What Muscles Do Planks Work: A Comprehensive Guide

What Muscles Do Planks Work
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Planks are an incredibly versatile and effective exercise that can benefit individuals looking to improve their core strength and stability. One of the key reasons they have become a staple in many workout routines is the wide range of muscles engaged during the exercise. From the upper body to the lower body, planks work to challenge and strengthen numerous muscle groups. If you’re asking yourself, “What muscles do planks work” we’ve got you covered.

The primary muscles targeted by planks are the core muscles, which include the rectus abdominis, responsible for the “six-pack” look, and the transverse abdominis, which wrap around the waist and provide stability. In addition to these main muscles, the obliques, also known as the side abdominal muscles, are engaged to maintain stability and proper alignment throughout the plank.

While planks are most commonly associated with engaging the core muscles, they also simultaneously work for several other muscle groups. The upper body muscles, such as the trapezius, rhomboid major and minor, latissimus dorsi, pectorals, serratus anterior, deltoids, biceps, and triceps, all play a role in maintaining balance during the exercise. Furthermore, related muscles like the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back are also activated, demonstrating the comprehensive nature of planking and its benefits on overall physical fitness.

What Muscles Do Planks Work? Core Muscles That Benefit

Planks are an effective bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the core muscles, which include the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques. These muscles are crucial in maintaining a neutral spine and improving core strength. In this section, we will explore the core muscles engaged during a plank exercise.

Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis, commonly known as the “abs,” is the large, central muscle of the abdominals. Maintaining a plank position, the rectus abdominis stabilizes the entire body while keeping the spine neutral. This contraction helps to build core strength and endurance. Performing planks regularly can lead to a stronger, more defined rectus abdominis.

Transverse Abdominis

The transverse abdominis is a deep abdominal muscle that wraps around the sides and spine, functioning as a natural corset. It plays a significant role in maintaining core stability during planks. As the body weight is balanced on the arms and toes, the transverse abdominis secures the spine and protects it from injury. Strengthening the transverse abdominis can improve posture and a more stable core.


Obliques, which run along the sides of the abdomen, are another major muscle group activated during planks. The internal and external obliques help maintain the body’s balance and provide lateral support. Strong obliques are essential for a well-rounded core, as they help with twisting and lateral bending movements.

Planks work on various core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques, to build overall core strength and stability. By regularly incorporating planks into a workout routine, one can expect to see improvements in posture, spinal health, and overall functional fitness.

Upper Body Muscles Worked by Planks

Shoulders and Arms

Planks are effective for targeting various upper body muscles, particularly the shoulders and arms. When performing a plank, the biceps and triceps stabilize the body and maintain the position. The trapezius, a muscle in the upper back, also plays a crucial role as it supports the shoulder blades and keeps them in place.

Additionally, planks engage the serratus anterior, a muscle that runs along the side of the chest and assists in stabilizing the scapula. This muscle is essential for maintaining proper posture throughout the exercise and preventing strain or injury. To effectively work these muscles, keep the arms straight and your chin tucked to maintain alignment with the rest of the body.


Besides the shoulders and arms, planks also target the pectoral muscles, commonly known as the chest muscles. The pectorals have two primary muscles: the major and minor pectoralis. During plank exercises, these muscles work with other upper body muscles to hold the body in position and enhance overall stability.

Engaging the chest muscles during a plank requires proper form and body alignment. Ensure that your elbows are directly beneath the shoulders, and your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels. Maintain this position to help activate the pectorals and other surrounding muscles involved in the exercise.

By incorporating planks into your workout routine, you can effectively strengthen and tone the shoulders, arms, and chest muscles. Remember always to use proper form and technique to maximize results and prevent injuries.

Lower Body Muscles Worked by Planks

Glutes and Hamstrings

When performing a plank, the glutes and hamstrings play a significant role in stabilizing the body. The glutes, also known as the buttocks muscles, support the hips and maintain proper alignment between the legs and torso. Simultaneously, the hamstring muscles assist in stabilizing the knees and provide additional support for the hips. Engaging both the glutes and hamstrings during a plank effectively strengthens these muscles and improves your overall lower body stability.


The quadriceps are another set of essential lower body muscles engaged while performing planks. These muscles are located at the front of the thighs and work with the hip flexors to maintain proper alignment of the legs, hips, and torso alignment.

As you hold a plank position, the quadriceps contract to support and stabilize the knees. This activation not only strengthens the quadriceps themselves, but it also helps to develop better balance and coordination between the various muscles in the lower body, ultimately contributing to a stronger, more stable core. Overall, it is essential to actively engage the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps during planks for maximum lower body benefits.

Plank Variations and Their Targeted Muscles

Side Planks
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Side Plank

The side plank targets primarily the obliques, as well as the gluteus medius and minimus. It also engages the shoulders, specifically the deltoids. To perform a side plank:

  1. Begin by lying on your side, with your forearm on the floor and your elbow under your shoulder.
  2. Stack your legs on top of each other.
  3. Lift your hips off the floor, forming a straight line from your head to your ankles.
  4. Hold the position for a set period or as long as you can maintain proper form.

Forearm Plank

The forearm plank is a comprehensive core exercise that targets the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae in the lower back. Additionally, this variation also works the shoulders and the pectorals. To perform a forearm plank:

  1. Begin in a prone position with your forearms on the floor, and elbows under your shoulders.
  2. Engage your core and extend your legs, lifting your body off the ground with your toes and forearms as support.
  3. Maintain a straight alignment from your head to your heels, and hold the position.

