Does doing a plank feel like you’re walking the plank? That might be because they literally exercise your muscles from head to toe.

What muscles do planks work?

Planks don’t just work your core — they do so much more. They work plenty of muscles, including your:

  • rectus abdominis
  • obliques
  • transverse abdominis
  • serratus anterior
  • glutes
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Ready to rise to the plank challenge? Here’s what muscles you’ll work.

  • Rectus abdominis. Rectus abdominis may sound like some sort of Transformer, but it’s actually the top layer of your stomach muscles. These are where those classic “six pack” muscles come from.
  • Transverse abdominis. Sometimes called the corset muscle, this is a deep, inner layer of your abs. It helps cinch your waist and support your spine.
  • Obliques. Planks will also get your internal and external obliques burning. Those are the muscles that run on either side of your abs from your hips to your ribcage. These help with upper body flexibility and hip and back stability.
  • Serratus anterior. Planks def won’t let you slack on these powerful shoulder stabilizing muscles.
  • Glutes. A great booty isn’t just for booty shorts. Strong glutes also strengthen and stabilize your hips and improve your posture and balance.

Doing planks on the reg will also work a host of muscles like your hamstrings, quads, deltoids, pecs, biceps, triceps, and a whole lotta back muscles.

Get ready for even more pros of planking.

1. Develops a killer core

Your core stabilizes your body. It’s at the center (literally and figuratively) of lots of activities you do on the daily. Whether you’re picking up grocery bags or playing pickle ball, your core has you covered.

Planking is especially helpful for building core strength and muscular endurance. (That’s your muscles’ ability to sustain exercise for a period of time.) According to a small 2019 study of college athletes, researchers found that 8 weeks of core training improved static balance, core endurance, and running performance.

2. Reduces risk of injury

According to researchers, core muscles help stabilize your body and protect your spine from excess force. So whether you’re playing golf or trying to move your living room furniture, planking now and then may help protect you from pain, strain, or injury down the road.

Planks are also easier on your back, neck and spine than other core exercises like sit-ups and crunches.

3. Reduces back pain

If you have back or neck pain, doing planks may help. (Just check with your doc first.) By strengthening your core, you can increase spinal stability and alleviate tension.

Strong abs help support your lumbar spine (aka your lower back), which improves your back stability and pelvic movement. According to 2016 research, 3 months of core strengthening exercises including planks “significantly” reduced participants’ lower back pain.

Doing a few planks properly will give you better results than lots of sloppy ones. It’ll also ensure you don’t suffer any unnecessary pain, strain, or injuries. Here’s how to do the classic forearm plank.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your elbows and forearms by your side. Your elbows and shoulders should be in alignment.
  2. Slowly lift your upper bod off the floor by pressing through your forearms and toes. Squeeze your core as you rise, keeping a neutral spine and neck. Keep your pelvis tucked in.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute, or for as long as you can maintain A+ form.
  4. Repeat 3 times or more.

Pro tips:

  • If your butt wants to rise up too much, shift your pelvis forward.
  • Make it harder by straightening your arms for a straight-arm plank.

There are lots of variations of the classic plank that can make things more exciting and target different muscles. Here are three to try:

Side plank

It’s time to work it from side-to-side. The side plank will isolate and challenge your obliques even further.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder, forearm flat.
  2. Keep your knees on the ground. Stack your legs and raise your hips off the floor.
  3. Place your hand on your hip.
  4. Squeeze your glutes for 30 to 60 seconds.

Pro tip:

  • Make it harder by stacking your feet instead of your knees.
  • Ready for a bigger balance challenge? Raise your hand toward the sky.

Walking plank

Now it’s really time to walk the plank. This will demand an extra kick from your core as well as your upper and lower body including your delts, glutes, quads, hams, and calves.

How to do it:

  1. Get on all fours in full plank (aka straight-arm plank) position: Hands underneath shoulders, arms fully extended.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and abs as you move your right hand and foot to the right.
  3. Move to the side by moving your left hand and foot to center, returning to plank position.
  4. Keep going. Shoot for about 5 steps to the left and 5 to the right and work your way up as you get more comfortable. (Space permitted!) Go for 30 seconds to a minute.

Pro tip:

  • More speed won’t get you any more power points here. Aim for slow and controlled movement. Really concentrate on the muscles you’re working.

Plank with alternating knee to elbow

If you’re ready for your core to scream, this one may be it for you. This one will really define your obliques as well as further challenge all the muscles in the classic pose.

How to do it:

  1. Get on all fours in full plank (aka straight-arm plank) position: Hands underneath shoulders, arms fully extended.
  2. Lift your leg and pull your knee to the opposite shoulder.
  3. Push your knee back to starting plank pose. Keep your abs and glutes tight so your butt doesn’t rise.
  4. Repeat on both sides for 30 to 60 seconds for 3 sets.

Planks are a powerful exercise that will boost core strength and work a range of other muscles including the shoulder stabilizers and glutes. Doing them regularly may reduce your risk of injury and even reduce back pain.

Getting bored of the traditional plank position? There are tons plank variations out there to try. If you’re not sure about proper form, reach out to a personal trainer for personalized advice.