Elbow planks are a popular variation of the plank exercise. In this type of plank, the elbows are flexed and the weight rests on the forearms. (If you don’t know what the basic plank is, imagine getting into position to start a full press-up and then just staying there). Plank holds have become a bit of a fad, with some workouts having holds of several minutes. This probably isn’t the best use of anyone’s workout time, but the plank can be a good addition to your workout if used in moderation. (For more about this, see What’s the best plank position for a strong core?) The workout below uses holds of up to 20 seconds in two different elbow plank positions.
Benefits of “planking”
The plank is primarily a core training exercise. The idea is to keep the body in a straight line and make the core muscles work hard to maintain this. It needs no equipment and can be done anywhere and there are lots of ways (other than increasing hold time) of progressing the exercise.
The plank and most of its variations are static exercises. Static holds aren’t suitable for everyone because they cause an increase in blood pressure. Also, they only train the muscles in one position. So you might be able to maintain your core contraction while planking, but then find your control isn’t very good when running, for example. Another potential disadvantage is that people struggle to hold their bodies in a straight line and so do the exercise with poor technique. This makes it less effective and increases the chance of injury.
In summary, the plank is good for training core muscles if done correctly, but it should be mixed with other more dynamic forms of ab training and holds should be kept to a sensible length.
5 minute elbow plank workout
This is a pyramid style workout using two variations of the elbow plank. You start with 10 second holds, work up to 20 second holds and then work your way down again. Rest for a couple of seconds (or as long as you need) between each hold. Make sure you read the instructions below so that you get the technique right.
It’s important to take care getting into these plank positions, or you could strain muscles. You need to know how to engage the core muscles to do these exercises properly. If you haven’t done any core work before, see Core Exercises for Beginners. Please also see these general safety guidelines.
Prone elbow plank
- Kneel on the floor
- Lean forwards and put your forearms on the floor, making sure your shoulders are directly above your elbows
- Have the palms facing, curled into a fist
- Straighten one leg out behind you, with the toes on the floor
- Engage your core strongly and extend the other leg behind
- Your body should be making a straight line – if possible check in a mirror or ask someone else to check
- Now hold this position for the given time
- Then lower the knees to the floor and rest
Side elbow plank
- Lay on your side, with your legs extended in a straight line
- Take your forearm to 90 degrees with your body, your hand making a fist as before
- Engage your core muscles and lift your upper body so that your forearm is supporting you, making sure your shoulder is directly above your elbow
- Hold this position for the given time
- Then lower the upper body to the floor and rest
Note: if you find it more comfortable, you can have the top foot in front of the underneath foot so that both feet are on the floor.
Just follow the times given in the chart for each hold. If you find the workout too challenging to begin with, then don’t go all the way up to the 20 second holds. You could start off just doing 10 seconds/15 seconds/10 seconds of each for example. If you can already do the 20 seconds, challenge yourself by going up to 25 or 30.