Plank, or Phalakasana (in Sanskrit for yogis) is a full body strengthener that is used in multiple fitness disciplines. Plank is an isometric exercise, meaning you are strengthening your muscles without changing their length or producing movement, and no equipment is necessary. Yay for keeping things simple and efficient!
Breaking plank down into parts:
Let’s start with your feet:
Remember I described plank is a full body strengthener, so don’t forget your toes and feet are part of this. I prefer to do my planks barefoot, because I find wearing socks and shoes restricts the movement and muscle activation in our feet and toes.
Look at the picture. Your toes are curled toward your head and your heels are actively drawing away from the crown of your head. The arch of your foot should be active to bridge the connection between toes and heel. For me, my feet were the missing part when I was learning plank. As soon as I activated my feet and imagined my heels drawing away from my head, my legs (especially my glutes and hamstrings) became active.
When you draw your heels away from your head, you should feel a 360 spiral of strength in your legs. Front, back, inner, and outer legs; all parts are engaged and strong. Sometimes people will put a yoga block or squishy ball between their legs to help activate their legs.
Next let's look at our hips and shoulders:
It is common for people to either raise or drop their hips (see photos). This is really not surprising considering our culture tends to have weak glutes, tight/overactive psoas, weak abdominals (especially lower ones), imbalanced/weak back muscles, and weak muscles in our feet.
Like I mentioned before, when you actively flexed your feet, drawing your heels away from the crown of your head, your legs will become more active and this will help line up your pelvis/hips with your ribs. Make your shoulders and back broad, by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back, rather than pushing in the spot between your shoulder blades or letting your chest sag.
Another important piece is activation of abdominals and back muscles; you need them to work together imagine these muscles wrapping around your body similar to a corset. Without disrupting this abdominal brace, your breath should be flowing in and out. You should not be holding your breath and/or bearing down.
How to Modify:
If you are building strength:
Drop a knee to give you support. Be sure to keep your hips level – it will be tempting to dump the majority of your weight into the side that is dropped.
Then try to pop up to plank again, even just for a second. When you can’t hold any longer (in proper form!), drop your second knee down (alternate to balance out body).
Make sure your hands are wide and fingers are spread apart. Your hands should be strong as if you are pushing the ground away. Remember: “full body strengthener”, so don’t forget the hands and wrists play a part as well. (See 'The Importance of Hands' article I wrote) If your wrists are really interfering, you can come to your fists or to your forearms, or even try a yoga wedge or hand weights/push-up bars and see if that helps. If you go to a yoga flow class that uses plank as a transition, keep props handy or modify the poses (see article, 'A beginner's guide to a familiar, yet hard, yoga sequence of poses' ).
As always, you are in direct communication with your body, so if it is talking to (or let’s hope not screaming at) you, please listen to it. I would suggest that if you are experiencing anything listed below, please focus on healing yourself first before attempting plank:
· Spine issues (pain, disc herniation and/or bulging, osteoporosis etc..)
· Diastasis Recti
· Herniation (Umbilical is most common)
· Pelvic Floor issues
· Recently postpartum
· Wrist issues (see suggestions above)
Happy planking 😊