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Plank exercise: How long do you need to hold to work your abs?

Woman holding a plank exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Love it or loathe it, the plank exercise seems to feature in most ab workouts as an effective way to strengthen and stabilize your core muscles. On paper, a plank looks pretty easy — there’s no jumping, squatting, or lunging required, you just chill on your elbows, bracing your core. A plank is an isometric exercise, designed to strengthen during the stillness, as your body works against gravity to hold the pose. 

That said, anyone who has ever tried to hold a plank will know this move is far from a walk in a park. The World Record for holding a plank is a whopping nine hours and 30 minutes, but how long do you actually need to hold a plank to get results? (The good news, it’s nowhere near that long!) 

How long do you need to hold a plank to get results? 

According to research by professor and spine specialist Stuart McGill, Ph.D., you only need to hold a plank for 10 seconds to work the core and see results. While some personal trainers disagree, arguing that you should start at 10 seconds and try to build up to 60 seconds, McGill believes that holding three sets of 10-second planks is better for the average person’s back health. 

How to do a plank exercise with correct form

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to do a plank with the correct form

Of course, as well as how long you hold for, your position during the plank is imperative for both the health of your spine and the results in your abs. In order to correctly get into the plank position, start in a press-up position, with your arms slightly wider than your shoulders and your body weight resting on your hands flat against the floor, or your forearms, depending on which variation you opt for. Think about creating a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head, engaging your core.

The common mistakes people make when holding a plank

The easiest way to spot if you’re planking incorrectly is to take a video of yourself in the position, and look out for the following mistakes: 

  • Your hips are too high
    If you’re raising your hips in the plank, you’re making the position easier by putting less strain on the core muscles. The same goes for dropping your hips too low to the ground. When you’re in the plank position, think about sucking your belly button in towards your spine, and engaging your glutes to keep your body in a straight line.  
  • You’re curving your spine
    To avoid putting too much pressure on your spine in the plank, keep your eyes focused on the ground to relax your neck. If you look forwards or upwards during a plank, your spine will no longer be in a neutral position. 
  • Your arms aren’t in the right position
    Remember, your shoulders should be stacked over your elbows. If your elbows are tucked too close to your body or are too far in front of your shoulders, you won’t be able to fully engage your core correctly.
Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.