5 Plank Mistakes That Can Affect Your Gains and Increase the Risk of Injury

plank mistakes

Do you plank? If not, you’re missing out on some compelling health and fitness benefits. The plank is an exercise that works every muscle in your core and it’s an exercise that doesn’t involve spinal flexion, like abdominal crunches and other ab-focused exercises do.

So, planks are easier on your back if you suffer from back pain and they work more muscle groups than ab crunches, but the most important reason to do planks is to strengthen the muscles in your mid-section, including the stabilizers that support your spine.

Why is core strength and stability so important? The biggest issue with core weakness is low back pain. Back muscles and your core help to stabilize your body before any movement. If your core is weak, the other surrounding muscles have to compensate and take up the slack. Over time, these muscles can suffer strain, which leads to lingering lower back pain.

The core is also the point from which you generate movement. It’s your power center and a weak one will hurt your performance in sports and make it harder to perform your best when you strength train, especially for exercises like squats and deadlifts.

Now that you know how important core strength and stability is and how planks can help you achieve it, make sure you’re doing this exercise right to get the full benefits and avoid injury. Here are five of the most common mistakes people make when they do planks.

Plank Mistakes: Poor Hip and Pelvis Alignment

You owe it to yourself to park yourself in front of a mirror when you do planks. Otherwise, you’ll never know whether you’re making one of the most common mistakes people make when planking– poor hip and pelvis alignment. At the very least, have someone check your form. Your body should be in a straight line and parallel to the floor when you hold a plank.

The most common way people mess up their alignment is they arch their back. Not only does this reduce the benefits of the exercise, but it also places strain on the lower back. When you arch you back, it also reduces muscle activation in the anterior core, so you get fewer benefits. The goal is to strengthen your core muscles along the entire length of your core and not activate one portion more than the other. You do that by keeping your hips and pelvis straight from head to toe.

The other problem that alters hip and pelvis alignment is allowing your hips to sag as you become fatigued One way to avoid this problem is to squeeze your glutes together while doing a plank. Sagging hips are often a sign of weak core muscles, meaning you need planks even more than you thought!

Plank Mistakes: Holding a Plank Too Long

Sometimes people use the plank as a test of endurance; they try to hold one for as long as they can until they drop their knees down from exhaustion. Unless you’re in a competitive plank contest, there’s no point in doing this. Holding a plank position for four or five minutes won’t build your core more than holding one for a minute or two since it’s difficult to hold a plank with good form for longer than a minute. Once your form falters, a plank turns into a liability due to the risk of straining your back.

A better approach is to do 30-second planks with good form. Rest and then repeat. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that doing very short planks increased core strength gains more than long-duration ones. Aim for quality rather than duration. Focus on the muscles you’re working the entire time: engage your upper back, brace your ab muscles, and tighten your glutes. When you hold a plank too long, your mind wanders, and you lose the focus you need to get the full benefits of the exercise. If a standard plank is too easy, try one of the more challenging variations.

Plank Mistakes: Poor Head Alignment

Another common mistake people make is not holding their head in proper alignment. You should be looking inches beyond your fingers, not way out in front of you or up at the ceiling, and your head should be in a neutral position. The tendency is for people to hyperextend their neck during a plank. That’s bad for your neck and could leave you with an uncomfortable case of neck pain. Another error is to let your head drop down while holding a plank. Bad form! Your neck should form a straight line with the rest of your body.

Plank Mistakes: Bad Shoulder Form

Planks can be hard on your shoulders if you use bad form. A common error is to bring your shoulders up toward your ears during a plank, what is known as a shoulder shrug. If you’re doing them properly, your shoulders should be relaxed rather than tense and in a hunched position. Keep your elbows under your shoulders, not out in front of your shoulders.

Plank Mistakes: Not Breathing

Many people unconsciously alter their breathing when doing a plank. Believe it or not, one of the most common mistakes is not breathing during a plank! Some people simply forget to breathe or take shallow, irregular breaths. Instead, you should breathe as deeply as you can when in a plank position. Many experts recommend focusing on breathing rather than time. That’s good advice! There are no benefits to holding your breath when you plank.

The Bottom Line

Planks work so many muscle groups in your core, and they can even improve your posture if you do them with good form. However, most people don’t get the full benefits out of planks because they make the mistakes above. Make sure you’re getting the full benefits of this stability movement. If you do them regularly with good form, it’ll improve your performance when you do other strength-training exercises, including compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. More time focusing on form rather than the duration of a plank will pay off with better core strength and a lower risk of injury.



  • Men’s Health. “The Truth about Extreme Planking”
  • Phys Ther Rehabil Sci 2016;5:29-33. Published online March 30, 2016
  • American Council on Exercise. “Reality Check: Are Planks Really the Best Core Exercise?”


Related Articles By Cathe:

Will Planks Alone Give You Six-Pack Abs?

Benefits of Planks: Why They Should Be Part of Your Fitness Routine

5 Ways to Make Planks Harder

How Long Should You Hold a Plank?

Are Planks Better Than Crunches for Abdominal Development?

Hate Planks? Here’s Why You Should Do Them Anyway

Can Core Exercises Improve Your Posture?

Abdominal Training: Why Less Ab Work is More


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