Plank pose – the pose that, aside from the tongue in cheek plankasana, has no Sanskrit name – builds muscle in the arms, chest, and core. This classic strengthening pose is used in cross-training for a variety of sports and belongs to other fitness disciplines – from pilates to TRX – as much as it belongs to yoga. Its versatility has resulted in numerous modifications and variations on the original pose.
Plank pose hasn’t been an official part of the yoga canon long enough to have a Sanskrit name or to have a long list of intangible benefits associated with it. While plank pose echoes classic poses like four-limbed staff pose (chaturanga) and side plank pose (vasisthasana), its effectiveness as an arm and leg strengthener has given it a place of its own in contemporary yoga practices.
- Start in tabletop position on all fours on the mat. Position your knees directly under your hips. Plant your hands on the mat, slightly in front and outside of your shoulders.
- Point your middle fingers toward the front of the mat. Spread your fingers wide and root your palms firmly into the mat to protect your wrists. “Plug” your thumb and pointer finger, and your palm right below your thumb, pointer, and pinky fingers, into the mat. Press your middle, ring, and pinky fingers, and your palm below your middle, ring, into the mat. Look to this infographic by Yoga By Candace for guidance.
- Exhale. Tuck your toes under and straighten your knees, slowly coming up onto the toes of your feet. Step back. Toe-heel your feet together.
- Position your shoulders directly over your wrists. Externally rotate your arms by turning your elbow joints outward so that your elbow creases face forward.
- Keep your back engaged by firming your shoulder blades against your back ribs. Scoop your tailbone slightly toward your navel to engage your lower back and abdominal muscles. Maintain this pelvic tilt throughout the pose to protect your lower back from strain.
- Lengthen your neck by drawing the base of your skull away from the back of the neck. Look slightly forward, toward the front of the mat. Keep your gaze soft.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Inhale. Step forward and apart. Exhale. Lower your knees to the mat to come back into tabletop position.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Drop the knees to save arm strength. If your arms feel weak in plank pose, drop your knees to the mat in step three (above). Keeping your knees planted throughout the pose will take weight off of the arms.
For a challenge, lift one leg. This modification makes the arms (and each leg in turn) work harder. In step seven (above), lift the left foot off the mat. Be sure to preserve the correct body alignment, even with one leg up. Exhale and drop the left foot. Raise the right.
For a challenge, cross your ankles. Similar to the modification above, crossing one ankle over the other makes the arms and the other leg work harder. Cross the left over the right, then the right over the left.
Forearm Plank. This variation of plank pose, practiced on the forearms, is excellent for practitioners who have trouble with normal plank because their wrists are weak. Forearm plank also intensifies the tricep strengthener and prepares the practitioner for dolphin pose. This makes it a true variation, not just a modification. In step one (above), begin with your forearms pressed firmly against the mat. Then, in step four, position your shoulders over your elbows.
Half Forearm Plank. The creative arm positioning in this variation can used in wide number of other poses, including dolphin and handstand. In step one of plank pose (above), begin with the right arm in forearm and the left bent backward as if you were practicing chaturanga pose. Align your right elbow and your left palm. In step four, position your shoulders over your right elbow and left wrist. Repeat the pose with the right arm in chaturanga and the left arm in forearm plank.
Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana). This challenging variation doubles the body weight that each arm holds for an intense arm strengthener. In step seven (above), transfer your body weight to your right side. Inhale. Gently push off the mat with your left arm and leg to tilt your body sideways. Lift your left arm into the air. Stack for left foot on top of your right. Look up toward your raised palm. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale and come back to plank. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
K. S. Iyengar’s Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana). The legendary yogi B. K. S. Iyengar described full plank as above, but with the top leg extended perpendicular to the floor. After stacking the left leg over the right in side plank pose, raise your left leg gradually, keeping it aligned vertically with your right. If you can, take hold of the toes of your left foot with your left hand. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale and stack your left foot on top of your right. Come back to center, then repeat B.K. S. Iyengar’s side plank with the right leg on top.
Side Plank Pose, Tree variation. Once you’ve mastered side plank pose (above), the next challenge to your balance is practicing tree pose while in side plank pose. Once you’re in side plank with your left leg stacked above your right, inhale and bend your left knee. Place your left foot against your right (anywhere but the knee) and open your hip upward. “Point” your knee toward the sky. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale and stack your left foot on top of your right. Come back to center, then repeat side plank, tree variation with the right leg on top.
Upward Plank Pose (Purvottanasana, Setu Asana). This inverted plank pose targets the abdominal and pectoral muscles in an intense stretch. Begin in staff pose (dandasana). Plant your palms behind you, fingers pointing toward your body. Inhale. Lift your hips off the mat, coming onto your arms and heels. Press your chest up. Look to the sky. Exhale. Point your toes and drop the soles of your feet toward the mat. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale and lower your hips back to the mat.
Plank pose strengthens the arms and wrists in preparation for arm balancing poses like crow pose (bakasana) and handstand (adho mukha vrksasana). Plank variations like forearm plank and half forearm plank are excellent introductions to more complex arm balancing positions.
Plank pose is also important as a “push” exercise that targets the arms’ tricep muscles. Too many “pull” exercises – like lord of the dance pose (natarajasana), extended hand-to-big-toe pose (utthita hasta padangustasana), and others – and not enough push exercises – like plank – can result in rounded shoulders.
Do not attempt plank pose if you:
- have serious back problems.
- have high blood pressure.
- have heart condition.
Plank pose strengthens the front of the body almost exclusively. A power yoga flow with frequent planks, then, is often an uneven workout. Counter plank pose with upward plank pose, which stretches the muscles plank pose builds while it strengthens the opposing muscles in the back. The two are perfect complements.
Plank pose (and upward plank pose) are intense arm strengtheners. Consider placing them toward the end of your practice so that your arms don’t become fatigued early on. Likewise, if you’re still building arm strength, be cautious about attempting arm balances after working your arms hard in plank pose.
Triceps brachii. The triceps brachii muscles are the large muscles on the back of the upper arm. They are responsible for extension and retraction of the forearm. Push exercises, like pushups and plank pose, build tricep bulk.
Deltoids. The deltoid muscles form the rounded contour of the outer shoulders. They prevent dislocation of the arm during heavy lifting. Externally rotating the arms in plank pose engages the anterior deltoids attached to the clavicle.
Pectorals. The pecs connect the front walls of the chest with the upper arm and shoulders. They are responsible for drawing the arms towards the body. Plank pose works both the pectoralis major and minor. To engage the pecs, externally rotate the arms and keep them under the shoulders.
Abdominals. The abdominal muscles are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Plank pose works the rectus abdominus (your six pack) and the obliques (the muscles deep in the sides of your abdomen).
Hip flexors. The hip flexor muscles are a large group of muscles located deep in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. They connect the leg, pelvis, and abdomen and allow you to lift your upper leg towards your body or bend your body over your upper leg. Sitting for long periods of time weakens the hip flexors, making it difficult to lift the upper legs and bend over. Plank pose strengthens the iliopsoas, the strong hip flexor in the inner hip.