How Many Plank Minutes Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Most core workouts include a forearm plank or some version of a plank or involve exercises that primarily strengthen the core muscles in the flexion and extension directions (sagittal plane).

What is relatively unique about planks vs. crunches or other traditional ab exercises is that instead of strengthening the muscles of the core by requiring movement or contractions against resistance/gravity, planks strengthen the core isometrically.

This means that your muscles are creating tension and contracting while performing a plank, but no movement is occurring.

But you may wonder: what is a good plank time in minutes for core workouts? How many plank minutes should I do based on my fitness goals? How many planks seconds should beginners do?

In this workout guide, we will discuss how to perform planks properly, various modifications and versions of planks to try, and ultimately answer your question: how many plank minutes should I do based on my training goals and fitness level?

Let’s dive in! 

A person in a plank.

How to Do Planks for Core Strength

Before we discuss what a good plank exercise time is based on your fitness level and training goals, let’s discuss how to do plank workouts and why a “good plank time” isn’t necessarily a long plank time.

The plank exercise is an excellent isometric exercise for your core muscles.1Park, D.-J., & Park, S.-Y. (2019). Which trunk exercise most effectively activates abdominal muscles? A comparative study of plank and isometric bilateral leg raise exercises. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation32(5), 797–802. https://doi.org/10.3233/bmr-181122

‌An isometric exercise refers to an exercise where your muscles are creating tension against resistance but no movement is occurring.

If you have never performed a plank before, the plank is a static exercise, so you are holding a position for a certain amount of time.

There are many versions or ways to vary abdominal planks.

With regular planks, the exercise is typically performed on your forearms so that your elbows are down on the ground. Then, the rest of your body is in a straight line with your toes on the floor. This is called a forearm plank or low plank exercise. 

A person in a plank.

You can also perform a high plank where you are in the end position of a push-up with your arms fully extended instead of your elbows down on the floor.

There are also side planks, which have your torso angled 90° relative to the floor instead of having your stomach facing the floor directly.

Side planks also work all of the core muscles in an isometric exercise, but the side plank exercise targets the obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of your torso, more so than the regular plank.

The same principles in terms of body positioning can be applied to how to do side planks.

You can do side planks where you are supported with your elbow and forearm on the ground or high side planks where your arm is fully extended, and just your hand is on the ground with your hips much higher up off of the floor.

With regular planks and side planks, there are benefits to both the high version and the forearm plank exercise position.

Generally, with both exercises, being in the high plank position is much more challenging for your shoulders.

A person in a side plank.

However, with regular planks, the high plank is generally easier for the core muscles than the forearm plank.

Side planks become significantly more difficult when you press up onto your hand with your elbow fully extended rather than holding the elbow side plank exercise.

For these reasons, I generally suggest that beginners start with the high plank push-up position and then work to perform the forearm plank. 

If you are going to do side planks, I would start with the elbow side plank and then progress to the high side plank with your elbow extended.

In any of these plank exercises, beginners can start with their knees down (as you might with kneeling push-ups), and as core strength and shoulder strength increase, progress to the full plank position with just your feet on the floor and your knees in line with the rest of your body. 

You can learn about how to do planks here.

A person in a plank.

What Is a Good Plank Time?

When I am working with clients as a certified personal trainer, I generally have them progress to more difficult plank exercises once basic forearm planks, high planks, and side planks have become easy enough to hold for a plank time of at least 30 seconds without difficulty.

Rather than adding more plank minutes or trying to hold planks for as long as possible, I recommend incorporating more challenging elements to continue to build muscle and increase abdominal strength rather than focus on endurance with long plank holds.

Although this doesn’t have to be the case, I generally find that even strong athletes who try to do a 2-minute plank, 3-minute plank, or even five-minute plank, nuanced aspects of proper plank exercise technique begin to break down.

For example, instead of truly engaging the deep transversus abdominis muscle and squeezing the glutes the entire time, the athlete might allow these muscles to relax while they instead bear weight more directly on the bones and joints to keep their body propped up in the plank position.

The plank should always be a conscious, mind-body, focused exercise. You shouldn’t be mindlessly holding the position and finding a way to “hang“ in the plank position.

Doing so likely means that you are not fully engaging the core muscles—especially the pelvic floor muscles, deep spinal extensors, transversus abdominis, and glutes.

A person in a plank.

For one, this decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. 

One of the primary benefits of planks is that because there is no movement involved in an isometric plank exercise, once you get into the proper position, you don’t have to focus on anything other than really holding the right position. 

