The plank, a popular ab exercise, is a go-to core-strengthening movement. The plankis a legitimate ab-strengthening replacement for crunches and sit-ups. So of course, with the exercise’s popularity also came corresponding challenges, like the 30-day plank challenge.
The basic goal of this challenge is to perform a plank (with good form) every day for 30 days, with the goal of being able to hold a plank for two minutes by day 12, and five minutes by day 30. It’s a solid way to monitor strength and stamina gains of a single exercise over the course of a month.
And it certainly sounds doable, right? You just dedicate a maximum of five minutes of work daily over the course of a month. But when you decide to participate in this type of challenge, what can you expect to accomplish? Results vary from person to person, but here’s what you might expect to experience once you start doing planks every day.
Reduced lower back pain:
Even seemingly simple exercises like planks can cause pain if you’re not doing them correctly. But the good news is: When you do a plank right, not only can you prevent injury, you may actually experience reduced incidences of lower back pain.
The plank is an excellent exercise to manage back pain because it contracts all the major muscle groups of the core without requiring much movement, strengthening the deep abdominal muscles to help stabilize the spine. So how do you know you’re doing a plank correctly? Check your form.
The goal is to form a straight line from your heels to your head. Your elbows should be positioned directly beneath your shoulders, your upper back and shoulders engaged, preventing your chest from sinking between your arms or crunching your shoulders toward your ears.
You should also engage your quads and glutes, tucking your pelvis under as you “pull” your belly button toward your spine, preventing your low back from caving toward the floor. Then, hold the position as long as you can without compromising proper form.
Deep ab muscle strength:
When most people think of ab exercises, they think of exercises to strengthen the “six pack” muscles, or the rectus abdominis. But these “show me” muscles are just one of a set of abdominal muscles.
Unlike some other ab exercises, the plank requires contraction of all four sets of muscle groups, but is particularly good at targeting the TVA. This deep muscle is particularly important because it acts like a “corset” to flatten the abdominal wall, support the internal organs, and to stabilize the lumbar spine, especially when doing movements that involve the arms and legs.
To activate the TVA, you can use bracing — contracting the abdominal muscles without moving, contracting your abdomen while trying to “pull” your belly button toward your spine. Interestingly, planks use both bracing and hollowing, effectively strengthening this important, oft-neglected, muscle group.
Total core strength improvement:
Planks work out all the muscles of your core. While many people think of the “core” as solely the muscles of the abdomen, the core is much more complex than that, encompassing everything from the hips to the shoulders. This includes the four primary muscle groups of the abdomen, and also the upper back, lower back, chest, shoulders, quads, glutes, and calves.
All of these muscles must contract and work in conjunction to hold your body in place and maintain proper form. The result is enhanced core strength that can help you in your day-to-day life as well as other athletic endeavors.
This is even more noticeable when you expand your plank routines beyond the basic forearm plank and incorporate other plank variations to mix things up and target your core from different angles.
Related article: 5 Plank Exercises For Greatly Shaped Abs And Core Strength
Your shoulder stability will improve:
The shoulder joint is pretty amazing. It’s the most flexible joint in the body, capable of rotation, flexion, extension, and both abduction and adduction in two planes of motions. The result is an incredible range of motion that allows for all sorts of movements that make day-to-day life easier.
Of course, there’s a downside to all that movement and range of motion. The shoulder is also the least stable joint in the body. This makes it particularly susceptible to injury and dislocation. One effective way to help improve stability and strength at the shoulder is to perform planks on a regular basis.
The plank’s isometric hold engages and builds strength around the shoulder blade and at the rotator cuff to keep these smaller muscles stable when performing other exercises. This helps enhance the activation of shoulder muscles during exercise, ultimately reducing injury risk — particularly if you tend to play sports that require swinging or throwing or if you tend to lift heavy weights.
Improve your posture:
If your mom still nags you to stand up straight or pull your shoulders back, it might be time to start incorporating planks into your daily routine. This is especially true if you work a desk job in which you’re constantly rounding your back, shoulders, and neck while sitting in front of a computer all day.
You see, proper plank form is more or less perfect posture. Even though planks are performed in a horizontal position, the idea is the same — you’re contracting your core, engaging your lumbar spine and glutes to prevent your low back from caving, and pulling your shoulder blades down and in toward the spine to prevent your neck from collapsing between your arms.
The plank exercise teaches your muscles and joints to “stack” your spine in proper alignment, developing strength and recruiting the proper muscles for good posture. This ultimately transfers from the plank’s horizontal position to proper posture when you’re sitting, standing, walking, or running.
Related article: 5 Core Exercises to Improve Balance And Stability For A Solid Lift
You’ll have better balance:
A strong core can improve balance and help prevent falls. When your core muscles are efficient and strong, your lower body joints and muscles are more capable of making quick corrections to sudden changes in body position.
To put it another way: If you’re walking down the street and someone bumps into you from behind, a strong core will be able to contract and engage efficiently, helping prevent your spine from flexing or rotating awkwardly while simultaneously helping the muscles of your legs respond in a way that allows you to catch your balance.
This quick and efficient core engagement is essential for balance and can be enhanced with plank exercises. Health suggests using a plank reach — a variation in which you lift opposite hands and feet of the ground while holding a stable core — to further develop balance and coordination.
But if you’re not ready for this variation just yet, start with a standard plank, then try lifting one limb at a time for a second or two. Even small challenges like this can further build balance and stability.
Lift heavier weights:
Planks can help you lift heavier weights in two ways. First, because planks help develop strength of the “corset” muscle and develop strength around the stabilizers of the spine, exercises that require core engagement and a stable spine (think: heavy squats or dumbbell shoulder presses) may become easier as your core strength improves.
Second, the plank itself is a position that can help build baseline strength at the shoulders, hips, glutes, and core for other popular exercises. It’s a good idea to consider the plank a “foundational move, one that builds your strength from the ground up.”
When your plank feels strong and steady, you can easily start branching out to plank-adjacent moves, such as pushups, renegade rows, mountain climbers, and kettlebell swings, all of which essentially incorporate plank form into more dynamic exercises.
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Boost your metabolism:
When it comes to metabolism-boosting exercises, the plank isn’t at the top of the list. Typically, you need to focus on dynamic movements, such as burpees, jump rope, squat presses, or mountain climbers if you really want to get your internal fires burning those extra calories.
That said, performing a daily plank challenge certainly won’t hurt your metabolism, and it can give you at least a little boost — especially if you’re focused on engaging all your major muscle groups to perform the plank.
Anytime prime movers (legs and glutes) are involved, there will be greater caloric burn, which is why, in a plank, folks have to remember to engage their legs, squeezing the thighs and glutes along with holding the core and trunk firm.
And once you’ve mastered the standard plank, incorporating dynamic planks into your routine can further help you engage more muscle groups and burn more calories.
Your stomach might feel flatter:
It’s a fair assumption that many people start incorporating ab exercises like planks into their daily routines in order to help carve a more svelte, flat stomach. However, ab exercises and planks alone may not result in the whittled middle you’re looking for.
If you’re looking to flatten your belly, you’ll need to approach the goal from all angles, including making changes to your diet and adding full-body strength exercises and cardio to boost your metabolism. If you’re doing all of these things? Planks can certainly help you achieve the abdominal muscle tone you’re after.