Plank Pose has become a ‘must-have’ in modern yoga practices as well as a staple in Pilates classes, but when we hear the word ‘plank’ in class it’s usually followed by groans and sighs. Planks can make the wrists ache, the low back unhappy and the shoulders cranky.
So why must we do planks?
When planks are executed correctly, it’s a perfect opportunity for many different muscles to work together toward the common goal of supporting your own bodyweight on your hands and feet with a long spine.
There are plenty of benefits to planking:
- building arm strength
- developing scapular stability
- cultivating a supported spine in a horizontal orientation to gravity
- total integration of the core muscles – just to name a few.
So how can we make sure we are getting all of these benefits and actually putting unneeded stress on our wrists and lumbar spine?
Doing a few prep exercises and using correct anatomical alignment will help you on your road to a perfect plank!
Let’s talk anatomy
In order to gain scapular stability and keep the shoulders happy, you want to make sure that your shoulders are away from your ears. Think of giving your neck space to be long. Many times the shoulders can’t relax away from the ears if they are too far forward or behind the wrists. Keeping the shoulders directly over the wrists will allow the shoulders to relax into an alignment that recruits the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders efficiently.
One of the major muscles involved in stabilizing the shoulder joint is the serratus anterior. The serratus has fibers that interdigitate with the oblique muscles of the abdominals, so activating the serratus will help you stabilize the scapulae as well as integrate the core. How great is that?
To get your serratus muscles firing while in plank, simply feel the hands dragging back toward your heels, but don’t actually move the hands. And most importantly, be sure your core is activated by drawing the navel in toward your spine and up toward your heart.
Here is another great prep exercise to get you ready for holding plank…
The Knee Hover
This exercise develops shoulder stability and simultaneously fires up the core very quickly.
- Set up by coming onto the hands and knees.
- Make sure you a have correct anatomical alignment by bringing the knees directly underneath the hip sockets and the wrists directly underneath the shoulders. Mirrors are helpful here!
- Be sure to spread the fingers wide and press into the hands.
- Now tuck the toes while keeping the navel connected to the spine.
- Press into the hands and the toes and hover the knees 2 inches off of the ground. You should feel your entire pelvic belly scoop in and up.
- Hold for 3 breaths then lower the knees.
- Repeat for 3 sets.
Now you’re ready for plank!
- Come back up into your knee hover.
- Lengthen the right leg back, then lengthen your left leg back.
- Breathe in your plank, inhale and exhale fully.
- Try holding your plank for 30 seconds with the intention to work up to 1 minute.
- Don’t forget to keep moving your belly in toward the spine and up toward the heart!