Can’t Feel Abs When You Plank? Here’s Why & How to Fix it!

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If you can’t feel your abs when you plank this is down to incorrect form. The most common issue is that you’re not engaging your glutes. If you squeeze your glutes during planks this will ensure that your hips don’t sag, which will help to target the abs better.

Engage Your Glutes When You Plank

An Athletic Woman in a Gym Class Doing Planks

Planks are often viewed as solely an ab exercise, but in truth it’s far more than that.

In fact, I would go as far to say that planks are a full-body exercise.

As you suspend yourself above the ground you will typically engage a vast array of muscles.

Most specifically the core, but you will also activate many muscles from your shoulders, to your glutes, and all the way down to your calves.

“The plank is a fantastic exercise, but it’s often done wrong. Make sure your core is engaged, your back is flat, and your hips are down.”

Bret Contreras (Strength Coach)

We typically perform ab exercises in the hope of working the rectus abdominis.

The rectus abdominis is the most “famous” of all the abdominal muscles, as it runs along the front of the abdomen.

It is these muscles that form the coveted “six-pack”.

However, it’s also important to work the other core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis, external abdominal obliques, and internal abdominal obliques.

Planks will hit all these muscles, as well as the hip flexors, lower back and glutes.

So, in effect all the muscles that wrap their way around your entire midsection.

That being said, as I’ve mentioned, I view planks as a full-body exercise, so I feel it’s important to activate as many muscles as possible.

One of the main things that people tend to forget is to activate the glutes.

So, whenever you perform planks you should really squeeze the glutes.

This will automatically bring the hips up and activate the abs to a far greater degree.

There is a tendency to either allow the hips to sag or to raise the butt too high into the air.

Unfortunately, this takes the focus away from the abs.

So, remember to really squeeze your glutes when planking, which will help you to maintain the perfect position.

Tighten Your Abs During Planks

Regardless of the muscle being worked, if you contract the muscle prior to performing a particular movement you typically work the muscle to greater effect.

Planks are no different.

Okay, I’ve said that planks do work a variety of muscles, but most people still generally view them as an ab exercise.

With this being the case you should contract the ab muscles prior to planking.

Basically, squeeze the abs and keep them tight throughout your set.

“If you’re not feeling your abs during planks, it could be a form issue. Double-check your body position and ensure your core is truly engaged.”

Ebony Horton (Strength Coach)

However, more often than not, people will simply drop to the floor, get into position, and then hold a plank for “x” amount of time.

So, there’s no real focus on the target muscles.

Unfortunately, if you do this you’ll never feel your abs during planks.

I’m NEVER actually amazed when I hear of people who can hold a standard plank for 2, 3, 5 minutes or even longer.


Because they’re not doing the exercise correctly.

I can guarantee that if you really tighten and squeeze your abs beforehand then you’re unlikely to be able to hold a plank for this long.

If you also activate and squeeze other muscles, such as the glutes, the time for which you can hold a plank will further decrease.

I don’t actually view this as a bad thing.

I’m a stickler for good form when performing any exercise.

So, I don’t see why a basic exercise like the plank should be any different.

If this means that you can only hold a perfect plank for 30 seconds, while contracting/tightening/squeezing various muscles, then so be it.

I can guarantee that your 30 seconds of perfect plank form will do far more for your abs than 5 minutes of nothingness.

So, don’t forget to tighten those abs before you start planking.

Don’t Allow Your Shoulders to Internally Rotate

A Muscular Man Performing a Side Plank

There is a tendency to place too much weight on the shoulders when planking.

This in turn can cause the shoulders to hurt when doing planks.

I would say this is especially true when performing planks from the push up position (hands placed on the floor rather than elbows).

Something I see quite often is the shoulders collapsing inwards or internally rotating.

This will typically cause the upper back to hunch over and therefore places far more strain on the shoulders.

And this of course takes the focus away from the abs.

There are actually many exercises that we perform when the shoulders tend to internally rotate when they shouldn’t.

These are generally upper body exercises such as the bench press, pull ups, chin ups, and tricep dips.

However, as with the above exercises you should also retract the shoulders when performing planks.

I will say that you shouldn’t retract the shoulders as much with planks as you would with these upper body exercises.

But, you definitely don’t want the shoulders slouching forward.

So, whenever you are planking ensure that the shoulders are slightly pulled back.

This will also help to maintain a straight line in your spine from head to toe.

And this should help you to engage the abs far better.

Play Around With Hand and Elbow Positioning

When performing a traditional plank you will learn that either your hands or elbows should be directly below your shoulders.

This will ensure that the stress is taken off the shoulders.

If you are fairly new to planking, or your core muscles are fairly weak, I would always recommend this course of action.

Simply by having your hands or elbows below the shoulders you can concentrate on working the abs and core to a far greater degree.

That being said, you will very quickly acclimatize to performing conventional planks.

As the exercise becomes “easier” it can be harder to maintain focus on the abs.

So, once you’re performing planks fairly easily it could be time to change things up a little.

I find that having the hands wider than usual or further forward seems to work the abs far harder.

So, if you feel that you’ve achieved a good standard of planking then it could be time for you to make the exercise a little harder.

And the easiest way to achieve this is try different hand and elbow placements.

Reduce Points of Contact With the Floor

A Group of People Performing Medicine Ball Planks

Talking of making planks a bit harder, it’s possibly time for you to kick things up a notch.

I very rarely perform the conventional plank nowadays.

Granted, planks are a fantastic exercise, but there are just so many variations to choose from.

“A great plank is all about core strength and stability, which is essential for everything you do in life.”

Jillian Michaels (Trainer)

For me, I find that if I reduce the points of contact with the floor I can really feel my abs working hard.

For the traditional plank you have four points of contact with the floor.

These are both feet and either both elbows or both hands.

So, you could try static hold planks.

This would involve removing one hand or one leg from the floor.

Perhaps you could remove one hand and one leg at the same time.

You could try variations of moving planks, such as any number of mountain climbers.

You could bring twist and touch planks into the equation.

Basically, the fewer points of contact you have with the floor during planks, the harder you can expect the abs and core to work.

Key Learning Points

  • The number one reason for not feeling your abs when you plank is typically because you haven’t activated the glutes and are allowing the hips to sag.
  • This takes all the emphasis away from the abs, and places more pressure on the lower back and shoulders.
  • Ensure you contract and tighten your abs when you plank.
  • You may have become accustomed to “traditional planks”, so try moving your hands or elbows to different positions to increase instability, which forces your abs to work harder.
  • Having fewer points of contact with the floor (whether hands, elbows, or feet) will increase instability, so once more, your abs have to work harder.

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