Yoga 101: Plank Improves Strength, Stability
Plank helps align the spine, strengthens the belly and extremities, and helps give us energy and stamina.
My teacher Roger McKeever used to call plank "resting plank." This is a slight joke.
McKeever has a point, though: Once we get stronger, plank can feel restful in the flow of a vinyasa class or compared to some advanced asanas. Over time, the feeling of ease or rest can appear.
At first, we hold this posture with a naive approach. A little confusion mounts. We aren’t sure about weight distribution, we aren’t sure how we are holding it and how much longer we can hold it, but we hold it, we breathe and, somehow, plank becomes a battle of endurance and a battle with ego.
As always, get clearance from your health care and wellness provider before starting an exercise routine.
Let's get started!
1. First, engage in three-part breathing and find tadasana. It’s very important that you connect with tadasana, because as I have said before, most postures embrace the same engagement as the mountain pose. Find your feet, your thighs, your belly. Relax the shoulders, and feel the crown of your head reach toward the sky.
2. As you inhale, reach your arms up and feel your ribs and waist lengthen.
3. Forward fold, pulling in your navel and protecting your back as you exhale, finding uttanasana.
4. Bend your knees enough to get your hands flat on the floor, fingers pointed forward.
5. Step one leg back and then the other to find your downward facing dog/adho mukha savanasana. Downward facing dog is a common foundation that teachers use to prepare you for plank.
6. From down dog, roll yourself forward so that your shoulders line up with your wrists. Keep your hands under your shoulders, but try to get the hips to line up with your shoulders. Place your feet hip distance apart to help you find stability. (If your shoulders are over your wrists to get your hips down, step the feet back further back so that it will be easier for you to drop your hips.)
7. Always thinking of mountain/tadasana, look down toward the top of your mat, reaching the crown of your head toward the top of your mat as you engage your thighs and reach out though the heels. Engage your knees as in tadasana.
8. It helps to draw your chest forward as you press you heels back.
9. Stay in plank and allow the forearms to energetically move toward each other, as the shoulders and upper arms move away from each other.
10. Hold this posture with strength and integrity. Breathe slowly and deeply for a minute or more if you can. Remember, endurance is built over time.
11. Take a break in between holds, in either table or child’s pose.
12. After a few rounds of holding for at least 10 breaths, take a short savasana to recover.
In the beginning, as always, we feel a bit weak in these strengthening poses, but over time and with consistency we feel stronger, more stable and ready to transform into stronger postures. Be mindful of your limitations in the beginning, and you will be sure to get stronger in no time.