What It Really Means When You Can't Hold Your Plank

The ability to hold a plank for a minute isn't just a fun trick you can show off at the gym: It's actually a marker of good overall health. So what does it mean when, a few seconds into this challenging position, you find yourself sagging, struggling to maintain good posture? If you can pinpoint the part of your body that is struggling, you can train yourself to engage your muscles differently and work to remedy weak points.

A good plank begins on the floor resting on your forearms, then lifting your whole body up into a straight line — a lower version of the top of a pushup. Your spine should be neutral, and you should be creating a straight line from your head to your heels (via Harvard Health Publishing). If you're new to planks or to exercise in general, don't be surprised if you can only hold this for a few seconds at a time: It takes a while to build up to holding a plank for a full minute.

Check your posture to see where your weak spot is: If you notice that your hips are sagging or sticking up in the middle of your plank, try engaging your glutes — that means squeezing your butt — to bring your body back into alignment, personal trainer Geoff Tripp tells Livestrong.

Why bother perfecting your plank?

Your core might also be to blame. To work on strengthening your core while perfecting your plank position, Tripp told Livestrong that he recommends elevating your arms, doing your plank in a high pushup position with your hands elevated on a couch, chair, or even against the wall. The elevation helps make the plank easier, but remember to maintain your activated core, shoulders, and glutes to actually train the muscles so you can shift back to the ground.

Dr. Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, tells Harvard Health Publishing that holding a plank for a minute is typically a good sign that you're not going to be dealing with chronic back pain: "There's a saying that when you can hold a plank for a minute, your back pain will be gone," he explained. That's because holding a plank is an indication of a strong core that can better support your spine. 

But more isn't always better: Once you master a minute, don't instantly try for longer. In fact, two minutes is your maximum. "Two minutes is often considered the maximum, and you don't get much more benefit after that," Eric L'Italien, a physical therapist with the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, told Harvard Health Publishing.