Following my previous post on Downward Facing Dog, today I’m going to walk you through another foundational yoga pose (and one dreaded by many students) – Plank pose. In Sanskrit, Plank is known as Kumbhakasana, and it is a key pose in the Sun Salutation A series, as well as most Vinyasa flow classes.
Plank pose is fantastic for building core, arm, leg, and wrist strength, and personally I love to incorporate a few lengthy plank holds into my practice. But it can also be a risky pose if not performed correctly, so it is important to modify your Plank pose to suit your body and to adjust for any injuries that you may be working with. Then, with practice, your strength and stability will increase until one day, holding full Plank will (almost) be a breeze!
Let’s begin with alignment.
You can come into Plank from a Tabletop or Downward Facing Dog.
Firstly, ensure that your hands are shoulder width apart, with your fingers spread wide, pointing forward and firmly gripping down on the mat. From Tabletop, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips, keep your shoulders and hips in the same position and then extend one leg back, followed by the other to come into Plank. Your weight should be balanced evenly between both feet, on your toes, with the soles of your feet perpendicular to the ground. Your feet can be close or together, although most people find having them about hip distance apart more comfortable.
There should be a straight line from the backs of your shoulders all the way down to your heels. It is crucial that you don’t drop your chest or stomach towards the mat, instead keep everything tight, with your abs drawing in towards your belly button. Push the back of your knees towards the ceiling to straighten the legs and engage your quads.
If full Plank pose is simply too strong for you to hold with integrity, then you can bend the knees and drop them to the floor. In this modified position, your back should still be straight from your shoulders down to your knees, with your shins resting on the ground. Still focus on drawing your abs in tight and keeping the whole trunk firm.
If your wrists give you trouble in Plank, then you can modify by coming into forearm Plank pose, making sure to keep your elbows directly under your shoulders and your hands in an active position on the mat in front of you.
Although Plank is a static position, it is still very active within the muscles and joints. Rather than just hanging out in your shoulder joints, try to actively dome the upper back slightly by pushing down firmly into the ground. Keep the neck long and your gaze in the middle of your mat, a little way in front of your hands. You can try drawing (energetically) your hands towards one another on your mat, which will really engage the triceps and biceps, and help to stabilise your shoulders. Your glutes (buttocks) should be engaged to ensure stability through the hips.
Now let’s discuss taking it up a notch.
For the ultimate core-burning Plank pose, try to draw your hands and feet towards one another whilst keeping your hips still. Simply by activating the muscles needed to make such a move you will really switch on the core and build some serious strength. When an instructor told me to do this, it was the first time I truly felt what Plank pose was meant to be – strong and very active. And I’ve had a love affair with Plank pose ever since!
Despite it being a strong pose, Plank is one that should feel good in your body. Rather than pushing to hold it for as long as you absolutely can, focus on holding your perfect Plank pose and taking a break as soon as your form starts to decline. Then simply repeat as many holds with good form as you can. With repetition you will find that your strength quickly increases until a one-minute hold is a piece of cake! Happy planking yogis.