When done correctly, plank pose is a safe and effective way to strengthen the spinal muscles, abdominal muscles, arms and legs. Courtesy photo
Jacci Gruninger, MS, C-IAYT, ERYT500
Plank pose is often called high push-up although unlike a traditional start for a push-up, the hands are under the shoulders. However, you might also see a plank variation done on the forearms/elbows if you have touchy wrists or hands. Plank pose can also be done on the knees, against a wall or on a counter or chair. How about that? All versions benefit the body.
When done correctly, plank pose is a safe and effective way to strengthen the spinal muscles, abdominal muscles, arms and legs! It’s a posture panacea. And, the more you engage (activate your muscles) the more you’ll feel it.
The muscles specifically strengthened in plank pose include:
Triceps. This three-headed muscle on the back of your arm is responsible for helping you to lift things and avoid fatigue. During the posture, the triceps are in a static (non-moving) position. They perform what we call an isometric contraction.
Abdominal muscles. This is definitely a “core” engaging practice. Think of bringing the front of your body to meet the back of your body and you will feel your abs working. A strong core helps balance the body, supports the entire back especially the lower back and the nervous system.
Back Muscles. Specifically, your posture muscles are strengthened by practicing Plank. These include the mutifidi, erector spinae, transverse abdominis, rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles. A strong back helps us avoid that hunched over posture from too much computer time. It also helps prevent slipped discs and other back problems.
Thigh muscles. The Quadriceps Femoris also gets a run for its money during plank pose. The thighs roll slightly upward (or inward) and activate the quadriceps femoris muscles. Again, this is an isometric contraction of holding and lifting. In addition, when the quads are activated, the shoulders, arms and hands have to do less work.
It is important to note that although when done well this is a very safe pose, it can carry risks just like any other yoga pose. Start slow, use the modifications and build up to your plank. Remember, yoga is a journey not a destination.
Knee Down Plank
This is an excellent beginner version of plank. You can also do this version on your forearms if your hands/wrists are problematic. Start in a table position, walk your hands forward 1-2 handprints and shift your shoulders over your wrists in this new position. Hug the belly in and reach through the crown of the head. You can lift the feet toward the sky or keep them on the ground.
This is a great start to plank practice especially if hands/wrists are an issue or you need to release some of the weight in the posture. Start standing facing a wall with your hands on the wall just below your shoulders (adjust for comfort). Start to walk away from the wall until your arms are straight. Stay here and feel the pose. Even though you are on the wall, follow all the same cues from the directions above. Continue to walk back and even come up onto your toes as you feel comfortable. Keep the body long as you practice.
Using the seat of a chair or a counter top can be helpful again for the hands and wrists. You can turn your hands out on the chair seat or hold onto the seat or counter. You can also come onto your forearms for this version. Pressing down into the chair, abdominal wall engaged, walk back until you feel like your body is in one line (you will be on your toes). Hold and breathe.
If your hands and knees bother you, consider using your forearms. Lower into table position (all fours) and then place the elbows/forearms on the ground, clasping the hands together (making a triangle with the arms. Your shoulders are over your elbows. Hug your belly in, reach out through the crown of your head and extend your legs back behind you. Keep your torso in one line (don’t lift your butt to the sky). Stay here for 4-6 breaths and then rest. Repeat 2-3 times as it feels good for you.
Take a few moments to warm up your hands and wrists by pointing and flexing and making circles. Then come to table position on all fours. While here, play with pressing your hands into the ground to feel your serratus anterior muscles (muscles under your arm) fire and pull up into your shoulders and back. Then play with pulling your hands toward one another to engage the pectoralis muscles. Draw the navel in and tone the abdominal wall. Exhale and step one leg back at a time. Once here, press through your heels, draw your tailbone toward your heels and lift your pubic bone toward your navel. This will engage the entire abdominal wall. Think of bringing your front body to meet your back body. Consider rolling your inner thighs toward the ceiling and of course breathe. Try staying here for 6-10 breaths or whatever you can do.
You might need a little TAPAS (discipline, excitement, passion) to really take on the full plank. Remember to start where you are and practice a little everyday. This is one of those poses that you will see results with consistent practice. You might even find it raises your energy, generates heat and even calms your mind.
Give it a try – what do you have to lose?
Jacci Gruninger is a Certified Yoga Therapist and Thai Yoga Massage Therapist. She has been teaching for 21 years and spent 12 of those years training yoga teachers for the Pranakriya School of Yoga Healing Arts. She regularly helps clients manage the ups and downs of life with yoga, meditation, breathwork and bodywork. Her office is at 190 Central Park Square #209. For her in person and online teaching schedule and information on her other services, visit her website at www.yogawithjacci.com to find out more.