By Kimberlee Jensen Stedl
Many people consider plank an upper body strengthener, and while it does strengthen the upper body, it’s truly a total body pose. When done correctly, it’s particularly powerful for the abdominal muscles, when done incorrectly, it’s torture for the shoulders. This is a great short-cut pose when pressed for time and wanting to incorporate several muscle groups at once.
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles
- Strengthens the gluteus muscles and the thighs
- Lengthens the legs and arms
- Strengthens the shoulder joint and the triceps
- Lengthens the calf muscles and stretches the ankles
- Lengthens and strengthens the neck
Plank can be done with legs straight or knees on the floor. Important note – if you knees are on the floor, they must be several inches behind the hips, not directly under the hips as in cat/cow. Hands are spread shoulder width apart and the wrist lines up directly under the shoulder. This alignment is crucial to prevent wrist strains.
Getting into the pose
- Come onto hands and knees.
- Reach your hands several inches further out from your knees, bringing shoulders directly over the hands, knees will be several inches behind the hips, making the pose feel stretched out and open.
- Spread the fingers wide, middle finger pointing forward, alternatively use fists and place your knuckles on the floor if you have severe wrist pain.
- Draw the abdominals in strong, so the lower back has just a slight natural curve, imagine trying to draw your bellybutton up towards the ceiling, hips should be at a slight angle below the plane of the shoulders, but not dipping towards the floor.
- Take a slight squeeze into the shoulder blades, so the shoulders stay broad without rounding the upper back.
- Squeeze the buttocks (gluteus muscles) strong.
- Curl the toes underneath you so the toes touch the floor and the heels extend back strong, feeling a stretch through the ankles.
- Squeeze the fronts of the thighs (quadriceps) strong and lift the knees, extending back through the heels, keep your feet hip width apart.
- Keep the head in natural alignment with the spine, back of the neck should feel long, but working to keep the head from drooping, eyes can look several feet away from you on the floor.
- Hold as long as you can, then rest in a child’s pose with knees on the floor, hips reaching back towards the heels and hands resting next to the feet.
Many people forget to extend through the heels, so they take all the work into the arms, done correctly, plank involves strong leg muscles and the legs should contribute to the pose. Many people also round their upper backs and collapse in the chest, it’s a very subtle movement, but keeping the back broad involves an engagement of the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi in the upper back to keep the shoulders smooth. The abdominals cannot be emphasized enough, if the hips are drooping, that means the belly is not drawing in strong. The obliques (along the sides of the belly) also work to support very strongly in this pose. The neck should feel an active length in this pose.
Side plank is a fun variation where you roll over to just the right and and right foot on the floor, left hand reaches towards the ceiling, left foot comes atop the right foot, and the hips lift upwards strongly. That’s another fun variation once you’ve mastered plank.
Happy posing, Namaste