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Plank exercise in the office, a new fitness trend?

Plank exercise in the office, a new fitness trend?

Geschreven door Nathan Albers
Geschatte leestijd: 6 minuten

It seems to be a new trend; performing the plank exercise at the office. For a change, a fitness trend that I wholeheartedly support.

Plank oefening op kantoor

Plank exercise at the office, a new fitness trend?

It seems to be a new trend; performing the plank exercise at the office. Although I often view most fitness trends with skepticism, I can only be enthusiastic about this one. The plank exercise is, after all, an exercise with which you can defend yourself against your biggest enemy at the office. No, not your boss or that gossiping colleague, but your chair.
“Sitting is the new smoking.”
It’s a popular saying nowadays. And not entirely without reason. Various, fairly recent studies have shown that prolonged and frequent sitting can have significant negative effects on health. These studies focus mainly on the consequences of lack of movement, limited blood flow, and the effects on, for example, the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Performing the plank exercise addresses another consequence of prolonged sitting; the lack of stabilizing work by the muscles around your core.

Plank exercise for core muscles

When training the abdominal muscles, we often think of curls and sit-ups. These are exercises that focus on moving the torso relative to the pelvis. However, there is a task that occupies the abdominal muscles, as well as the muscles in the lower back, much more often. When you stand and move, these core muscles are constantly engaged in stabilizing the torso. Your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles work together to keep the torso upright and prevent it from tilting forward or backward. The oblique abdominal muscles prevent (unwanted) lateral tilting and rotations, while the transversus abdominis acts like a corset. By sitting, you limit the need for these muscles to stabilize the torso to a large extent. You often lean forward, allowing the torso to rest against the desk and on the forearms. Or you lean back, supporting yourself against the backrest.

Sitting, injuries, and back pain

For muscles, the principle is: Use it or lose it. If you don’t use those muscles so often, why wouldn’t the body allocate fewer resources to maintain those muscles? For example, proteins needed to provide those muscles with the necessary amino acids can be used elsewhere. The control of these muscles from the brain will also become less effective, as with any action you perform less frequently. When the core muscles become weaker and less well controlled, this is a recipe for injuries and complaints. We often see complaints in the lower back develop, caused by back muscles compensating for weaker abdominal muscles. Abdominal exercises in general, and the plank in particular, are mainly done to prevent injuries [1,2]. Not to build a six-pack. You do that in the kitchen.

Plank exercise: Muscles involved

The plank, and its variations, are exercises particularly suitable for addressing this issue. Exercises that focus primarily on the stabilizing tasks of the muscles around the core. However, many more muscles are involved in maintaining your posture during the plank:
  • Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)
  • Transversus abdominis (transverse abdominal muscle, or ‘corset muscle’)
  • Erector spinae (‘back extensor’)
  • Hamstrings
  • Abdominal muscles
  • Glutes
  • Pectoralis major (major chest muscle)
  • Anterior deltoid (front fibers of the deltoid muscle)
  • Triceps brachii
  • Biceps brachii
  • Serratus anterior
  • Rotator cuff (stabilizing shoulder muscles, supraspinatus, subscapularis, teres major, teres minor)
  • Serratus
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
The emphasis is on the core muscles that have to do most of the work. During the plank position, the muscles in the lower back, abdomen, buttocks, and legs (especially hamstrings) work to keep the back and legs aligned. The muscles in the chest and shoulders also help stabilize the shoulders and torso (front, back, and sideways). The biceps and triceps help maintain the curvature in the arms and prevent forward or backward movements.

Execution of the plank exercise

The plank is very simple to perform: To perform the plank, assume a push-up position or support yourself on your forearms (possibly with your hands clasped together). Keep your body as straight as possible, as when you are standing upright. Gravity now tends to pull your middle down. Try to maintain a normal curvature in your back. So don’t let your middle sag too much, but also don’t raise your buttocks too high.

