What happens when you do a plank every day for a whole month? That's exactly what I wanted to find out...
Normally I just run three or four times a week and let my muscles fall by the wayside - but I knew that building strength makes for better running and better overall health. So in December 2020 I joined a gym, excited to work on my strength training.
I only managed three gym sessions before the UK's third national lockdown began in January, and suddenly I was faced with only my living room and bodyweight to help me build up strength.
In search of a challenge to keep me motivated, I decided to try planking everyday for a month to see what would happen.
The plank is one of the best workouts for abs. It’s simple, effective, and requires no equipment and barely any space. Plus, as long as your form is correct – keeping your back straight and glutes squeezed – the plank can develop core strength which, according to Harvard University, leads to good posture, less back pain, and better balance and stability.
My plank-every-day challenge approach
In the first two weeks of my plank challenge, I did a standard low plank resting on my forearms. I started out doing it for 60 seconds, and tried adding a few more seconds each time. The longest time I did the plank this way was 80 seconds.
After two weeks I decided to shake it up by attempting Lilly Sabri's five-minute plank challenge video on YouTube. Involving nearly 10 different plank variations performed without breaks over five minutes, it was intense to say the least!
Here’s what happened after trying both approaches over a month…
I experienced DOMS - and not just in my abs
After about four days of planking for at least 60 seconds every day, I started to feel delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which left me reaching for my best foam roller to help with recovery and let me know the daily exercise was working its magic.
Surprisingly, I felt the DOMS in some unexpected places, like down the side of my torso and just below my shoulders.
Before I began the plank challenge, I thought the exercise would mostly target my abs – AKA my six pack muscles. But the beauty of the plank is that this super simple move works a range of different muscles at the same time, including the glutes, core (including abs and obliques), shoulders, and back.
Different variations can target different muscles too, and personal trainer Tess Glynne-Jones suggests choosing a variation that’s best suited to your goals.
“A conventional low plank will be targeting the majority of your midsection. A side plank will be working the obliques a little harder. A side plank star will be getting your glutes more involved and a Copenhagen side plank is seriously challenging those abductors.”
My shoulder strength let me down
Try as I might over multiple attempts, I wasn’t able to complete the whole five minute plank challenge without taking breaks. Some days I didn’t even attempt the commando variation because I knew the difficulty that was in store for me. But it wasn’t my core that was quivering in fear at the exercises – it was my arms that were struggling to hold me up.
Tess says this is a common issue that can be helped by working on shoulder stability and strength.
“Have a play with your push and pull movements that require a little more shoulder stability than others, such as renegade rows and dumbbell bench press." Check out our pick of the best adjustable dumbbells to get started at home.
She adds: "Incorporate overhead work like windmills, Turkish get-ups, and overhead marches to challenge the shoulder and core stability even more and develop the strength required for planking.”
I became more aware of my core when running
My running form wasn’t bad before I started the plank challenge, but after doing it for a couple of weeks there was a discernible difference. A strong core makes for better, more efficient running by allowing you to main good form for longer.
I noticed that as my core slowly grew stronger, my running posture became stronger too. I felt more confident as I ran and also achieved some great times and distances. While I can’t attribute it all to the planks, I have no doubt they played a part.
I didn't see any changes in ab definition
Okay, I wasn’t expecting that I would suddenly have a six pack by the end of the month, but I did have some hope I’d see definition in my abs. And I did, maybe, first thing in the morning - when the light was just right and I was flexing at a certain angle!
But in reality this plank challenge didn’t give me washboard abs. To achieve that, I'd likely need to build other core exercises into my workouts, such as crunches, Pilates abs workouts and routines incorporating the best ab rollers.
However, my body does feel stronger so I know it’s been effective, and at the end of the day that’s what’s most important.
Plank challenge: final thoughts
Even though I didn’t manage to plank every day over the month, I’ve noticed some benefits from trying this challenge. Most notably, my running form feels stronger and more confident.
I haven’t seen any other tangible benefits of the plank, like ab definition or bigger muscles, but I know that building a stronger core will contribute to my body’s overall health and wellbeing.
The plank is a simple, quick, and versatile move that offers a range of benefits, so while I likely won’t continue doing it daily, it’s definitely an exercise I’ll incorporate into my workout routine regularly, alongside other core-strengthening exercises.
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