If you’re looking to strengthen your core, it’s hard to look past planks.
They’re an incredibly effective way at targeting the abs, obliques and lower back.
But, there’s quite a lot of misconceptions about this seemingly simple exercise.
In this article, we delve into the specifics of planking, providing insights into the average plank times based on age and fitness level… and explore why holding a plank for a longer duration isn’t necessarily better.
We also highlight some effective plank variations to increase the difficulty next time you want to add planks to your workout.
- You don’t necessarily need to hold planks for a long time. New research suggests multiple sets of 10 seconds is enough.
- A 30-60 seconds plank is generally seen as a good benchmark in fitness assessments.
- Good technique and form are paramount. If your hips start to sag, take a rest.
- Decide if you’re using planks as an assessment/test of your core strength, or as a regular exercise to build core strength, to help determine how long you should hold them for.
Ready, Steady… Plank!
Planking is a popular exercise that tests your core strength and stability.
But how long should you be able to hold a plank?
The answer varies depending on your age, fitness level, and gender.
We’ve broken down average plank time by fitness level and age below.
Average Plank Time by Fitness Level
|Fitness Level||Average Plank Time|
|Limited Mobility||<10 seconds|
|New To Exercise||<30 seconds|
These times are estimates and should only be used as a rough guideline.
What constitutes as a “good” plank time for you may depend on all sorts of personal circumstances.
It’s also important to note that the goal of planking is not to hold the position for as long as possible but to maintain proper form and engage your core muscles effectively.
Over time, as your core strength improves, you’ll be able to hold the plank for longer periods.
Planks > Crunches
Average Plank Time by Age
- Under 20 years old: 1-2 minutes
- 20-29 years old: 1 minute 30 seconds
- 30-39 years old: 1 minute
- 40-49 years old: 50 seconds
- 50-59 years old: 40 seconds
- 60 years and older: 30 seconds
Again, these times are averages but you’ll likely see a drop in average plank time with age.
A study of collegiate male and female participants aged 18-25 years (K. A. Chase et al, 2014), who were self-described athletes, indicated the mean time held in the plank position was 106.15 seconds for females and 117.66 seconds for males.
For females, the 25th percentile was 73.5 seconds, the 50th percentile was 95 seconds, while the 75th percentile was 122.5 seconds. For males, the 25th percentile was 84 seconds, the 50th percentile was 110 seconds, and the 75th percentile was 135 seconds.
These findings suggest that the average duration of the plank exercise for this age group could be considered 1.58 minutes for females and 1.83 minutes for males (50th percentile values).
However, it’s important to remember that these are averages and individual results can vary greatly.
How Long *Should* You Plank For?
It’s probably safe to say, planks are a worthy addition to any fitness routine.
But, does holding a plank for an extended period equate to better results? Not necessarily.
The plank’s primary goal isn’t to set a world record for the longest hold, but to activate the muscles in your midsection – i.e., your abs, obliques, and lower back.
It’s a low-impact exercise that can make your everyday life easier by improving movement and reducing the risk of injury.
Current Plank World Record
So, what’s the sweet spot for plank duration?
According to Stuart McGill, PhD, the magic number is 10 seconds.
He advocates for multiple 10-second holds rather than one long, drawn-out plank. This approach is based on numerous studies and emphasizes the importance of proper form and effective core engagement.
There are lots of CPTs that would argue otherwise, but for us, what McGill’s research emphasizes is that maintaining good form is non-negotiable… and that should be the focus.
The second your back starts to sag, it’s time to rest, regardless of how long you’ve been holding the plank.
Fitness Assessment Vs Regular Exercise
Some of the confusion around planks potentially stems from whether you’re using it as a fitness assessment or as a regular exercise.
If you’re doing a fitness assessment, then the aim is to demonstrate your existing muscular strength and endurance, so holding a plank for as long as you can is a good illustration of this.
Physical Therapists or CPTs might do this to better understand your current core strength.
But, in terms of using planks within a weekly fitness routine, doing multiple sets of planks held for a shorter time, regardless of how long you *can* hold them for, might be the better option.
Core Workout Exercises
Once you’ve mastered the basic plank, you can try these variations to challenge your core even more. We really like the side plank, as it recruits the obliques more and requires better overall balance.
The reverse plank is a fantastic way to switch things up and challenge your body in a new way.
To perform a reverse plank, sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your palms on the floor behind you, fingers pointing towards your feet. Lift your body off the floor and form a straight line from your head to your heels.
This variation engages not only your core but also your glutes and hamstrings. It’s a great option for those who want to work on their posterior chain – the muscles on the backside of your body.
The side plank is a challenging variation that targets your obliques, the muscles on the side of your midsection.
Start on your side with your feet together and one forearm directly below your shoulder. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from head to feet. Hold this position without letting your hips drop.
This plank variation is a great one for improving posture and athletic performance.
Shoulder Tap Planks
Shoulder tap planks add a dynamic element to the traditional plank, making it a more challenging exercise.
Start in a high plank position. Lift one hand off the floor and tap your opposite shoulder. Return your hand to the floor and repeat with the other hand. Keep your hips as still as possible.
This variation not only strengthens your core but also works your shoulders and arms. It’s a great choice for those who want to incorporate more upper body movement into their plank routine, or for those who prefer HIIT style workouts.
Focus on Form
While longer planks may seem impressive, they aren’t necessarily better.
The focus should be on maintaining proper form and effectively engaging the core. Plank variations, including reverse, side, and shoulder tap planks, provide different challenges and engage various muscle groups.
TL;DR – The key takeaway is that quality trumps quantity when it comes to planking.