The plank is one of the most common exercises you can bust out across all modalities and types of training. Planks are one of the best ways to work your body head to toe — if you’re my client, there’s no escaping your session without using the full body move. However, like with any exercise, form is paramount. When executed properly, planks are an amazing workout. But making plank mistakes could lead to soreness, or worse, injury.
While planks are often synonymous with core work, they’re also an efficient way to work chest, shoulders, and glutes. And since planks keep your spine in neutral, they’re one of the best ways to work on functional core strength, targeting your deep transverse abdominals, instead of firing off endless sets of crunches and sit ups.
Here are some of the plank mistakes you could be making:
Have you ever gotten into a plank and felt discomfort through your lower back? The likely culprit: a hyperextended lumbar spine. If you look at your form from the side, you’ll notice a wide dip in your lower back.
Ideally, we want our back line of the body to look long and unbroken, with strong shoulders and a slightly tucked tailbone, actively squeezing the glutes to keep the legs long and energized. You can also think about slightly flexing the heels to help find support from your feet.
Hand placement is an often neglected aspect of a high plank. Many of us naturally gravitate to internal rotation through our humerus bone in the upper arm.
How do you know if you’re internally rotating? Look at your hands. If your fingertips are pointing in, it’s a sign your whole arm is internally rotating, too. Instead, think about pressing into the pinkies on both palms and spiraling your biceps forward. It should feel like you’re about to twist off the lid of a jar. Slight external rotation of the upper arm allows us to activate our latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior — two muscles that wrap around the armpit — to the backside of the body and helps us connect our shoulder girdle to the core.
You’ll also want to think about spreading all 10 fingers wide to equally distribute your weight across the entire hand, not just in the heel of the hand. Being mindful of your wrist, elbow, and shoulder alignment is especially important if you frequently spend time at a desk or if you’re prone to rounded shoulders and slouching. Putting emphasis on your lats and serratus will also help you find better posture during your workout.
Similarly to internally rotating your arms, winging the shoulder blades is a sign your lats and serratus may be underdeveloped. Winging the shoulder blades refers to when your scapula — the triangular bone that makes up your shoulder blade — are noticeably pronounced across your back.
The easiest way to tell if you’re winging your shoulder blades is to have someone look from above while you’re in a plank. If they see the outline of your shoulder blades, you’re winging.
If you’re someone who has trouble feeling strong throughout your upper body while in a plank, you can also benefit from thinking about the following cues: Whether you’re on your forearms or wrists in a low or high plank, you want to again think about pressing into the pinkies or the outer side of your forearm. Imagine ripping the ground or mat apart between your palms or forearms. This encourages you to pull on your lats and serratus, along with your rhomboids, the muscles responsible for protracting and retracting the shoulder blades. We want the rhomboids to assist in pressing our shoulder blades wide across the back.
If you feel like your upper body could use some strengthening, try some of these postural exercises to help you with your plank form.
When executed properly, planks are a full body exercise — yes, even for your glutes and legs. However, if you’re not actively paying attention to how your legs feel in a plank, you could be missing out on the benefits for your lower body. Just like our hands, foot placement is also important in a plank.
Both of our hands, or forearms, and feet are the start of our kinetic chain while in a plank. They’re also your contact points, giving you feedback on your full body alignment. You want to drive your toes into the mat, pushing the energy of your body forward. Actively squeeze your quads to help lengthen through the back of your leg. This also helps us find a better posterior tilt of the pelvis, keeping our lower back safe while we plank.
Feeling pain in your wrists while planking might make you prone to keeping your shoulders slightly behind the wrists, or elbows, but doing so can actually trigger more wrist pain. Keeping your shoulders right over your wrists allows you to use the strength of your shoulders and core instead of the joints themselves.
Any time you exercise, remember that the sensation of work you feel should happen in your muscles, not your joints. Doing weight-bearing exercises, like planks, helps build bone density and strengthens our grip strength. If you avoid planks because of wrist pain, scale your planks to bear planks and work on increasing duration slowly but surely. Over time, you’ll be able to hold planks for longer without joint pain.
Now that you’re aware of these common plank mistakes, it’s time to correct your form!
About the author
Emi Gutgold is a PMA NCPT and NASM CPT based in New York City. Just like Elle Woods, she is also a gemini and vegan. When she's not teaching Pilates or lifting heavy weights, she's eating pita and hummus with her dog, Chickpea, and binging trash reality TV.