If someone says the word "ab exercise," we have a hunch your first thought is plank. Aside from assisting to sculpt a strong core, the basic movement has a slew of total-body benefits. "Planks are a total-body exercise that, when done right, are great," says Denzel Allen, trainer at SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. "Aside from strengthening your anterior abdominals and lower back, they also help connect your upper and lower body" — a connection that's important for any aspect of fitness, Allen says, since it can improve your performance everywhere from the squat rack to barre class.
There's just one problem: although the exercise looks simple enough, it's frequently done wrong. Not to fret! We connected with top trainers to identify the four mistakes you're likely making in plank and how to fix them:
1. You're not keeping your shoulders in line with your wrists.
It's one of the most popular cues instructors provide when telling clients to get into the right position. Still, Courtney Aronson, instructor and director of yoga at Chicago's Studio Three, sees this error all the time. "You want to align your wrists directly below your shoulders to properly activate shoulder stability muscles and to avoid undue stress on the joints of the arms," she says.
Easily make an adjustment by taking a look at your wrists once you believe you're in the right space. If you feel like you're hinged too far forward, send your weight a bit more into your toes and find a more neutral overall position.
2. Your belly is sagging.
Belly sag isn't something that's super desirable when you're standing upright, but it could be even worse when you're tackling plank position. Heidi Jones, Fortë trainer and founder of SquadWOD, says it happens most often when she's getting tired of holding the exercise. "It's that moment when you have lost your mind in the slow ticking of the seconds that have expired and the knees start to unlock, the belly drops, and instead of feeling the burn in the core, that burn has now moved to the shoulders and upper back," she says.
The good news? It's super simple to fix with some small adjustments. Start by straightening the legs, squeezing the quads and the belly. "It sounds counterintuitive to squeeze the body part that is already 'clenched,' but this will pick your growing baby six-pack off of the floor and align it exactly where it needs to be, which is parallel to the ground," Jones says.
3. Your shoulders are up by your ears.
Sometimes, you've just gotta relax, says Katie Kendall, trainer at Brick New York. "It's common for the upper body to tense up, leading to shrugged shoulders and an awkward neck position," Kendall says. "Try to keep your neck neutral with your spine and relax the shoulders away from the ears."
By fully extending your arms and spreading your shoulder blades, you can help maintain better balance and stabilization of the upper body throughout the movement.
4. You're holding it for too long.
Spoiler alert: there isn't some fairy walking around handing out gold stars for a plank that lasts longer than your last relationship. Instead of going for the long haul and unnecessarily taxing your shoulder endurance, Austin Lopez, CSCS and personal trainer at DIAKADI, suggests making it super active. "Squeeze your glutes, dragging yourself toward the wall in front of you, tilting pelvis backwards and tightening the abs," he suggests, noting that a good plank should last no more than 30 seconds. "For some extra fun, add a small ball or yoga block between your knees (and squeeze) to up the tension."