Exercise Technique

Planks, Positions and Pitfalls

By September 22, 2017 May 23rd, 2019 No Comments

Within most people’s workout routine you will find some sort of core exercise. Many people use the prone isometric hold – commonly referred to as a ‘plank’. One of the reasons for its popularity is that the plank works so many muscles simultaneously.

When performed correctly the plank will exercise the muscles of the shoulder, abdominals, back, hip and upper leg. This article describes the correct form for a standard plank as well as some potential body position problems to avoid. For those of you who have mastered the standard plank I will show some ways to make the exercise even more challenging!

To perform a standard plank place your elbows directly underneath your shoulders with your palms flat on the floor in front of your elbows and the same distance apart. I like to avoid having my hands close together as it can push my elbows out do they are no longer directly underneath my shoulders.

With your feet a comfortable distance apart push yourself up and support your weight on your feet and forearms while maintaining a straight body position. Make sure your head remains in a neutral position. A good way to ensure this is to look at the space in between your hands.

Standard Plank Position:

  • Elbows shoulder width and underneath shoulders
  • Hands in front of elbows
  • Neutral spine – including neck
  • Straight body position from shoulders to feet

Things to avoid:

  1. Don’t allow your hips to rise or sag during the exercise! This occurs either when the abdominal muscles aren’t strong enough to support the body in the correct position, or you are becoming fatigued. If you find yourself in this situation – quite common when beginning, try perfoming a plank with straight arms and on your hands in the standard push-up position.

    By increasing the angle between your shoulders and the floor you reduce the load on your abdominals, making the exercise easier. You can use this exercise as a stepping stone to performing a forearm based plank in the future. In addition – if you experience shoulder pain when performing a plank on your forearms a straight arm plank is a great option.

    If your hips are rising or sagging due to fatigue it is important to stop and recover. Recommence after your recovery period using correct form.

    Avoid! Hips rising due to muscle weakness or fatigue


    Avoid! Hips sagging due to muscle weakness or fatigue

  2. It is important that the spine along its entire length remains in a neutral position maintaining its natural curve. Be sure not not to arch your neck as this can place the neck muscles under strain.

    Avoid! Arching the neck

  3. Never allow your shoulders to move in front of your elbows. This will place strain on your shoulders. It also takes some of the load off your core – the very area you are trying to strengthen.

    Avoid! Shoulders sliding forward

Advanced Planking!

So the planks are going well and you want to make it more challenging! Great – there are a few ways to do this. One way is to slide your elbows forward in front of your shoulders like in the photo below.

As you do this the plank will get progressively more difficult the further forward up move your elbows. It gets harder for 2 reasons:

  • As you move your elbows move your shoulder muscles become less effective at supporting your body and this additional load is now borne buy by your core and leg muscles.
  • Your centre of gravity moves forward and more force is placed on the abdominals.

Another way to challenge yourself is to destabilise your body by placing your arms or feet on a fitball or in a suspension trainer such as the TRX used at Warwick Workout. Why not ask one of our trainers for some advice on how to use these today!

In the meantime – Happy Planking!