Planks are one of the most popular exercises to do for stronger abs, but they’re also one of the moves a lot of people do incorrectly. I often see people’s shoulders falling forward, which will cause rounding of the thoracic spine — this part of your spine starts at the back of your neck and runs down to your rib cage.
Then there’s the butt position. Typically, it’s too high, which means the abs aren’t getting worked as much as they should. Another common mistake made in the prone plank (forearm plank/high plank) is that the lumbar spine (the lower portion of your spine closest to your tailbone) is hyperextended. Visually, you’ll be able to see that the pelvis is lowered toward the floor and the lower back is curved too much.
I also see people do some funky things with their head while holding a plank. It’s either tilted back as if they’re trying to look up at the ceiling, turned so that they can see themselves in the mirror, or hanging down so low they have a clear view of their belly button and shoes. These positions are incorrect and can lead to a lot of stress on your spine. To fix this — and prevent injury — you should have your head in a neutral position, which will also keep your spine in a neutral position.
You want to maintain a neutral spine because this is the optimal position to handle stress and the load of the exercise. Arching your back one time in a plank may not cause any pain, but with repetition, you’re putting yourself at risk for injury. The next time you do a plank, think about keeping your head, neck, and spine in one line. If you aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, ask a friend or trainer to check out your form, or if you’re alone, record yourself in the plank position.
To make sure that you’re doing planks properly, here’s a quick refresher.
How to Do a Plank
- Start resting on all fours.
- With your palms flat, raise up off your knees onto your toes; your legs should be straight. Be sure to gently squeze your glutes to engage them and keep your hands directly underneath your shoulders.
- Contract your abs to keep yourself up and prevent your bottom from sticking up. Remember to keep your belly button pulled in.
- With your head and spine in line, keep your back flat — don’t let it curve. Look about one inch out in front of you and don’t tuck your chin. Picture your body as a long, straight board.
If you’re feeling inspired to get your plank on, try some of my favorite plank variations ahead! Note: this is not a plank workout. Choose two to three variations and add them into your warmup and/or your ab workout.