The Secret To The Perfect Plank

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein, Hair and Makeup by Andi Yancey.
The plank is sort of the Kate Moss of fitness. It goes in and out of the spotlight, but it never goes out of style — and with good reason. It gets the job done. We all know that doing a plank is a really good, whole-body exercise, and, even more importantly, it lays the foundation for so many other fitness moves. There's only one problem: It's really easy to do it wrong.

Just as a good plank can do wonders for your body, a bad plank can lead to real injury. Push too hard in the wrong direction, and you can wind up with anything from a pulled muscle to a sprained back. Here's the good news: It's just as easy to do it right.

We got this simple, three-step guide from Cadence Dubus, owner of fitness studio Brooklyn Strength, who's seen her fair share of lousy planks. "Either people immediately drop into that sway-backed position, or else they're in a plank but their shoulders have crept up to their ears," Dubus explains. She frequently shows her students this basic trick for getting into the perfect plank, and that's when it clicks. "They suddenly feel that this really is a total-body exercise," she says. If you're doing this right, she says, you're creating more mobility and stability in everything from your feet to your fingertips.

Yes, a good plank is difficult, but it's not complicated. Here's how to do it.
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein, Hair and Makeup by Andi Yancey.
Step 1: Find Your True Neutral

Begin on your hands and knees in a simple tabletop position. "Your nipples should be right between your thumbs, with all 10 fingers facing forward," says Cadence. Next, you're going to drop your chest down toward your hands. Then, pull it back up, but without changing the position of your spine. "You're not doing cat or cow," like you do in yoga, Cadence explains; you're just shifting your sternum up and down with a flat back. "What you’re trying to do is shrug your shoulder blades close together and then push them as wide as they go apart," she adds.

This first move is simply so you can find your full range of motion. Then, you'll come to a neutral space in between those two extremes. "But," she continues, "it’s important to feel the extremes, so that you really understand where your neutral is. That’s what you’re going to try to maintain; that’s where the work is. "
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein, Hair and Makeup by Andi Yancey.
Step 2: Extend A Leg & Recalibrate

Now that you've found your true neutral, "you’re going to extend one leg, toe down, ready to take weight on it," Cadence says. Now, you're halfway into a plank, but before you go any further, reassess your positioning.

Here is where it's easy to lean to one side a bit or feel a shoulder creep up. Pause and make sure you're still in neutral: nipples still between your thumbs, shoulder blades not stretching too high or falling low, but hanging in the middle of the socket.

"You should already feel, by just extending your leg, that you’re starting to engage your abdominals a bit," Cadence adds. "You’re going to get a hint of what’s to come."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein, Hair and Makeup by Andi Yancey.
Step 3: The Plank

Extend your other leg, and voilà — plank! Easy-peasy, right?

Okay, no. We know; "easy-peasy" this is not. But, you are in proper form. Says Cadence: "If you’ve been able to get both legs out without anything changing, then most likely you’re feeling like, whoa, my abs are working way more.'"

Once more, take a quick check and make sure your shoulders are still in neutral, nipples still in line, etc. If so, you won't just feel this in your abs. "The back of your legs are working, your feet are working, your arms are working, and your whole back is working," Cadence explains. This is the magic of planking.

Getting into a plank like this also makes you far more conscious of when you start to fall out of it. Cadence notes that if you sense your lower back starting to hang down or you have the impulse to lift your hips up, you're probably slipping out of form. Don't panic; just pause and realign. Even if you can only hold this proper form for a matter of seconds, it's much better than holding crappy form for five minutes.

Cadence recommends trying to add this practice to your regular fitness routine and building from there. If you can create the habit of finding and maintaining form, then everything that comes from this foundational exercise will be exponentially more comfortable and beneficial to your body, whether it's an improved chaturanga series in yoga, better posture and agility in dance, or just a stronger push-up. "It allows you to do all kinds of things," she concludes. "Handstands, break-dancing — whatever you're into."
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