Dream Big: Hold a Plank for Two Minutes Straight
If there ever was an exercise that gave you ALL the bang for the buck, it would be the plank. The simple (looking!) move works a whole lot of muscle groups simultaneously, including the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and glutes. The longer you hold a plank, the more benefits you get, which of course is easier said than done. But, our month long plan will help. Strengthen your core and whittle those abs and obliques by building on a regular minute-long plank, with a few side planks added in because...Yes. You. Can.
Week 1: Focus on Form
Here’s the science: It’s undeniable: Doing planks does a body good. Research from Sports Health found that the simple-but-mighty plank recruits a legion of your trunk’s stabilizing muscles such as the rectus abdominis (your six-pack in the making), external obliques (slay muffin top forever), longissimus thoracis (if you want a long, lean back), lumbar multifidus (another spine strengthener), gluteus medius (for those aiming for snake-like hips), and gluteus maximus (‘cuz this challenge is a different kind of booty call).
Move-the-Needle Monday: For our plank challenge, we tapped two health experts on opposite coasts: Holly Roser, a certified personal trainer based in San Mateo, CA, and Abby Bales, D.P.T., owner of Reform Physical Therapy in New York City. Roser does a plank in every single one of her warmups—and recommends planking three to five times weekly when you’re training your body to hold one for two minutes straight. “Planks utilize your core more than any other type of abdominal move,” says Bales. However, she warns you not to push too hard. “In order to not strain an abdominal muscle, it’s important to not overdo it and take those rest days.” Recovery is essential, she adds, because it’s when exercised muscles have the time and freedom to build themselves up from the hard work you’ve put in.
The plan: As with any other exercise you’re first attempting, the goal this week is to learn how to hold the pose properly and not sweat the seconds you’re spending holding it. Start by getting down on all fours, then placing elbows on the floor shoulder-width apart. Step back one leg at a time until your body forms one long line from head to toes.
“Keep your back completely flat, spine neutral, and hips down,” says Roser. “Imagine your back has a glass of water on it.” Bales says the “hip hike” (when your hips are higher than the rest of your body) is an oft-seen mistake in plank. “Be careful not to hike your hips too high,” she warns. “Otherwise, you’ll end up looking like you’re in more of a downward dog than in plank.”
For perfect form, make sure to pull in your stomach toward your belly button, which will activate those deep inner-abdominal muscles that are often otherwise neglected. For your first attempt (on Monday), assume that 15 seconds is the goal starting point, but don’t pressure yourself. “If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it,” Bales cautions.
When you’re ready to try your second attempt (on Wednesday), shoot for a 15- to 20-second plank. Work your way up to holding a 20-, 25- or 30-second plank (whatever feels best) for two consecutive sessions (Friday and Sunday). You’ll want to take a recovery day in between attempts, especially if your arms are sore. The goal by the end of the week is to hold a 30-second plank using proper form. Your arms might shake some, but we bet you can get there!
Need to modify? Bring your knees down to the floor. By engaging your abdominals near that belly button, you’ll get the same isolated core workout you would in full frontal plank, minus the shoulder or pelvic pain you may be experiencing in the full position.
Top tip: Don’t hold your breath! “When you hold your breath and bear down, it creates intraabdominal pressure,” explains Bales. This causes your body to recruit strength from other muscles that shouldn’t be involved in plank in the first place—potentially setting you up for bad form and even injury.
Week 2: Test Your Strength
Here’s the science: Form is key, particularly if you’re coming back from an injury or have any kind of lower back issues. A 2020 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that when the abdominal hollowing method (AHM)—the activation and pulling in of the navel—is employed in a traditional plank position, it proved to be an effective strategy for increasing overall abdominal activity, particularly in the internal and external oblique musculature. Translation: Small form adjustments, such as the AHM, can have major body benefits, so continue to refine your plank’s positioning and make the necessary form adjustments to hold one correctly. (Don’t beat yourself up if you’re still trying to get it just right—sometimes even trainers find it tough to do a good one without a mirror to guide them.)
Move-the-Needle-Monday: Now that you’ve mastered holding 30 seconds of planking—either on your knees or up in full-on front plank—it’s time to get serious and work your way up to a minute’s worth of this “hard-core” exercise with good form. You can add an extra challenge with something like the above-described ab hollowing, or you can split each session between a full plank and a modified knee plank if you want to increase your time without forgoing proper posture.
The plan: Holly Roser, a certified personal trainer based in San Mateo, CA, suggests continuing with the same three-to-five-times per week schedule as last week for maximal neuromusculoskeletal benefits. But, this week add a second 30-second set to the mix. Try this: On Monday, hold a plank for 30 seconds, wait 30 seconds, and then hold another 30 second plank. On Wednesday, hold a plank for 30 seconds, wait 20 seconds and then hold another 30 second plank. On Friday, hold a plank for 30 seconds, wait 10 seconds and then hold another 30 second plank. By week’s end, see if you can hold for an uninterrupted 60 seconds in a single set—and, get ready, your own strength just might surprise you!
