Ever wondered, “Why Do I Shake So Much When Doing a Plank?”
Whether you’re new to exercise or a seasoned athlete, I’m sure you experienced the sensation of shaking during planks.
For some of you this may not occur until you’re well into your “set”.
Whereas for others you are literally trembling violently after no more than 5 seconds.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Allow me to explain.
Why Do I Shake So Much When Doing a Plank?
The main reason you shake during planks is due to fatigue. Planks involve an isometric contraction of the core, which not only works the muscles, but also the nervous system. There are many muscle fibres which contract, create tension, and produce force during planks, so your nervous system has to work hard to coordinate this abundance of activity. Once your muscular and nervous system begin to fatigue, the muscle fibres receive contradictory signals, and it is this that causes you to shake.
1. Planks Fatigue Your Nervous System
When you think of exercises that fatigue the nervous system, barbell squats and deadlifts typically come to mind.
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You wouldn’t expect a simple bodyweight such as planks to be particularly taxing.
But, nothing could be further from the truth.
Firstly, planks involve an isometric contraction of many muscles.
Planks are regarded as a core exercise, but it may surprise you as to how many muscles actually make up the core.
- Rectus Abdominis
- Transverse Abdominis
- Pelvic Floor Muscles
- Internal and External Obliques
- Erector Spinae
And it just so happens that the lats, glutes, and traps are also minor core muscles.
So, in effect, all of these muscles are isometrically contracted during planks.
Therefore, you could say there’s a lot going on when you plank.
Whenever you perform an isometric contraction you must contract certain muscles, while creating tension, and producing force.
And all of this happens without ever having to lengthen or shorten the muscles during an exercise.
With all this happening at the same time you’ll automatically engage the nervous system.
So, you’ll eventually get to the stage when both your muscular and nervous system are fatigued.
Your muscle fibres will literally turn themselves on and off during planks as fatigue starts to set in.
This in turn will force the nervous system to “tell” your body whether it needs to recruit more or less muscle fibres to continue the isometric contraction.
In essence, the nervous system is sending contradictory messages to the muscles.
And this is the main reason you start shaking during planks
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2. You Lack Core Strength
It’s important to realise that planks are typically an endurance exercise.
You may initially start off by only being able to hold a plank for 10-15 seconds.
However, progression is generally measured by spending more time in the plank position.
The hope is that you can eventually hold a plank for 1, 2, or even 5 minutes.
So, while planks can certainly help to stabilize the core muscles and will even produce a flat stomach, they aren’t doing much to strengthen the muscles.
Don’t get me wrong, as you become able to hold a plank for longer, your core muscles are indeed getting stronger.
But don’t confuse this with “real strength” in the core muscles.
If you find that you are excessively shaking during planks this will generally point to some type of muscle weakness.
The first areas of the body to look at will usually be your abs and lower back.
Plus, your glutes also play a major role during planks.
So, in addition to performing planks, I would suggest that you also work on strengthening these specific parts of the body.
For me, the best exercises to perform will be bird dog variations.
I typically view bird dogs as a plank that involves you moving your limbs.
Bird dogs do involve an isometric contraction as well, but this is only held for a brief moment.
Plus, the movement of your limbs will help to improve your core stability as well.
Additionally, you will definitely strengthen your abs and lower back too.
Bird Dog Core Exercise – 3 Variations
3. When Are You Performing Planks?
I’ve already spoken about the shakes usually occurring during planks as you fatigue.
However, when you perform planks in your workout could also have an impact.
In fact, I know that many people are often embarrassed at their inability to hold a plank for more than a few seconds before they start shaking.
With that being said, what has gone on beforehand will have a huge bearing.
Let’s say that you’ve just smashed out a great training session.
As an example, you’ve worked your legs.
You’ve hit a new PB on barbell back squats.
It just so happens that you’ve performed multiple sets of Romanian deadlifts and barbell hip thrusts.
Plus, you’ve also used the leg press machine and done some walking lunges.
Basically, you’re pretty fried.
So, you decide to end your workout with some “easy” ab work.
And what could possibly be easier than two or three sets of one-minute planks?
However, as I’ve already mentioned, planks do require a great deal of nervous system participation.
But, in truth, following your leg session not only are your muscles fatigued, but so is your nervous system.
So, realistically you are once again having to call upon both these “systems” once more for your “easy” ab workout.
It’s not unheard-of to start shaking within the first few seconds of planks if you’re doing them at the end of your workout.
Yes, planks involve the nervous system, but they certainly won’t wipe you out as much as a few sets of heavy squats.
So, if you are struggling with the shakes, perhaps try performing planks at the beginning of your workout.
Brian Klepacki’s 15 Plank Variations
4. Are You New to Planks?
Okay, I’ve dealt with the main reasons that most experienced trainees shake whenever they perform planks.
However, there is one very simple explanation.
You could simply be new to performing planks.
Much the same as any exercise, when you’re not used to performing it, you’ll experience some type of frustration.
When it comes to hitting the weights this will usually be that you’re sore for many days afterwards.
If you just started running you’ll typically find that you’re puffed out and spent after just a few hundred metres.
And if you’re new to planks, then it’s likely that you’re going to start shaking.
Remember that there’s a great deal of muscle and nervous system activity going on here.
So, if you’re not used to planks, you can certainly expect to get the shakes, there’s nothing untoward happening here.
As you perform planks more often your body will start to adapt to the force and tension that you’re applying to it.
This will usually manifest itself by allowing you to hold a plank for longer.
My advice is to stop being so hard on yourself, as things will definitely improve with time.
How to Plank For Longer – 4 Core Strength Exercise Tips
I hope you have a better understanding of why you shake so much when you plank.
The main reason for this is because planks will fatigue both the muscular and nervous system.
You should also be aware that planks are typically performed for endurance.
So, you may not have the required core strength to hold a plank for a specific length of time.
However, you can work on bird dog variations to increase strength in your abs and lower back, while improving overall core stabilization.
Furthermore, be wary of when you perform planks, as you may already be fatigued by the time you get to them.
Finally, if you’re new to performing planks, you are likely to shake until your body adapts to the exercise.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.