How to Do Plank (Phalakasana) the Right Way
Plank is one of those poses that seem like they should be relatively straight forward and easy to do if you’re not holding it for an extended period of time.
This is actually not the case. Let me explain.
When you are in plank, there are a multitude of things that need to be done in order to do the pose properly so that you get the most out of it. Not to mention that it is the basis for several other poses. If you are doing plank correctly, it will set you up for doing other poses correctly as well.
Signs that Your Plank Needs Improvement
What You May See
You may already know that your plank isn’t right because you can see it. Here are a few things that you may see in the mirror if you aren’t doing plank properly.
Acute angle in the ankles (you’re out of alignment)
What You May Feel
On the other hand, you may think that your plank is fine. However, you may find that improving your plank may help with discomforts or pains that you didn’t know were related. Improving your plank will also help to improve other yoga poses, as well.
- Your wrists hurt after yoga (you’re not grounding and/or you’re out of alignment)
- Your back bothers you after yoga (you’re not supporting your back)
- Chaturanga is difficult (some combination of: grounding, alignment, back support)
*Whether or Not You Think Your Plank Needs an Overhaul, It Doesn’t Hurt to Double Check Your Alignment*
What You Can Do to Improve Your Plank:
Grounding down properly will this will take a lot of pressure off the wrists. It will also engage the serratus anterior (muscles of the shoulder that are responsible for shoulder blade movement), preventing you from sinking into the shoulders.
- Your hands are spread out on the floor, with the index finger pointing straight ahead.
- Stretch the fingers as wide as you can, within reason. Your thumbs should be slightly less spread than its maximum width from the index finger. (You don’t want your index and thumb to form the letter “L.”) Doing this could result in an injury- let’s avoid that, shall we?
- The weight should be distributed evenly between both hands, with the center of the hand (not the center of the palm) being the focus of the weight. The center of the hand is actually located at the root of the middle finger. If you press firmly down through the index and thumb, you will feel the activation at the center.
This action will alleviate the pressure from the wrists.
- Press the earth away, rooting down firmly though the entire span of the palm, the knuckles, and the fingertips.
This action will engage the serratus anterior, preventing you from sinking between the shoulders.
- Grip the mat with the fingertips so that if someone were to try to lift them from the mat, they would be unable to.
2. Joint Alignment
Bone stacking is important in all poses in yoga, but especially in plank. Bones are incredibly strong- stronger than just your muscles. When your bones are stacked, it takes the pressure off the muscles to keep the bones together, protecting the ligaments.
This is so important, because if you injure a ligament, it may never fully recover (and if it tears, it will never knit back together, requiring surgery to fix).
- The wrists should be directly under the elbows.
- The elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
- Externally rotate the elbows so that the inner elbow is pointing forward. (If you are double-jointed or are overly flexible, it is necessary to keep a micro-bend- a bend you can feel, but cannot be seen- in the elbow in order to protect it from injury.)
This will ensure that your elbows will stay next to the body when you enter chatarunga dandasana, preventing injury to the elbows (or avoiding exacerbating an existing injury, such as tennis elbow)
- Firmly press back with the heels
This will allow you to pitch forward onto the tips of the toes, bringing the shoulders forward of the wrists in chaturanga (which then allows you to keep elbow/wrist alignment in that pose).
3. Supporting the Back
There are several energetic actions to take to support the back in Plank.
- Engage the abdominal muscles, especially the lower abs. The lower abdominal muscles are the muscular antagonists of the lower back muscles. If these are not engaged, the lower back will most definitely arch, instead of maintaining spinal neutrality.
- Engage the thighs, spiraling them inward.
- Avoid piking the hips upward by softening the glutes.
(I know it’s tempting to tighten the glutes to help keep the lower back from arching, but engaging them will externally rotate the thighs, which contradicts step 2.)