Planks vs. push-ups: Which will help you achieve your fitness goals?

Both planks and push-ups are hall-of-fame workout moves. They can be done nearly anywhere because you don’t need any equipment, and you don’t need any more space than the amount you take up lengthwise.

Planks and push-ups are part of many people’s workout routines. But is one move better than the other? We wanted to find out if one of these exercises can do more to help you achieve your fitness goals than the other—so we spoke to trainers Danielle Cote and Cassie Ellis, who gave us lots of information about each. Read on to learn about the benefits of each exercise and to find out if one is a better choice for you and your fitness goals.

  • Danielle Cote is the training development manager for Pure Barre.

  • Cassie Ellis is a coach for Row House.

Planks vs. push-ups

planks push up
Image Credit: Elina Fairytale/Pexels

There’s no question that both planks and push-ups are beneficial workout moves and our trainers think each has a place in your fitness routine. “While each individual may have varying fitness goals, both planks and push-ups offer excellent benefits and are great contenders for just about any workout routine,” says Cote. “Planks will work the core, rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, serratus anterior, and glutes. For most, push-ups are considered more intense and more effective at increasing muscular endurance, building muscle, and developing cardiovascular health.”

Ellis agrees, noting that “it is [beneficial] to include both moves in workouts. The plank holds the body steady, working the core endurance, while the push-up provides both concentric and eccentric movement, meaning the muscles contract and lengthen while continuing to hold a load (in this case, the load is your body weight) while working core stabilisation.”

That said, there is one important caveat: Planks are easier for beginners than push-ups, which may make them a better bet. And because push-ups are harder, they may be more beneficial to those who are advanced in their fitness journeys. “To execute a push-up, you need to be able to hold a solid plank, so start with the plank and then progress to push-ups,” advises Ellis. “Each move can benefit all individuals as long as they are doing them correctly, and both can be modified to work for various fitness levels.”

What are planks?

From their starting position, planks may look similar to push-ups. That’s because they are also performed facing downward. However, there’s no movement with a plank. Rather, you simply hold the position you begin in. “Planks are an isometric core strength exercise that engages the entire body,” says Cote. “The position is essentially the starting position of a push-up,” explains Cote. Ellis adds: “The body is positioned with the hands under the shoulders, the hands and balls of the feet on the ground with the body in a straight line from the back of the head to the heels—shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles all in alignment.”

Benefits of planks

  • Build core strength: Planks use numerous muscles throughout your body, but your core does the most work: “We brace the core and hold a position without moving,” says Ellis.

  • They increase your endurance: As the goal of a plank is to stay in the position for as long as possible, Cote notes that you “find length down the back of the neck and spine as you gaze slightly in front of your fingertips,” which can help give you an elongated feel.

  • They can improve your balance: Cote tells us that “one hand would be on the floor and the other could either reach up toward the ceiling or be placed on the hip. This offers an opportunity to challenge your balance.”

  • They’re more accessible than push-ups: According to Cote, “planks can be a great place to start for those who may find push-ups to be too intense.” She points out that you can decrease how intense the position is based on your needs. “For example, with the forearm plank, depending on how much time you are holding it for, you could always set one or both knees on the floor,” she says.

Muscles targeted during planks

Planks target your core, but when you do them, you’ll be feeling it throughout your body. “Planks target mostly the core while also working the anterior (front of the body),” Ellis explains. “They also target our serratus anterior; Weak serratus can cause shoulder impingement pain. We also strengthen the shoulders, chest, serratus, rhomboid, and traps in the upper back, [along with the] glutes, hamstrings, and quads with planks.”

What are push-ups?

Planks push up
Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Push-ups are more complex than planks because after starting in the prone position, the goal is to lower yourself to the floor and back up again. “Push-ups are essentially a moving plank,” Ellis tells us. “This challenges the core to keep the connection throughout the body as we lower ourselves to the ground, and even more so as we push back up using muscles in the upper body.”

Benefits of push-ups

  • They use your muscles in a more flowing way than planks: Cote says that push-ups ” provide both concentric and eccentric movement—muscles are contracting then lengthening.”

  • Can help your posture: Ellis tells us push-ups help posture “by strengthening core stability muscles,” muscles deep in the abdomen, pelvis, and back “that act like a corset to hold you together.” This is because “the core has to remain strong and engaged to keep the body moving as a single unit without bending at the hips (commonly seen as sagging in the lower back).”

  • They’re good for your bones: “To improve bone strength, we need to apply pushing and pulling forces via resistance against the body,” says Ellis. “Improved bone strength leads to greater stability and fewer fall risks, along with improved movement and function throughout day-to-day activities.”

  • They increase upper body strength: Lifting and lowering your body weight is a way to build strength—no equipment necessary.

  • You can easily switch them up: “There are quite a few ways to add variety to push-ups,” Cote tells us, “including, but not limited to, incorporating equipment (ex. resistance tubes, a stability ball), changing the position of the arms (ex. diamond), incline (hands on a barre or a bench) or decline (feet on a bench).” You can also pair them up with other exercises, like adding weight and doing a lat pull between push-ups.

Muscles targeted during push-ups

You’ll use many of the same muscles in push-ups as you do in planks, but because of the body movement involved, the focus is a bit different. “Push-ups work the pectorals, shoulders, back of your arms, triceps, abdominals, and serratus anterior,” says Cote. Ellis adds that your core is important to push-ups, noting that while the move focuses on upper body strength—”the chest, shoulders, triceps, serratus”—they also work to improve core stabilisation.

The final takeaway

Both planks and push-ups work your core and can improve your strength and stability, and both are performed in a prone position with your arms held underneath you and your legs behind you. Planks are an endurance exercise in which a single position is held, whereas push-ups involve movement: You lift and lower your body from a prone position. That makes push-ups harder than planks, as more upper-body strength is required. Accordingly, push-ups can do more to build upper body strength than planks can.

To achieve the best level of fitness, you’ll benefit from doing both exercises. However, if you’re looking to pick between planks and push-ups, where you’re at in your fitness journey may indicate which is the better choice for you. Based on everything we learned from our trainers, planks are a better place to start for beginners. Once you have mastered the plank, move on to push-ups: They’re a better choice for those who are more advanced and have already gained a significant amount of core strength from planks and other exercises.

Of course, there’s no need to pick just one. As Cote tells us, it’s “important to meet yourself where you are at that day—every day can be different, and it’s ok to listen to your body and adjust as needed.”

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