The do's and don'ts of planking

20 January, 2016   Sport Singapore

While the world record for planking stands at more than five hours, many of us average humans have trouble holding it for a mere minute. Planking – not to be mistaken for the fad – is a seemingly easy core exercise that can leave one seriously doubting their fitness levels.

Yoga and pilates enthusiasts frequently incorporate it into their training, striving to plank for as long a they possibly can; often holding their longest timings as a badge of honour of sorts. However, research suggests planking for lengthy periods may in fact do more harm than good. 


General view of runners planking. Photo: Reuters

Experts have long backed the commonly held beliefs that planking has its benefits when it comes to strengthening and stiffening your core and primary muscle groups.

“The main role for the core muscles is actually to induce stiffness around the spinal column so the spinal column can maintain that upright position so in a way it helps to support the spinal column,” said Danny Lum, a Strength and Conditioning Coach from Singapore Sports Institute.

“While doing planks, we actually help to train our core muscles to serve this purpose.”

At the same time, however, Lum said it is important not to overdo it. “Trying to force yourself to go beyond your limits, that wouldn't be a good idea,” he said.

“It is not just in planking, but for every other exercise, if we force ourselves to go beyond our limits, the risk of injury is very high.”

A Daily Mail article reported that costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects the rib to the sternum, is a common consequence of overdoing the plank.

Furthermore, some experts have asserted that there is little value in planking for extended periods of time.

A study by Dr Stuart McGill in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research advocates doing shorter holds more frequently.

And as for planking for protracted periods of time, McGill said there is absolutely no benefit in taking it to extreme levels.

“There’s no utility to this kind of activity, other than claiming a record,” he said. “It’s probably detrimental to other aspects of human performance.”

“Enough is enough,” veteran strength coach and author Dan John also said about planking for more than two minutes.

“It’s just a plank. More is not better. From one minute to two minutes is the hard part.” But to go beyond two minutes? “Absolutely no value at all.”