Plank pose is hard. It requires muscular effort of the entire body and a good dose of balance and concentration. It’s usually sandwiched between downward dog and chaturanga (pushup) and is also the preparatory pose for many arm balances. I wasn’t familiar with the Sanskrit name for plank, but a trusty google search found phalakasana, kumbhakasana, and utthita chaturanga dandasana. Take your pick.
Think of plank as the total body strengthener that it is It’s plenty challenging, although accessible most students, especially with a variety of modification , if necessary. The pose is supported by just the toes and the hands, which is not much surface area of support for 140+ pound person with gravity pushing down the entire length of your body. It’s a difficult pose and a great strength builder.
When in plank your torso is going to want to either sag or pike up and it’s most most difficult to stay perfectly straight, like a board plank. Your job is to counteract the downward press of gravity. Stay long by reaching the crown of your head forward and your heels back. Work the legs like crazy (activate “both” the quadriceps and hamstrings). The abdominal muscles must strongly work to resist the center of the plank sagging/collapsing toward the ground. Puff up the upper back making space between the shoulder blades to avoid the chest from dropping. The back of the neck is long and your head is drawing forward. And, not that you need another “and”, you are having to skillfully balance on 4 small points of contact with the ground. This is no easy task, so if you find it difficult, you’re not alone.
There are a lot of fun variations, fun being a relative term. While in plank, you can experiment with lifting a foot or walking both feet to the side (if you do this, try to keep the hips level). Play with lifting each arm. These variations will all challenge not only your strength, but add more of balance component as well.
There are two other orientations of plank–side plank (vasisthasana) and upward facing plank (purvottanasana). Basically, the instructions stay the same, but the force of gravity is being applied to different areas, causing a different set of muscles to engage. The need for strength and balance is still present.
Plank can be bothersome on the shoulders, lower back and wrists, especially if done without the proper alignment and the requisite strength. If your wrists are buggy, come down on your elbows on the mat or on a block. You can also walk your hand forward, just a bit, if that helps. If you feel this in your lower back, come down on the knees, and pull the belly to the back body to support the lower back and build abdominal strength. If the shoulders are sagging together, try taking your pose higher, like on a wall or chair.
There are times and situations where doing the full plank pose may not be beneficial. Fortunately, there are lots of modifications and probably some you can make up. You can put both knees down or put one knee down. Come onto your elbows or put your elbows on a block(s). Do plank at a different angle by doing it against a wall or with your hands on a table, countertop or a chair.
To improve your strength, try increasing your time in plank and playing with some of the variations. It’s easy to set up, doesn’t take much space. You can do it in your sweats or jammies and even while watching Handmade’s Tale.
As always, please let me know if have any questions or comments about anything I’ve written or if you’d just like to email me to say “hi”. I’m a big fan of interdependence, connection, friendship.