What are the benefits of planking for triathlon training?

They're not the most enjoyable of exercises but they are very beneficial to your triathlon training. Physio Brad Beer explains everything you need to know about planking…

Three fit woman in bootcamp. They put in a lot of effort by planking side-by-side. Space for copy.

Ask most active people if they know what ‘planking’ is, and most will respond with ‘ugh, yes’. No, they’re not the most enjoyable of exercises, but they are very beneficial – sorry about that. Here’s everything you need to know about planking for your triathlon training. 


What is a plank? 

The plank is an isometric bodyweight exercise that strengthens the stabilising muscles of the shoulder, trunk and hips against gravity. Traditionally, it’s performed on either the hands or forearms with both feet on the floor, holding the body off the ground for as long as possible.

The beauty of the plank is that it can be modified to suit the specific needs of triathletes to boost swimming, cycling and running performance. It can also be easily progressed or regressed to accommodate triathletes of all abilities.

Unlike traditional core exercises such as the sit-up, planks do not place high compressive loads on the lumbar vertebrae, making it a great option for triathletes with lower back pain.

What’s the right way to plank?

To get the most out of the plank, it’s important to keep the body in a straight line from head to toe. This means not sagging through the shoulders and lower back, or lifting the hips too high.

Your supporting hand/elbow should be stacked directly underneath your shoulders. Avoid holding your breath – we breathe when cycling, swimming and running so there’s no need to do this.

Squeeze your glutes to bring your pelvis into a slight posterior tilt to avoid excessive lumbar extension.

What are the benefits of planking for triathlon?

  • Swimming: Planking challenges the stabilising muscles of the shoulder, which can improve power through the catch and pull. It can also improve energy transfer from the upper body to shoulder to core and hips as we rotate in the water.

  • Cycling: Maintaining a time-trial position requires solid abdominal and erector spinae muscle strength and endurance. Planking is a great way to work on this, improving comfort and control on the bike.

  • Running: Plank variations that improve anti-rotational strength (e.g. side plank) minimise excessive trunk movement for efficient running. The side plank has also been shown to be one the best exercises for activating the gluteus medius muscle. Deficiencies in this muscle are linked to running related injuries such as ITB syndrome, MTSS (medial tibial stress syndrome), and gluteal tendinopathy.

How can I progress my planking?

You can always increase the duration and frequency of planking, however, the best way to progress planking is to add dynamic challenge and vary positions. This is not only less boring, but works a greater number of muscles in ways that can take your triathlon performance to the next level.

Examples include:

  • Progressing to side plank or a reverse plank to work the obliques and posterior chain

  • Planking on an unstable surface

  • Adding in trunk, arm and leg movements

  • Adding external load (e.g. performing with a weight vest or performing a plank + row)

What are the different ways to plank?

Front plank variations:

  • Leg abduction/extension lifts (with band)

  • Plank jacks (star jump action with legs)

  • Opposite arm/leg lift

  • Mountain climber or opposite knee to elbow planks

  • Perform on stability ball with stir the pot/ rollout

  • Front plank with twist

  • Add in a row

  • Plank walkouts (walk out hands as far as you can in front of you)

  • Plank with feet against a wall

  • Hip dips to one side

  • Reach hand to opposite foot

Side plank:

  • Dumbbell twist

  • Top leg abduction lift

  • Adductor plank

  • Top elbow to knee crunch

  • Add in a row

  • Supporting hand on a ball and perform a twist