What The Plank Record Tells Me

A Beijing SWAT team member (Mao Weidong) recently destroyed the world record for the longest plank. He held the position for 4 hours and 26 minutes.

World record plank

Unfortunately, it did not take long after the record was set for people to begin posting snide remarks about it.  My own inbox has even been filled with questions and comments about the significance of Weidong’s feat. For instance, many consider the plank to be a low level core training exercise so wonder why anyone would waste so much time holding this position. Others have been more blunt in telling me that the plank is a worthless exercise and that Mao Weidong should find something better to do with his time.

Personally, I am not so quick to dismiss the significance of a 4+ hour plank. Whether you like the exercise or not does not diminish the difficulty of holding this position for such a lengthy time. In other words, regardless of how you rank the plank as an exercise, it is not easy to hold this position continuously for even a fraction of Weidong’s time. Therefore, while I am not suggesting that we all sleep in the plank, let’s at least give credit where credit is due and take what we can from this example.

For starters, I agree that there are better core training exercises than the plank. There is a long list of movements that I would rank higher in terms of effectiveness and time efficiency. The plank still offers some benefits however. And perhaps the greatest benefit in my opinion has nothing to do with core strength. The plank can be a useful exercise simply because of the mental challenge that it presents.

Anyone who has ever held the plank has reached a point where the mind begins to believe that you can no longer continue. In layman’s terms, we have all reached a point where we had to suck it up and resist the temptation to come down from the position. During such times, the plank becomes more of a mental challenge than a core exercise. You either have the mental toughness to keep going or you don’t. It is as simple as that.

But What About…

I am sure that many readers are thinking it, so let’s get it out of the way. Yes, there are several other exercises that also require mental toughness. I am certainly not suggesting that the plank is the crème de la crème from a mental toughness perspective. I will be the first to admit that I do not spend a lot of time holding the plank. If I include the exercise, I prefer working with more difficult variations. For instance, I might wear a significant weighted vest and use the plank as a finisher at the conclusion of a workout. I do not have hours to invest in testing my plank endurance so I would rather perform a more challenging and time efficient option.

I do enjoy the mental battle that a difficult plank provides. Getting yourself used to regularly fighting through the natural urge to stop a challenging exercise or experience is a tremendous way to build mental toughness. And in many athletic events it is mental toughness that separates champions from contenders. All athletes will eventually face pain and fatigue. How you deal with these variables will often dictate your success or failure.

Less Can Be More

One knock that I often see against the plank is that it is not a very productive exercise. I have already stated that it is not the best core training exercise, and others often dismiss the mental challenge of holding this position. For example, it is obviously more difficult to fight through pain in the 12th round of a championship fight than it is to hold the plank. I don’t necessarily view that as a con however. It is useful to have mental challenges in our arsenal that do not beat us down. I can challenge myself with a weighted plank where I must literally fight with every ounce of physical and mental strength to prevent myself from coming down. The mental challenge is real, yet I am able to quickly recover from the exercise without any pain or soreness. That’s a huge plus, particularly since I am not using the exercise as a staple in my core training arsenal.

In summary, Mao Weidong clearly possesses a high level of physical and mental strength. Four hours and 26 minutes is an incredibly long time. I have seen many high level athletes struggle to hold the plank for 4 minutes and 26 seconds. Weidong has taken this exercise to another level. The mental toughness that he has displayed would be beneficial to athletes involved in any event. Whether you enjoy the plank or not, it would be foolish to minimize the difficulty of his accomplishment.

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“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.” – Gautama Buddha

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11 comments:

  1. You know, I bet not one of the critics of this amazing feat of endurance could even hold one for one-tenth of the time he did.

    Optimal exercise or not, athletic achievements should be respected and admired!

    Thank you for your insight, Ross.

  2. Absolutely agree with Ross and David on this.

    I think the reason why people turn this AMAZING feat down is because they have not achieved anything remarkable.

    We are all brothers and sisters in the fitness world. Bodybuilders, power lifters, sprinters, rowers, marathon runners, climbers, yogis or just your frequent gym goer and enthusiast, regardless we should be supporting every corner of fitness and GROW as a culture, not shun others who have similar mind sets simply because you are not a fan. Quit the dogmas.

    Greatly appreciate this post, Ross.

  3. He’s a member of SWAT so think about him holding sights on a target or in position for many hours and still being able to get that shot off and on target that takes mental toughness. When people are talking smack about another persons accomplishments they are really talking about themselves and their own limitations. Mao is a bad lad!!

  4. This is a really really extreme acomplishment. One i for certain wouldnt be able to complete. This time probably felt like days i can only imagine. To the ones who dont think this is worthy or frown upon a useless challenge i invite you to do 15 minutes straight. Dont worry it wont interfere much with your current routine. Just get it done and you have some insight and actually know 1/18th of the pain he battled.

  5. In the army they used to make us do the plank often in full gear w backpack whenever we had to wait for someone wo was late or slow in our platoon or team. I doubt they did it to test our physical strength.

    I still remember how long those 10, 5, or even 2 minutes could feel. And that is almost 10 years ago. 4 hrs and 26 mins i can’t even imagine.

    To me, this is an epic display of patience and mind control. I wonder what he replaced the “urge to quit” with in his mind. What a boss! 😀

  6. He is definitely a master of the plank. And if you think the plank is a time waster what about your entry below that says the average person spends 4.4 hours of “leisure time” in front of a tablet or PC? I do think when you do these types of endurance exercises it becomes more of a meditative mental exercise. My Kungfu teacher used to do 6 hours of horse stance a day! But he was going through personal stuff at the time and it helped him like therapy.

  7. I see no reason to bash anyone’s choice of activity. The plank is not my thing, but if that’s what he wants to do, go for it. We all tend to pay more attention to records set in areas we share a passion for, but there is no need to knock the relevance of what we aren’t into. I can let someone know it’s just not my thing, but that wow, 4 hours?

  8. Functional strength and conditioning. This man is a product of the job he does. As another poster pointed out his job can require long periods of absolute motionless patience in uncomfortable positions. Aside from that, his training does not have to be mine and vice versa. I do what I like and what is conducive to my goals. Why do people feel we have to live to their standard? My bar is high enough for me. I compete with myself and I make progress daily. In the end, it’s about reaching your personal goals, not satisfying the naysayers.

    Good job to him. I know I’m not going to try and do it. I hold no.interest in holding the longest plank, but great job and more power to him to come back and beat his own record.

  9. I see that Mao Weidong belongs to the Beijing SWAT team which recently cleaned up the international competition in the International SWAT competition. As impressive as a feat as this plank hold was, the police team he belongs to is world class!

  10. Wow! So many insightful and postive response to this article. I’m thinking what kind of people are connected through this webpage( through Mr. Ross)? I can defintley use the phrase “worthy”. Yes worthy of my praise and my time like Mao Weidong. Thank you all 🙂 Keep up the good and hard work!

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