Yes, Planks Really Do Work This Many Muscles!

Master the perfect plank and get ready to feel the burn from head to toe.

Erin Fisher Author Image
Erin Fisher

June 25, 2024 - Updated June 25, 2024

Plank - Kayla

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, planks are an incredible exercise to target your core, strengthen your entire body and improve your mind-muscle connection. For an isometric exercise (meaning there is muscle contraction without joint movement) that looks so simple, a plank works a surprising number of muscles. There’s a reason why they’re so difficult to hold and can have you shaking within seconds! 

We don’t just love planks for their full-body strengthening benefits - they’re also a great exercise for every fitness level, require minimal space and zero equipment, and there are plenty of epic plank variations to choose from such as side planks, plank jacks and X planks. Your options for switching things up or challenging yourself in new ways are endless.

First off, what muscles do planks work?

Performing a plank will mainly target your core or ab muscles, including your transversus abdominis (your deepest core muscles), rectus abdominis (the muscles we commonly refer to as a “six-pack”), and your oblique muscles (the muscles around your waist)

Compared to other common core exercises such as sit-ups and crunches, planks are often the superior option. This is because they work a wider and deeper range of muscles while putting far less strain on your neck and spine. 

Beyond your core muscles, planks also target your shoulders - in particular your deltoids. If you’re holding a plank correctly, you should be feeling the burn in the muscles at the front of your shoulders! In terms of your upper body, a plank will engage your back muscles, lats, biceps and traps, too. 

Now to your lower body. You should definitely be feeling every second of your plank primarily in your core, but activating muscles such as your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves is essential to having good form and maintaining stability. If you don’t feel any fire in your lower body while holding a plank, it’s time to bring those muscles to the party. Think about squeezing your quads and glutes and see how much more strength and stability it generates!

And last but not least, planks are also great for strengthening your mental muscle - that all-important mind-muscle connection. Because a plank is a static exercise, it’s a great opportunity to really tune into your body, discover what it feels like when the correct muscles are engaged and your limbs are positioned correctly -  which can help to improve your form throughout every moment of your workouts and reduce your risk of injury, especially in exercises such as mountain climbers, burpees and commandos.

Common plank mistakes

Working all of these different muscle groups doesn’t happen by accident and it certainly doesn’t happen if your form isn’t up to scratch, so it’s important to focus on nailing your form before getting excited about time challenges or fancy variations.

Last time we checked, a plank of wood is generally pretty straight, and your plank should look the same way. You want to form a nice straight line from head to toe, without your hips lifting into the air (which takes the challenge away from your core) or sagging towards the floor (which adds pressure to your lower spine). Performing a plank near a mirror or reflective window can be super helpful!

In your plank position, think about drawing your belly button towards your spine to engage your core, tucking your pelvis towards your ribs to avoid your hips lifting, and squeezing your glutes. Head trainer Kayla Itsines’ top tip for stronger planks? To exhale with force - she finds it really helps to increase the core engagement. If you find it challenging to achieve that straight line on your toes, lower your knees to the ground and work on perfecting your alignment from knees to head before progressing.

It can also be easy to have your forearms positioned too far forward on the mat, resulting in your shoulders being positioned behind your elbows, rather than stacked directly above them. This is easily fixed, simply shift forward on your toes to get that perfect alignment and say hello to that shoulder burn. 

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A stronger you from head to toe

This effective and deceptively challenging exercise features in many Sweat programs - especially our popular zero-equipment options. Get ready to activate your core and build full-body strength, whether you’re at the gym, at home or on the go!

Erin Fisher Author Image
Erin Fisher

Erin is a writer and editor at Sweat with years of experience in women's publishing, media and tech. She's passionate about the power of movement, and you can often find her on a yoga mat, a hike, a dance floor, in the ocean or the gym.

Strength Training

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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