A while back, I was having a Skype date with Jenifer Parker from Healium in New Zealand and she showed me a fantastic variation on plank to prevent sag-asana (I have a bit of that). I was SO excited by it, I asked her to do us a tutorial, and she did! With videos and everything! Read on for some practice-changing tips.
‘So many people fear or hate the plank pose. I can see why. For many of us — girls in particular — we are taught that this is difficult, and that we don’t’ have the upper body body strength to do this well. Add to that idea that we might have a few specialized (awesome!) curves, and for many of us, it just seems ridiculously unattainable.
But that is just so not true! Plank pose is totally possible. You can do it!
This modification is designed to access our strongest muscle groups and make this possible for pretty much anyone. So long as you don’t have shoulder, wrist, elbow or hand injuries, you’ll succeed. If you have any of these problems, other modifications exist — and you’ll have to ask your teacher for those!
This modification has three primary elements:
1. Push away!
One of the big problems that gals have is that they think their arms are weak. And while that may be true, the reality is that this pose is meant to use your back muscles — in particular your massive lats!
Oh yes, you know you have massive lats.
Ok, maybe not that massive.
Still, you have angel wings — we all have them, and they are a pretty large muscle group. In plank pose, we need to use them, which means “pushing away” when you stack the shoulders over the wrists. Most of us “sag” our chests down (and drop our heads!), which means we are not using our lats, which is super important.
And by the by, there’s no way in hell you’ll ever look like Dorian from doing plank pose. Dorian is the only man on the planet who looks like that. I’ve been watching body building competitions since I was a kid (Arnold Classic anyone?) And ain’t nobody looking like Dorian in the lat-region.
2. Engage your Legs
If you have sexy thighs, you can leverage them for plank-awesomeness. The sexy thighs, btw, come in all shapes and sizes, so if you don’t think you have sexy thighs, think again.
Here are some good ways to think about your sexy thighs in plank pose –
A. Press the back of the thighs up toward the ceiling.
B. Push back into your heels as you press those thighs toward the ceiling — this accesses the whole leg.
3. Hips High
The typical version of plank shows a steady decline from shoulders to ankles. That’s cool and all, but it requires a different amount of back/belly strength that most of us don’t have access to when we start.
Please note the language “don’t have access to” — if you can stand up, you have the belly/back strength to do this posture (or most of them honestly). It’s just that your body isn’t using to “standing up” against gravity in this way. That is why it’s about access. You have the strength, you just don’t have the experience/body awareness yet to access it.
This helps us to develop that body awareness and access the right muscle groups.
So, put the hips up in line with the shoulders. It cuts the weight a bit, and allows you to access the two larger muscle groups that we want to access for the posture — lats and legs.
4. Pelvis Aligned
This is the real key to this modification and transfers not only into the full version of the pose, but pretty-much most of the postures that we do!
So, a (probably not so) quick chat. In order to get the pelvis to the right point, you want to draw the tailbone down toward the heels. It’s a good idea to try this standing first — just to get a feel.
Most of us girls tend to stick our tailbones out — actually, we’re just trying to show the males of our species that we are H-A-W-T. We also tend to stick our chests out, you know, for the same reason. Add to that the fact that we tend to wear high heels which emphasizes this, and well, there you go. A perfect storm of back pain. Yowchers!
Ok, so, most people tend to think that the fix is to flatten the back entirely. If you are on the floor doing ab work, this is true because it stabilizes the spine while you do ab-focused work. But that’s not meant to be done all the time. Pushing the pubic bone forward — often with the accompanying pelvic thrust and total gluteus engagement– causes a different kind of misalignment and back pain — a tight, rounded lower back with a tucked-under tailbone.
By the by, this is pretty common for guys, because they are putting forth their man-bits to let us know that they are H-A-W-T. Turns out that we are not that far removed from our bonobo cousins really!
Anyway, these are the two extremes that most people do — either sticking the butt out or tucking it clear under. Both of which lead to back pain and two very different mis-uses (or non-uses) of the abdominals. So the right alignment, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.
Somewhere? Well, it’s specific actually.
First, you’ll need to put on underwear. I’m not talking about cute boy shorts, boxers, or your thong. NOne of these will help. Regular old grannie panties will do. Though, even better is the “french cut” which is slightly higher along the mid-line of the butt than the grannies but not quite as high as the brazillian cut.
Guys who are reading this, it’ll be extra exciting for you to imagine you are wearing panties.
So, if you start standing up and imagine that you are wearing underwear, then you’ll feel this diagonal line across your back side that makes a stripe from hip to the bottom of the butt.
You want to feel this engage, without feeling the whole gluteus engage. This is the gluteus medius, and accessing it moves the tailbone down toward the heels without thrusting it forward or tilting it back and away.
Do you feel it? If you don’t, don’t’ be too alarmed, it can take practice. But it’s “somewhere in the middle.”
So in plank pose, we have shoulders over wrists – and pushing away from earth in the process — hips in line with shoulders, strong thighs, and then the tailbone draws down toward the heels with this engaging of the gluteus medius.
You’ll notice as you do this that the posture is lighter.
Now: Breathe for goodness sakes.
Here’s a video.
Here’s another: Melanie giving her experience of learning plank pose.
You can do it.
And don’t forget to finish with a nice cuppa. I’m having New Zealand Breakfast!
- Yoga Postures: Powerful Plank Pose (melbournemobileyoga.com.au)