Plank exercise: How long

The next logical question is then: “How long do you hold that position?” It’s good to realize that longer isn’t always better. Often, people see it as a challenge to be able to hold a plank longer and longer. A noble goal, of course, but at some point, a longer execution adds little to the effectiveness. So don’t focus on trying to beat George Hood’s world record, who held the normal plank for an impressive 5 hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds [5]. Unfortunately, little research has been done on the optimal duration of the plank exercise. I haven’t been able to find any, in any case. Nevertheless, we can say something meaningful about this. First of all, it’s not the function of the core muscles to hold you stiff as a board for hours on end. So you don’t need to train that. In a study among soccer players (boys, adolescents), the relationship between core strength and athletic performance was examined. The strength of the core muscles was tested by performing the plank for as long as possible. The average length of time the young soccer players could hold this was 124 seconds [6]. For the side plank (see further), this was about 90 seconds. In other words, if you can maintain the exercises for 2 minutes and 90 seconds, respectively, your core muscles are comparable to those of a young athlete. That seems like a good benchmark. Even that long isn’t necessary. Therefore, aim for 30 to 60 seconds. If this becomes too easy, it’s better to start another exercise than to continue for even longer.

Plank variations

To make it genuinely more challenging, you’re better off choosing a variation of the plank than holding it for a very long time. By performing the plank on an unstable surface, for example, you increase the activity of the muscles involved [3]. Think of performing it with your hands or feet on a stability ball. Other variations are the roll-out plank and suspended (roll-out) plank. In these, you place your hands on a roller and make the exercise dynamic by bringing your hands as far forward as possible and then back under your chest (roll-out). In the suspended roll-out plank, you let your feet hang in ropes so that they are the same height as your back. Then, pull your knees to your chest and return to the (elevated) plank position. Both variants would demand the most from the upper straight abdominal muscles, while the suspended roll-out plank would also require the most from the lower straight abdominal muscles [4]. The suspended plank can also be performed without bringing the knees forward and back, stable. This variant appears to demand the most from the erector spinae, the ‘back extensor’ often involved in low back pain. For office use, this is also a more practical variant. A platform on which you can place your feet is easier to find if it doesn’t need to move freely forward and backward.

Side plank

This variation is mainly performed for the oblique abdominal muscles. This execution is also known as the side plank or lateral plank, and it also appears to require the most from the erector spinae, the back extensor often involved in low back pain. You can also perform a heavier variation of this. Namely, performed with the feet elevated, such as hanging in ropes. This seems to put the oblique abdominal muscles to work the most [4]. According to the same study, surprisingly, the normal plank performed with hanging legs (both stable and with roll-out) imposes a greater load on the oblique abdominal muscles than the side plank with feet on the floor. Only the side plank with elevated feet provides a slightly higher activation.

Plank exercise schedule

Prevention is better than cure. Working at the office doesn’t automatically mean you have to sit all day. I’ve recently started using a standing desk, and it’s excellent. I no longer have to feel guilty about the impact of a long productive day on my core muscles. Breaks also feel like old part-time jobs where I used to do physical work. When I sit down now, I also notice that my body really needed the rest, not just my brain. Regularly doing a plank exercise is great, of course. Even better is if you let your core muscles do their stabilizing work throughout the day as they have been doing for about 400,000 years.


The plank exercise and its variations can be a good method to counteract the slackening of core muscles due to prolonged sitting. Various variations emphasize different muscles and can also provide a higher intensity. Don’t try to hold a plank position longer and longer, but opt for a more challenging variation for more challenge.


  1. Blasimann A, Eberle S, Scuderi MM. [Effect of Core Muscle Strengthening Exercises (Including Plank and Side Plank) on Injury Rate in Male Adult Soccer Players: A Systematic Review]. Sportverletz Sportschaden. 2018 Mar;32(1):35-46. doi: 10.1055/a-0575-2324. Epub 2018 Mar 20. German. PubMed PMID: 29558776.
  2. Huxel Bliven, Kellie C, and Barton E Anderson. “Core stability training for injury prevention.” Sports health vol. 5,6 (2013): 514-22. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200
  3. Snarr RL, Esco MR. Electromyographical comparison of plank variations performed with and without instability devices. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):3298-305. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000521. PubMed PMID: 25264667.
  4. Calatayud J, Casaña J, Martín F, Jakobsen MD, Colado JC, Andersen LL. Progression of Core Stability Exercises Based on the Extent of Muscle Activity. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2017 Oct;96(10):694-699. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000000713. PubMed PMID: 28157133.
  5. manners.nl/wereldrecord-planken-verbroken/

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