Top tip: Don’t focus on the clock, instead, keep your focus on refining your form as you continue to make functional tweaks. “Think about trying to close your armpits shut and pulling in your elbows, which should then be pulled back towards your toes,” says Abby Bales, D.P.T., owner of Reform Physical Therapy in New York City. (Try mimicking this movement while sitting or standing, and you’ll see precisely what she means.)
Week 3: Push Yourself to the Minute
Here’s the science: Turns out, working on core strength pays off in more than just sculpted abs (but, hey, we’ll take those, too!). In a 2019 study published in the journal Plos One, researchers spent eight weeks examining the differences between collegiate runners who added in three core strengthening sessions per week versus a control group.
What they found was that the extra ab work paid off by improving the runners’ core endurance (the ability to maintain a low level of support the entire time you exercise to stabilize the spine), static balance (the ability to hold the body in a fixed posture), and running economy (the energy needed for a given speed of running that can be determined by measuring the amount of oxygen consumed) for a triple-crown worthy win.
Move-the-Needle-Monday: Whether you’re a college athlete, weekend warrior, or total newbie is irrelevant—with regular practice, you’re building the necessary neuroplasticity (that’s fancy trainer lingo for the mind-muscle connection) to hold a more refined, technically perfect plank for longer periods of time. And, yep, just like any winning college athlete, that means you’ll need to practice, practice, practice.
The plan: Push yourself! We’re going for a full, uninterrupted minute (three to five times this week).
Remember to adjust and amend to your own personal skill level—and frankly, how you’re feeling that day. (It’s better to drop onto your knees and hold a modified plank in proper form than struggle with a full plank when you’re just not feeling it. Because those days happen.)
Top tip: If you find that holding a plank for a full-minute came easier than you expected, add an extra challenge by going into side plank (a popular yoga move) to extend your hold and increase strength (not to mention enviable muscle tone).
Here’s how to do one: While still in full-frontal plank, shimmy your feet together and “walk” one straightened arm more toward your middle so that it’s directly below your left shoulder. Now, pull your belly into your spine and raise your right hip until your body turns to your right side, with your left arm still straight and strong as your right arm points straight up to the ceiling. (Your gaze can follow suit.) Allow your feet to spin toward the right, too, so they stack on top of each other.
Hold side plank for up to 30 seconds, if you can, before allowing your free arm to drop down to the mat, which will spin you back into a regular plank position. Collapse to the mat and rest if you need to—but if you’re feeling good, repeat on the opposite side!
Bonus tip: Going into side plank can also save you if you can’t quite make it to 60 seconds yet, and your shaking arms need a change of position. But, don’t worry—we’ll definitely count any side plank add-ons toward week three’s full-minute planking goal.
Week 4: Prolong Your Plank
Here’s the science: Planking isn’t just a short-term fad worthy of a TikTok video or Instagram Reel supercut—when done correctly and consistently, the exercise is a bona fide remedy for poor posture and lower back pain. Research from Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute confirms (and our experts agree) that it’s a genuine panacea to a pervasive and chronic problem, since some 16 million Americans—8% of all adults—report persistent or chronic back pain, and as a result are limited in certain everyday activities.
Move-the-Needle-Monday: Now that you’ve notched three weeks’ worth of our plank challenge (and created a proven habit, since science confirms that it takes just 18 days to establish and cement a new routine), this week is focused on getting you to the two-minute finish line. But, hang on!
Take a moment and pat yourself on your (toned) back first—you did it! And, seriously, forget the two-minute goal for a second: You just spent a month perfecting your plank. Go ahead and draw yourself a hot bath with Epsom salts ... you’ve earned it!
The plan: Going full-out for the 120 seconds? Keep tacking on the time, entertaining yourself with whatever tune necessary. And once you hit that INCREDIBLE goal? It’s no time to back down now—you’re THERE!
Incorporate just two minutes of planking time into your regular workout routine a few times each week for a stronger spine, sleek obliques, and a tighter core. No reason to toss a month’s worth of work out the window just because our challenge is “over,” right? Come swimsuit season, your abs will thank you.
Top tip: Protect your spine by keeping your eyes on the prize—or in this case, your gaze toward the tip of your nose. This small adjustment keeps your neck straight and your cervical spine free from injury.
Abdominal Activation: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (2020.) “Influence of Abdominal Hollowing Maneuver on the Core Musculature Activation during the Prone Plank Exercise.” mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/20/7410
Core Training and Running Performance: PLoS ONE. (2019.) “Effects of 8-week core training on core endurance and running economy.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6407754/
Core Training and Injury Prevention: Sports Health. (2013.) “Core stability training for injury prevention.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3806175/