Why do I tremble when I do planks?


In our never ending quest to keep our kids healthy and active, my family and I have been doing a 30 day ab training challenge.  Each workout ends with doing a plank for at least 30 seconds.  I realized that when we started, after 20-30 seconds of holding the same plank my body started to shake.  That got me wondering what is causing those shakes.  So I did a little research on muscle fatigue and found some interesting information.

Our muscles shake during exercises like planks due to the relationship between our nerves and the muscle fibers that are helping to keep our plank in position.  As the muscle gets fatigued, the nerves and their matching muscle fibers begin to drop out of their constant “communication”.  The muscle fibers will alternate between contracting and relaxing, which causes the shakes or trembles of your muscles.

A terrific analogy I’ve heard is that the relationship between our muscles fibers and our nerves is like the electricity running through your home.  In my house, we know that if we run the microwave, the oven, and try to vacuum in a certain room, a breaker will flip and we lose power.  If the breaker wasn’t there, we would more likely see lights flicker as the electricity wired to that part of the house isn’t up to the demand we are putting on it.  This is very much like your muscles shaking because the demand you are putting on them is a bit too much for the current capacity.  

Is it bad for my muscles to shake?

Generally it isn’t a big deal for your muscles to tremble during a plank, but keep in mind that once your form gets compromised, it’s probably best to take a break.  

Poor form can lead to your body compensating and engaging different muscles than you want, or in a worse case, can lead to injury.  Just as with any exercise, maintaining proper form is more important than pushing yourself to achieve an arbitrary measurement of success like reps or time.

How do I stop my muscles from shaking?

The short answer is to get stronger.  

Your muscles will develop over time with practice, and the shaking will become less and less if you stick with a regular Planking routine.  

Another thing to consider is how you are fueling your body before your workout.  Muscles use what are called glycogen stores, which as the name suggests, typically are fueled by glucose.  

Fresh fruit and berries are probably the healthiest way to get glucose into your system in a short amount of time.  This can help make sure you have the energy you need to finish your workout strong.  

What are the different kinds of Planks?

Elbow Plank

Side Plank

Full Plank

Push-up Plank

Plank with Cross Knee Pulls

How long should I hold a Plank?

If you are going for the Planking World Record, you need to hold it for 8 hours, 15 mins, and 15 seconds.  (BBC Report).  

For most people getting yourself up to completing 45-60 seconds of holding a plank will do the trick.  If you can only do 15 seconds for now, that’s ok, just keep at it and try to add some additional time to your plank each week.

Keep in mind that you are using some of your body’s largest muscle groups in this exercise, so you can push yourself without too much risk of overtraining.  

Final Thoughts

The shaking you feel during a hard workout like a plank is totally normal, and generally not something you should worry about.  Focus on maintaining good form for as long as you can.  Shoot for 20-45 seconds when you start, and try to mix up the types of planks you do.  Mixing up the techniques will target other muscles and help avoid some of the shaking.

Let us know how long you can plank for and share any tips you have below.

Stay healthy!

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