Why Plank? Learn the Many Benefits & Variations of this Ubiquitous Exercise.

by | Updated: May 13th, 2023 | Read time: 8 minutes

Whether you practice yoga, Pilates, Crossfit, HIIT, aerobics or an individual gym workout, the plank exercise is a staple. Why does everyone want to include planks in their workouts and strive to master this simple exercise? What muscles do planks work? There are multiple benefits that can be achieved by just placing your forearms shoulder-width apart, toes on the ground and holding your body in a straight line.

The plank exercise is a simple, free, efficient and convenient bodyweight exercise that can be done almost anywhere. This is the perfect overall exercise with many variations and health benefits. It strengthens the core, arms, wrists, hands, back, shoulders legs and glutes. Fun fact: The world record for holding a plank is 5 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds. This is amazing strength!

A Woman in Blue Workout Clothing and Long Brown Hair Performs a Basic Plank Exercise, Representing the Question, "What Muscles Do Planks Work?"

What Muscles Do Planks Work? Plus Other Benefits to Performing Plank Exercises

Top core exercise

Integrating planks into a fitness routine which includes strength training and cardio is ideal to achieve the maximum benefits of the exercise. Having a strong core helps to make it easier when doing most physical activities, while a weak core may lead to muscles injuries, less endurance and possible back pain.

The core muscles targeted when doing a plank exercise are the rectus abdominus (front abs), oblique muscles (side abs), transverse abdominis (runs from the belly button up to the rib cage) and the glutes. Training your core regularly will keep the spine aligned and maintain a strong, healthy back.

Planks target many of the important muscle groups in the body. This is why it’s such a popular exercise and used so often. These core muscle groups help us throughout almost all activities we will carry out during the day, and planks help to keep them strong and healthy.


When you think of flexibility you may not think of plank exercises. However, planks work all the muscles posteriorly, specifically the muscles around your collarbone, shoulders and the actual should blades plus the glutes. Performing plank exercises regularly will help improve flexibility in these areas.

Also, when doing the classic plank, it stretches and lengthens the hamstrings – your major muscles in the back of the upper leg. When these muscles become too tight they often cause pain. Your arches and balls of the feet are also stretched when doing planks, and this can improve your range of motion and balance.

Yoga is known for improving flexibility and core strength. Think of being able to hold a warrior pose. So it is no surprise that a variety of plank exercises are used in yoga routines as a core staple exercise in yoga classes. These plank exercises are a benefit to help to improve flexibility and core strength.


Following up to flexibility is coordination as another benefit to the plank, teaching your muscles to become more stable. Having more stable, steady core muscles helps to maintain our balance.  Most of our stabilization for balance comes from our core, so having strong core muscles can help to avoid injuries. The plank helps to build endurance of the core muscles, so you can maintain balance while performing a physically exhausting exercise or situation for a longer period of time.

Being coordinated does take some focus and concentration. Performing planks also works your mind, holding a plank for longer than you think you can be a mind-over-matter feat. Motivating yourself to hold a plank longer than the time before and not give up takes concentration and focus that will be strengthened each time you plank.

Planks will help to enhance the ability to support your own bodyweight because they work the core muscles that are responsible for how your body carries itself. This improves your ability to move around in different positions, and you’ll see that you are more agile and coordinated if you continue to do planks on a regular basis.

Improves posture

The plank exercise is a great for improving posture. Maintaining good posture helps to prevent injuries while working out as well as performing basic movements like squatting down and bending over by making sure your weight is evenly distributed.

Other benefits of keeping good posture include:

  • Your bones are better aligned, meaning you can lower the risk of skeletal injuries. Your body will be able to put less stress on the bones and joints.
  • The placement of your internal organs will be better, this in turns helps with digestive issues and other functional problems by poor posture.
  • Keeping nice posture increases your height slightly, helping you appear leaner. Standing tall displays self-assurance and confidence. Of course, working out regularly also helps in this area.

