Plank is great to talk about because not only is it a frequently-used yoga pose, it’s also widely-known in fitness environments. Personal trainers, women’s health magazines and at-home fitness buffs all love plank (or some variation thereof) because of its whole-body benefits. It’s efficient and once you learn how to use your whole body (keep reading for more), it’s actually not that hard. It’s true!
Plank is great, but if done incorrectly, it could cause more harm to your low back, neck and shoulders than it’s worth. Yah, there is a wrong way to do plank.
Everyone can do the perfect plank, it just takes a little know-how. Here is a step-by-step guide for how to do the perfect plank.
How to do the Perfect Plank:
Start in table (hands and knees) – with your knees directly below your hips and wrists below shoulders. Spread your fingers wide. Think about keeping your spine neutral, including your neck/head. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and engage your lower belly. This should feel really stable and active.
Keeping your body still from hips to head, lift your right knee off the floor and straighten the leg out behind you, with your toes tucked (ball of the foot on the mat only). Stay here for a moment, reengaging the low belly, relaxing the shoulders and making sure the spine feels neutral. Commit these feeling to memory – both mental and physical memory. Then bend the right knee and go back to your active, strong table.
NOTE: The tuck of the toes should be dynamic. When the leg is straight, you want the ball of your foot on the mat, with your heel directly above the ball. When most people do this, the heel is several inches further back than the toes – that’s not dynamic. Keeping the ball back far enough and heel over the top will help you keep a straight, strong leg which will help with the actions to come.
Repeat step 2, but this time straightening the left leg. Commit that to memory for a couple breaths, then exhale returning to table.
Again readjust your table. Pull in your lower belly (it’s easy to lose this so you’ll have to keep reminding yourself) and make sure your lower back isn’t arched too much. You don’t want your sit bones looking toward the ceiling – they should be facing straight back behind you. Relax your shoulders, keeping your shoulder blades firmly against your back. Make sure the inside of your elbows are facing each other (for those of us who hyperextend) and press firmly into your palms.
Now, pick up your right knee, stepping the foot back with a strong, straight leg, toes tucked dynamically. Take a breath here, make sure you’re still in good position, then on an exhale, press into your palms, engage your core (which isn’t just abs, but all the muscles of the low, middle and upper abs as well as low back), lift your left knee and step back with a straight leg and dynamically tucked toes. Your feet should be next to each other, about hip-width distance apart. You’re in plank!
We don’t just hang out here grimacing, now you need to breathe slowly yet deeply and fine-tune the pose. This is important.
NOTE: If you get tired right away, that’s ok, just slowly bend your knees (one at a time) back into plank to rest. If you need a full-on rest, bring your butt to your heels and fold forward bringing your forehead to the mat. Either leave your arms up overhead to bring them back beside your legs, palms up. When you’re ready, find your table again and straighten one leg at a time into plank.
Fine tuning. Start with your feet and work your way up:
- Make sure your feet are even (doing the same thing), dynamically tucked with solid footing.
- Think about pressing actively through the sole of your foot. You won’t actually be doing anything noticeable. If it helps, imagine your leg is a flashlight and the light is coming out through the sole of your foot, facing back behind you. This is an energetic action so it might not make sense to you but give it a try.
- Engage your quads. If you look down at your upper thigh when sitting and think about clenching that area, you might notice your kneecap lifts from the quads engaging. This is a good skill to learn if you want to get into the finer points of yoga pose alignment. Engaging the quads in plank will protect your knee from hyperextending as your legs are strong and active.
- Think about lifting the back of your thighs toward the ceiling. This feeling of lift (again more energetic than actual physical) will help counteract the general feeling of heaviness or downward energy.
- Relax your butt and point your sitting bones toward your heels. You don’t want your butt sticking out toward the ceiling or pointing toward the floor (tucking or tilting your pelvis). You want a nice neutral position.
- Engage your belly, drawing in an inch above and below your navel. This is where a lot of the strength comes from.
- Relax your shoulder blades down your back, relaxing your shoulders away from your ears. Allow your heart to melt slightly toward the floor. Sometimes people push the floor away so hard that the upper back rounds a bit, or the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) is a long way away from the joint. Think about plugging the humerus into the joint, which will lower your chest a bit.
- Make sure your arms are straight and strong, with your inner elbows facing each other. Press firmly through all areas of your palms and fingers.
- Fix your gaze several inches in front of your hands, keeping your neck neutral. Do not drop your head and look down.
Now hold all of this for several breaths. Be sure to breathe deeply but slowly. This is so active, every part of your body is working, so you will begin to fatigue or breathe faster. The more you practice, the easier breathing gets. And you will get stronger. Do it as long as you can and keep working at it. Attempt to memorize all the actions, starting with your feet so you can quickly work through them all. Once you know them, it takes only a couple seconds to fine-tune the pose.Now it’s your turn. Go give this plank a try and let me know how it felt. Many of you have probably been doing some sort of plank on-and-off for years, so does this feel differently? Share your experience in the comments.