High Plank

The high plank, also known as the straight-arm plank, targets similar muscles as the forearm plank. It works the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae, but also places more emphasis on the deltoids, triceps, and serratus anterior. To perform a high plank:

  1. Start in a push-up position, with your arms fully extended, and your wrists aligned under your shoulders.
  2. Engage your core and maintain a straight alignment from your head to your heels.
  3. Hold the position while keeping your body stable.

Plank with Leg Lift

The plank with leg lift combines the benefits of the forearm or high plank with additional focus on the gluteal muscles and hamstrings. To perform this variation:

  1. Assume a forearm or high plank position, whichever you prefer.
  2. Engage your core and maintain proper alignment.
  3. Slowly lift one leg off the ground, keeping it straight.
  4. Lower the leg back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

These plank variations provide a well-rounded workout for your core and upper and lower body muscles. Incorporating them into your exercise routine can improve stability, strength, and overall fitness.

Benefits and Importance of Planks

benefits of planks
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Improved Posture and Stability

Planks are a great exercise for strengthening the core muscles, which ultimately helps in improving posture and stability. A strong core supports maintaining a neutral spine position, a crucial element for good posture. Additionally, core stability enhances balance and coordination, which are essential for performing daily activities and athletic movements.

Reduced Lower Back Pain

Performing planks regularly can help in reducing lower back pain. This is because planks not only engage the abdominal muscles but also tighten the quads and glutes, thus reducing pressure on the lower back. According to a Physical Therapy in Sport meta-analysis, stabilization exercises like planks can help decrease back pain. Moreover, planks are a safe exercise option, as they don’t put additional strain on the spine, making them an ideal workout for those experiencing lower back issues.

Enhanced Athletic Performance

A strong core, which can be achieved through regular plank exercises, significantly contributes to improved athletic performance. The core muscles generate force, transfer energy, and maintain stability during athletic movements. By strengthening the core, athletes can enhance their endurance, power, and agility across various sports and activities.

In conclusion, planks offer numerous health benefits, such as improved posture, reduced lower back pain, and enhanced athletic performance. Practicing planks consistently can help individuals develop a strong core, essential for overall health and optimal performance in sports and daily life.

Proper Plank Execution and Common Mistakes

What Muscles Do Planks Work - A Guide
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Proper Form

Planks are an effective bodyweight exercise that works the core muscles, upper body, and back muscles. To execute a proper plank, start by positioning your hands directly under your shoulders, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Ground your toes on the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body. Ensure your pelvis is in a neutral position, and maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.

Planks require minimal movement while engaging several muscle groups in an isometric exercise. Consult with a personal trainer or physical therapist to ensure the correct form for optimal results.

Incorporate planks into your workouts by performing sets of varying duration, according to your fitness level. Beginners can start with modified planks or low planks, gradually increasing intensity and duration as they build strength.

Common Mistakes

There are several common mistakes to avoid when performing planks. The following errors may lead to improper form and reduced effectiveness:

  • Hunching your back: Maintaining a neutral spine is crucial; hunching your back may strain your upper back and shoulders, diminishing the benefits of the plank exercise.
  • Sagging hips: Planks are a midtier exercise that targets the core muscles; allowing your hips to sag may strain your lower back.
  • Holding your breath: Controlled, steady breathing is essential during planking, as holding your breath can lead to dizziness and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
  • Incomplete muscle engagement: Ensuring that all relevant muscle groups are engaged – including your feet, glutes, and back muscles – increases the effectiveness of planks.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help ensure proper form, reducing the risk of injury and maximizing the benefits of planks. Consider working with a personal trainer or experienced coach to optimize your technique for personalized coaching and feedback.

Plank Modifications and Progressions

Modifications for Beginners

Planking is an excellent exercise to build strength in the core muscles. However, beginners might find it challenging to hold a plank for an extended period. The modified plank is a great start for those needing a more accessible variation. To perform a modified plank, lower your knees to the ground while keeping your arms and upper body straight. This modification puts less strain on the muscles, making it easier to hold the position for longer periods.

Breathing is a crucial aspect of planking. Ensure you maintain a steady breath throughout the exercise, as holding your breath can cause discomfort and hinder your progress. For beginners, it can be beneficial to use a timer to increase your plank duration gradually. Start by holding the plank for 15 seconds, then add 5 seconds each day until you reach your desired time.

Incorporating equipment like resistance bands can further assist with modifications. For instance, placing a resistance band around your waist, anchored to a sturdy object, can provide additional support and reduce the weight on your core muscles. As you gain strength and confidence, gradually decrease the resistance to rely more on your body weight.

Advanced Progressions

For those looking to intensify their plank workout, numerous advanced progressions can challenge your core muscles further. Personal trainers and NASM-certified trainers recommend various techniques to increase plank difficulty.

One popular advanced progression is the decline plank. Place your feet on an elevated surface, such as a bench or a step, to perform this, ensuring your body remains straight from head to toe. The incline increases the resistance on your core muscles, requiring greater strength to maintain the position.

Another advanced plank variation incorporates dynamic movements like plank jacks or mountain climbers. These exercises work the core muscles and engage other muscle groups, turning the plank into a full-body workout.

Finally, incorporating additional equipment, such as a stability ball or TRX straps, can significantly increase the difficulty of your planks. These tools require increased stabilization and control, helping you build strength and balance throughout your core.

Regardless of age or fitness level, plank modifications, and progressions provide options to suit everyone, from beginners to advanced exercisers. Planks can improve core strength, stability, and overall fitness with consistent practice.

Hopefully, we’ve answered the question, “What muscles do planks work?” and you’re on your way to a healthier core.

Written by James Kosur

James is a 20-year veteran of the digital media industry, an avid gym builder, and a dad to four kids, three dogs, and two cats. He's a DIYer who loves building stuff with his hands and a gamer who enjoys all facets of gaming.