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As humans we ponder many great philosophical questions of life such as what is the meaning of life? Or can we trust our own memories?  What is time?  What is reality?  And now we can add should I be doing a straight arm or elbow plank (aka forearm plank)?  People always want to know which is harder.

The Answer

Apparently, the answer to this seemingly simple question is as mind boggling as all the rest. Making the  answer: BOTH.  Alternating between both is important because the body requires, likes, and benefits from variety.

Read a book or look online and most places will tell you a straight arm plank is harder, but not all agree.  Clearly, this is a mystery.   In my body, there is no doubt in my mind that an elbow plank is considerably more challenging.  Everybody is different. But here are the facts we have.


An elbow plank works your abdominal muscles more.  Everyone agrees on that and you can probably feel it for yourself if you compare planks.

Elbow plank is easier on the wrists.  So if your wrists bother you during straight arm planks, elbow planks may serve as a safer option.

A straight arm plank requires work and balance between muscles to stabilize the elbow joint.  You want to be careful not to hyperextend the elbow while holding a straight arm plank.  If you can maintain a straight arm without hyper extending, you will be working arm muscles like your triceps that don’t get incorporated on an elbow plank.


Shockingly, it seems opinions are all over the map on whether your shoulders work harder on straight arm or elbow planks.  It seems impossible that there is not a definitive answer to this question.  Straight arm planks are like being on an incline.  Incline push-ups are easier than decline push-ups.  That leads me to believe the incline you create with a straight arm plank, makes the move easier on the shoulders.

On straight arm planks the triceps engage more.  Maybe this makes it feel harder for some people, but ultimately, I think that takes some of the burden off the shoulder.  More muscles are helping when your arms are straight.

Anecdotally, I feel and see in my clients that people can stabilize the shoulder girdle better in a straight arm plank.  This is a win for the straight arm plank because learning to stabilize the shoulder girdle is a useful tool.  But it’s yet another link to the elbow plank being more challenging.  To me, it feels like the serratus anterior (the boxing muscles that wraps beneath your armpit) has more ability to move and help you stabilize with straight arms.  So while this point makes it seem like straight arms is easier, if you can’t stabilize on the elbow plank, you are missing an opportunity to engage important muscles.

Why You Would Pick an Elbow Plank

You are looking for more of a challenge (probably).

You want pressure off your wrists.

The abs are your target muscle, not your shoulders.

You want to challenge your external rotation in the shoulders.  Keeping the arms parallel in elbow plank and not letting them make a triangle shape is much harder than keeping the arms parallel in straight arm plank.

You like it better.

Why You Would Pick a Straight Arm Plank

You want a plank challenge, but don’t want to be as miserable.

You want to take some pressure off the back.

Adding movements while holding plank is fun for you.  The straight arm plank allows for a lot of different, entertaining, time passing movements that can make the exercise more dynamic.  These exist on elbow plank too, but you can do even more with straight arms.

You are just starting out and want a place to build from (although you can also do an elbow plank on your knees).

The idea of being less scrunched up in your shoulders appeals to you.

You prefer it.

For more information on how to do a Plank check out this video:

Additional Reading

Want to read more about your serratus anterior?  Click here.

What do we mean by “Knit the Ribs?”  Click here to find out.

I tell plank stories during classes.  If you’d like to read one example, click here.

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