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How To Do the Perfect Plank (and Why They Matter)

They just might be the best exercise for Gen X guys

Man holding plank position at gym
Alamy Stock Photo

I was a sit-ups guy until I met “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

We were at the Broken Skull Ranch, his 2,100-acre spread in Texas. I was there to interview the WWE Hall of Famer, but after a few beers he jumped to the floor and assumed the plank position—arms bent, fists clenched, elbows directly under his shoulders, with his broad back straight as a board.

“C’mon,” he growled. “You can do it!”

He was right, but not for long. After half a minute I went down like a victim of one of his Stone Cold stunners. Austin thought that was funny. He switched to a side plank while I reached for a Shiner Bock.

Since then I’ve loved and hated planks — the best exercise a man over 40 can do. In the war against paunch, sit-ups can’t compare. A sit-up involves your back as much as your abs and can contribute to the lower back pain that afflicts so many of us. But a good plank zeroes in on the core muscles with lean efficiency. It’s the one exercise that engages your whole core in a single move.

And the news gets better: A recent study suggests that doing planks can lower your blood pressure.

If you can maintain a plank for 30 seconds three or four times in a day, you’ll be fitter. Make it to a minute and you’re ahead of most guys. A friend of mine started by lasting through the shortest songs he could find on his phone’s music app. “Jerry Lee Lewis and the Ramones were my standbys,” he says. “Then I slowly worked up to four-minute songs.”

Two and a half minutes is my limit. I used to push for four and top out at five, but when I showed off for a trainer, he pointed out that my form went to hell in the second minute. “Once your back sags, your abs get a rest. You might as well stop.”

You may have read about David and Victoria Beckham doing a “plank challenge” lasting more than three minutes. Margot Robbie reportedly won a duel on the Barbie set with a four-minute plank while Ryan Gosling trembled out at 3:02. Even they look like pikers compared to the Czech Republic’s Josef Šálek, who made the Guinness Book of World Records this year by holding a plank for nine hours, 38 minutes and 47 seconds.

For the rest of us, length matters less than form. The next time you hear a guy brag about the five-minute plank he did today, you can bet his form sucked. Any chump can do a four-minute plank if he’s sagging and wobbling. But if you can stay straight from head to toe for one minute, squeezing your glutes, keeping your nascent six-pack from drooping, you’ll be fitter tomorrow.

“If you can do a plank and relax in it, you’re teaching your heart something,” says Paul Menard, a yogi who runs the Karuna Center for Yoga & Healing Arts in Northampton, Massachusetts. “Something that could change your life with a commitment of four or five minutes a day. If you can do a two-minute plank with a straight back, a plank with real integrity, that’s something to be proud of.”

Follow Article Topics: Health-&-Fitness