Proper Form for Plank Exercise: Planking with Purpose

The plank is a versatile exercise that can be adapted for various skill levels and abilities.

Exercise Name & Target Muscle Group

Trunk stabilization, commonly referred to as “the plank”, is an exercise designed to target the abdominals. However, because this exercise requires stabilizing efforts from other muscle groups, the plank can improve strength in the shoulders and hips. Additionally, balance benefits can be achieved by performing variations of this exercise (such as the side plank). In contrast to the traditional crunch or sit-up, which only targets the abdominals and uses forceful trunk flexion – a movement that will be problematic for any client who has osteoporosis or intervertebral disc concerns.

Why It’s Performed   

The primary purpose is to strengthen the abdominals and back using an isometric contraction. Note – if you are working with a client who is suffers from documented high blood pressure, an isometric exercise may be contraindicated as those types of exercises are known to increase blood pressure.

The plank is a popular exercise and, if executed properly and integrated effectively into a client’s program, can help develop an aspect of core strength necessary to stabilize the spine. Simply stated, developing strength in the abdominals and core will assist clients in their ability to perform other more taxing and complicated exercises with greater efficiency and proper form.

man doing a plank


Proper Execution

For a standard elbow front plank (like the one pictured), execute it properly by:

  1. Starting in a kneeling, prone position. Place feet shoulder-width apart. Keep feet, ankle, knees, and hips in a vertical plane. Place the palms of the hands flat on the floor shoulder-width apart (elbows should be pointing directly back – not out to the side.
  2. Drop the elbows to the floor (one side at a time) and place them under shoulders. Forearms should be parallel.
  3. Move the feet back one at a time allowing the abdomen and hips and legs to rest on the floor.
  4. Elevate the hips. Hips and shoulders should remain parallel to the floor while the legs are straight.
  5. Keep the head/neck in a neutral position.
  6. Tighten the core by drawing the belly button to the spine and hold the position.
  7. At the end of the repetition, return to a resting position.


If the client experiences stress in the low back and arms versus the abdominals and legs, check the form and make the necessary changes.

Plank Variations

The plank can be performed in a variety of ways to increase the intensity and challenge of the traditional form. Some versions of the plank include:

  • Side plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Plank jacks
  • Plank variations using a stability ball or TRX system
  • Single-leg plank (raising one leg up at a time).
  • Up-down planks
  • Rocking plank
  • Two-point plank
  • Alternating front to side plank
  • Front plank with donkey kick
  • Side plank with hip abduction
  • Reverse plank (add a leg lift for another dimension and challenge)
  • Plank with dumbbell row
  • Plank with arm abduction


Common Plank Mistakes 

  • Hips sag too low
  • Hips and buttocks elevated too high
  • Lack of a neutral spine (neck is flexed or extended rather than neutral)
  • Elbows point outward
  • Shoulders do not remain retracted
  • Ineffective activation of the transverse abdominus and glute muscles



Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at