Because the plank builds core strength, it also strengthens the spine, which includes the abdominal muscles, trapezius and rhomboids. Building up these muscles naturally will result in a strong, secure posture. By having a strong core this will naturally improve your posture because these muscles help the body carry itself with proper balance. Plank exercises will target just about all areas, which means improving your posture.

Relieves back pain

For many this could be a top benefit for doing daily planks. Part of this benefit is because of the improved posture that you will achieve by doing planks, but really the plank enhances the health of the entire back.

Performing planks helps to align the vertebrae (improving posture) and this can take unnecessary stress off of the spinal region. Planks can also help to arrange the ligaments properly in the back, and this may further prevent painful conditions in the back.

A strong core and strong abdominals – which can be achieved by doing planks – takes a lot of stress off the back. As mentioned in the previous benefit above, improved posture takes stress off the back by keeping everything in alignment.

Planks are highly effective in activating the muscles that are responsible for spine stabilization. This exercise targets your entire core all while strengthening your shoulders and glutes.  Along with the core these muscles help to improve posture, and this can help alleviate back pain.

Increases metabolism

Plank exercising helps to strengthen not only our core but also the more massive muscle groups in our body.  When you have stronger lean muscles, you’ll burn more calories at rest. Having strong, healthy muscles helps to burn calories more effectively, helping to maintain a healthy weight. This makes doing planks important for people with less active jobs, such as sitting at a desk all day.

Besides burning more calories at rest (even in your sleep), having stronger, leaner muscles means that you will burn more calories when you’re working out. Whether it’s a walk, a lap in the pool or a gym session, you’ll burn more calories.

Now with burning more calories you may find yourself hungry more often and that’s okay.  This is where you’re healthy diet will come in.  By exercising and consuming a good diet your metabolism will be increased you’ll start to see the benefits and become much healthier.

Plank Variations to Target Different Areas

Basic forward plank: Targets entire upper and lower body

  1. Start in a push-up position with hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart directly under shoulders.
  2. Toes are pressed into the floor with glutes squeezed to stabilize the body.
  3. Find a spot on the floor a little past your hands to look at, making sure your head is in line with your back.
  4. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Breathe comfortably and don’t hold your breath.

Note: For a modified version, put your knees down and rest on your forearms.

Side plank: Targets obliques and hip abductors

  1. Lie down on your right side with legs straight.
  2. Lift yourself up on your right forearm and be sure your body stays in a straight position, making a line which goes from your head to your feet.
  3. Elevate your knees and hips off the ground.
  4. Hold the position as long as you can, then repeat on the other side.

Shoulder tap plank: Targets core, hamstrings, glutes, quads, hip flexors, back

  1. Start in the basic straight-arm plank position. If needed, widen your legs for more stability.
  2. Lift your right hand off the floor and tap your left shoulder (keeping your core tight). Place your right hand back on the floor.
  3. Next lift your left hand and touch your right shoulder.
  4. Alternate hands for 20–30 seconds.

Reverse: Target abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, triceps, and shoulders

  1. Sit with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Place both hands with palms down on the floor directly below your shoulders.
  3. Flex your butt and thighs, then push your body upwards. This is a reverse plank position.
  4. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds rest then repeat.

Note: If you need a modification, start with elbows on the floor and not your hands.

Arm or leg lift: Targets core, chest, upper back, glutes, shoulders

  1. Start in a basic forward plank position.
  2. Lift an arm or leg while in the basic position.
  3. Hold position, rest and repeat.

Tips for Beginners Getting Started With Planks

  • If you feel pain in your lower back or neck during the exercise, stop and rest. Try the modified version of the basic plank until you are strong enough to move into the basic forward plank.
  • Keep hands slightly a little wider than shoulder width apart. Having hands too close together can throw off your balance.
  • Proper form is important. Shoulders, head and hips should not sag or drop. Doing so can lead to injury.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. It is very important not to hold your breath.
  • Start by holding your plank for a few seconds to assess your form and alignment.

For beginners, start by holding the plank for 20-30 seconds. As this becomes easy increase your time.

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