This helps improve the mind-body connection with all of your deep core muscles because your sole focus is keeping your belly button drawn into your spine while breathing and holding the body up.

The more you practice planks with deliberate plank workouts, the more natural or a “second nature“ it will become to engage your abs, low back muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and all the small muscles in your glutes and hips during other exercises and everyday activities.

Secondly, when you try to do a long plank hold like a 3-minute plank without having the muscular endurance and focus to continually engage your deep core muscles properly throughout the entire plank, you increase the risk of low back injury.2Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports29(4), 484–503. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13375

People doing planks.

‌When done correctly, planks are one of the most effective exercises to increase core stiffness, which improves the support of the spine for load-bearing activities.3Lee, B. C. Y., & McGill, S. M. (2015). Effect of Long-term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research29(6), 1515–1526. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000740

‌Indeed, studies have found that isometric exercises for the core muscles can help reduce the severity of lower back pain.4Rhyu, H.-S., Park, H.-K., Park, J.-S., & Park, H.-S. (2015). The effects of isometric exercise types on pain and muscle activity in patients with low back pain. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation11(4), 211–214. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.150224

‌Ultimately, I have found that most everyday athletes and competitive athletes cannot reliably hold many plank minutes in a workout without properly bracing the core and stabilizing the spine with constant core muscle activation.

This is why I like to do many sets of shorter plank times, beginner planks, or static planks with movement or other resistance.

In other words, tackling more challenging plank variations will help you be more time-efficient with your plank workouts while simultaneously circumventing the risk of performing long plank holds with improper technique.

People doing planks.

How Many Plank Minutes Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Deciding how long to hold a plank in a workout depends on several factors.

Starting with just 5 to 10 seconds for a plank time is ideal for beginners.

Remember that it will take time to learn how to engage your deep core muscles properly; draw in your belly and develop the mind-body connection with your deep core muscles.5Lee, S., & Lee, S. (2022). The Effect of Abdominal Drawing-in Maneuver with Pressure Biofeedback Unit in Various Postures on Abdominal Muscle Contraction. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science11(2), 136–144. https://doi.org/10.14474/ptrs.2022.11.2.136

‌It also takes time to increase your core muscle endurance for 30-second planks or more.

I generally suggest that there is no need to hold a plank for longer than 90 seconds, and I would much rather see clients do shorter planks (on the order of 30 seconds or less) that are more challenging than going for a certain number of plank minutes.

The planks described above are just the basic isometric plank exercises.

There are all sorts of plank progressions that add movement or even external resistance like weights, to make planks more difficult.

People doing planks.

Some advanced versions you can try in your plank workouts as your core strength increases include planks with leg or arm lifts, planks on a stability ball or BOSU ball, planks with your feet in TRX straps, planks with thoracic rotation, and super planks (going up and down between the high and low plank).

Dr. McGill, a well-respected spine expert and creator of the McGill Big 3 Exercises, says that you should only do an isometric ab exercises like the plank for 10 seconds at a time and then take a five-second break and then keep repeating this pattern for a set of plank reps rather than holding a long, continuous plank.6Lee, B. C. Y., & McGill, S. M. (2015). Effect of Long-term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research29(6), 1515–1526. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000740

Therefore, for building core muscular endurance, rather than increasing how long you hold your planks, work up to 5-6 sets of 20-30 seconds with 5-10 seconds of rest in between each plank.

For more great workout ideas, check out some stability ball exercises here.

A stability ball.

References

  • 1
    Park, D.-J., & Park, S.-Y. (2019). Which trunk exercise most effectively activates abdominal muscles? A comparative study of plank and isometric bilateral leg raise exercises. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation32(5), 797–802. https://doi.org/10.3233/bmr-181122
  • 2
    Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports29(4), 484–503. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13375
  • 3
    Lee, B. C. Y., & McGill, S. M. (2015). Effect of Long-term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research29(6), 1515–1526. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000740
  • 4
    Rhyu, H.-S., Park, H.-K., Park, J.-S., & Park, H.-S. (2015). The effects of isometric exercise types on pain and muscle activity in patients with low back pain. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation11(4), 211–214. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.150224
  • 5
    Lee, S., & Lee, S. (2022). The Effect of Abdominal Drawing-in Maneuver with Pressure Biofeedback Unit in Various Postures on Abdominal Muscle Contraction. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science11(2), 136–144. https://doi.org/10.14474/ptrs.2022.11.2.136
  • 6
    Lee, B. C. Y., & McGill, S. M. (2015). Effect of Long-term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research29(6), 1515–1526. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000740
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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