw your navel toward your spine and squeeze your glutes.
  4. Look at the floor directly below your head to keep your neck in a neutral position, and breathe normally.
  5. Hold for at least 10 seconds and lower yourself back to the floor.

Tip

If holding a high plank hurts your wrists, try lowering to your forearms. It'll be a little more challenging because your body will be closer to parallel to the floor, but it's easier on your wrists.

How to Do a Forearm (Low) Plank

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Time 30 Sec
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie face down with your forearms on the floor and your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your feet flexed with the bottoms of your toes on the floor.
  2. Keep your forearms parallel to each other and don't clasp your hands in front of you. Doing so puts your shoulders in a potentially vulnerable position.
  3. Press into your forearms and rise up on your toes so that only your forearms and toes touch the floor. Your body should hover a few inches off the floor in a straight line from shoulders to feet.
  4. Draw your navel toward your spine and tighten your glutes.
  5. Look at the floor to keep your head in a neutral alignment, and breathe normally.
  6. Hold for at least 10 seconds before lowering yourself to the floor.

Tip

"Stay active when you plank," says Henry Halse, a personal trainer and founder of Vici Virtual. "Rather than holding one position, start lifting your legs or reaching your arms forward. Adding these little challenges develops more core strength than staying stationary."

Head-to-Toe Form Check for the Plank

"Position yourself next to a mirror so that you can check your own technique," says Holly Perkins, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), founder of Women's Strength Nation and author of Lift to Get Lean. "If you don't have mirrors, set up your phone and record yourself from the side so you can review your own technique."

  • Hold your head and neck in a neutral alignment — not looking forward or at your feet but straight down in front of your face.
  • Actively press through your hands (or forearms if you're in a low plank) and engage your upper-back muscles to press up and out of your shoulders; don't collapse your upper body toward the floor.
  • "Ensure a straight line from your shoulders to your heels, and avoid an overly arched lower back," Perkins says.
  • Draw your obliques in and your bellybutton toward your spine to keep your core stable.
  • "The biggest mistake my clients make during front planks is lowering their hips," Halse says. Lift and tilt your hips forward slightly so that your lower back doesn't arch, and keep your hips squared to the floor.
  • "Focus on truly activating your legs and butt," Perkins says. "Squeeze them with intention so as to provide a solid foundation for the rest of the plank."
  • Engage your quads to keep them lifted off the floor without locking your knees.
  • Keep your feet actively pressing into the floor without rocking back and forth on your toes.

Tip

If you can't hold either of the above plank variations for at least 10 seconds, you can modify by dropping to your knees.

How to Do a Modified Plank on Knees

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Time 30 Sec
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie face down with your forearms on the floor and your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your forearms parallel to each other and don't clasp your hands in front of you.
  2. Bend your knees so your feet are up in the air, then press into your forearms and rise up on your knees so that only your forearms and knees touch the floor. Your body should hover a few inches off the floor in a straight line from shoulders to knees.
  3. Draw your navel toward your spine and tighten your glutes.
  4. Look at the floor to keep your head in a neutral alignment, and breathe normally.
  5. Hold for at least 10 seconds before lowering yourself to the floor.

Related Reading

Mix Up Your Core Workouts With Side Planks

Once you're stable in the standard plank, you can incorporate side planks into your ab workouts. While they also strengthen your entire core, they emphasize oblique engagement, meaning they target the muscles at the sides of your torso.

"Side planks are a few steps above the front plank in terms of difficulty," Halse says. "So don't be afraid to start with your knees bent on the ground before going to a full side plank! It takes a few tries to get the proper form."

How to Do a Forearm Side Plank

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Time 15 Sec
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie on your right side with your feet stacked and your right elbow under your right shoulder, forearm along the floor.
  2. Press through your right forearm and lift your body up so that you're balancing on your right forearm and foot.
  3. Put your left hand on your hip or extend it toward the ceiling.
  4. Hold for at least 10 seconds before lowering yourself to the floor.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Tip

"Imagine a wall behind you and your heels, tailbone and upper back all gently touch the wall," Perkins says. "This helps to keep your body in direct alignment."

Head-to-Toe Form Check for the Side Plank

  • Hold your head and neck in a neutral alignment. Gaze straight in front of you — not down or up — and don't let your head drop toward your shoulder.
  • Actively press through your hand (or forearm if you're in a low plank) and press up and out of your bottom shoulder.
  • "Keep your chest lifted and opened to assist in straight body alignment," Perkins says.
  • Draw your bellybutton toward your spine to keep your core stable.
  • Actively engage your obliques and gluteus medius (aka "side butt") to lift your hips so that your body is in proper alignment.
  • Keep your hips squared to the side. If you need to, feel your hips with your free hand to make sure they're not drifting forward or back.
  • "Activate your legs so that your knees are fully lengthened, but not fully locked," Perkins says. "A mistake to avoid is excessively bent knees — because then they can't assist you."
  • Keep your feet actively pressing into each other and the floor. If you need to, you can stagger your feet one in front of the other.

Tip

Again, if you can't hold the standard version for at least 10 seconds, feel free to modify by dropping to your knees.

How to Do a Modified Side Plank

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Time 15 Sec
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie on your right side with your feet stacked and your right elbow under your right shoulder, forearm along the floor.
  2. Bend your knees so that your feet are behind you.
  3. Press through your right forearm and lift your body up so that you're balancing on your right forearm and knee.
  4. Put your left hand on your hip or extend it toward the ceiling.
  5. Hold for at least 10 seconds before lowering yourself to the floor.
  6. Repeat on the other side.