Let’s get back to basics. Although plank pose is used in nearly every yoga class, it is often grazed over and assumed that the students know about its mechanics. Like downward facing dog it can be used as an assessment and transitional pose. I would like to add it is a tremendous strengthener.
Sometimes this pose is referred to as upward chaturanga, or top of a push up. Start in downward facing dog (upside down V pose) and make sure that your hands are shoulders width apart. Your hands should be squared to the front edge of your mat, try to make sure the wrist joint (crease) is parallel to the front of your mat. This is a good time to neutralize your elbow and make sure they are not hyper extended. Have your feet hips width apart and parallel to one another. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale move your upper body forward into plank. Now your shoulders should be directly over your wrist joint. Stacking wrist elbow and shoulder in one line, putting the joints in the safest strongest position. The wrists must be in a 90 degree angle.
Push the floor away from you with the arms. You have a great view of your hands now, check and see that the hands a fully engaged into the floor and equal space between each finger. This is where people run into problems they roll to the pinky side of their hands and create a lot of stress on the wrist joint. It is imperative you plug the entire hand into the floor.
Your body should be in one straight line. Feel the dynamic opposition of energy out through the top of the head and down straight legs out through the heels. No dipping or rising of the hips. Have your body as straight as a “plank”, as though you could roll a wheel barrow right up your back.
You should engage your abdominals and legs to keep the back safe and strong. There should never be pressure on your low back. If there is exaggerate the pelvic tilt.
The benefits of plank pose are subtle yet important. Done properly and consistently, the most noticeable benefits include:
For the lay person or yogi, Plank pose is as mentioned a great assessment pose. It is time for you to check and recheck alignment. Often in fast paced vinyasa practice your body can migrate in to detrimental habits and positioning. In plank you can take a quick check and make sure the body is safe. Take a few breaths and strengthen the whole body in the process.
For the athlete, this pose is also a great assessment pose as well as a place to feel out imbalances. While here the athlete can take a brief feel of the body and notice subtle misalignment and strength differences. It is important for athletes from Offensive Linemen to Soccer players to tennis and golfers to keep their wrists in top shape. Plank is an amazing wrist opener. It will keep carpal tunnel at bay and provide a way to keep them flexible and strong. Many athletes find it difficult to get their wrists in a 90 degree angle, this is imperative for the longevity and proper range of their wrist. Plank is also a great way to tone the abdominals and legs, as well as keeping athletes’ shoulders balanced and strong.
There are a few variations of Plank, beneficial to yogis, layperson and athlete. Wrist turns are the next level in keeping the wrist strong and supple. In your plank pose externally rotate one wrist at a time until the wrist rotates 180 degrees. Again, make sure the shoulder is directly over the wrist and the joint maintains a 90 degree angle. Put equal weight in both wrists hold 5-10 breaths. When you first attempt this you should drop to your knees and execute it. Once your strength builds you can remain in full plank, knees off the ground.
Another variation that is a tremendous abdominal exercise is plank pose on the forearms. Everything will be the same except you will lower down onto your forearm. In this position your elbow will be shoulders width apart and directly under your shoulder. Try with time and practice to have your forearms parallel to each other. This will come as your shoulders open and become more flexible. Palms are flat to the floor fingers spread evenly.
Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose entirely:
Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body.
About the Author
Gwen Lawrence has been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. Her current practice includes private yoga training, class instruction and her sport-specific Power Yoga for Sports training program www.poweryogaforsports.com. Gwen’s unique combination of dance, massage and yoga training experience, coupled with her extensive knowledge of anatomy,and nutrition, provide her clients, and athletes with overwhelming benefits. Gwen is the yoga coach for several New York Yankees baseball players, team yoga instructor for the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Red Bulls, New York Rangers, several major college teams,including Yale and UNC, and many youth teams in a variety of sports. She is also the official spokesperson for AFRIN PureSea, and ambassador for Lululemon, her writing appears in Men's Health, Women's Health, Fitness Magazine and shape.com. She has made appearances on NBC TODAY show and many TV news and national radio shows. Gwen also owns her own Yoga School where she trains people to teach the power yoga for sports system.
Gwen lives in the New York tri state area with her Husband, and three teenage boys.