Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana) — is an arm balancing yoga pose that tones the abdominal muscles while strengthening the arms and spine. Its name comes from the Sanskrit words "kumbhak", which means "breath retention", and "asana", which means "pose". In the traditional practice of this pose, you would hold your breath for a brief moment before lowering your body into the low push-up position (either Chaturanga Dandasana or Ashtanga Namaskara). Plank is an essential component of Sun Salutations and is often used as a transitional pose, in which the breath is not held. It can also be practiced on its own to build strength and stamina.
Are you surprised that we’re calling plank an arm balance? It may be a little bit of a stretch since your feet are still on the floor, but since your arms are bearing most of your weight it does make sense. As in most arm balances, arm strength is something of a factor here but it’s really all about core strength. All those deep abdominal muscles are what give you the control to do balancing postures. And doing plank (correctly) is a great way to build them. Next stop, crow pose!
To get the most out of this pose, you need to use your abs to support your body’s midsection, keeping that straight line of energy from the crown of your head to your heels. Increasing your hold time in plank is another good way to build strength. When you’re practicing on your own, challenge yourself to see how long you can stay in plank before your pose starts to lose integrity. Then work to slowly increase that hold time. In class, you can skip a few chaturangas in order to hold plank though the length of the class’s vinyasa. I started doing this when I had a sore shoulder and I soon saw improvement in my strength in plank.
Benefits of Plank Pose
Plank Pose tones all of the core muscles of the body, including the abdomen, chest, and low back. It strengthens the arms, wrists, and shoulders, and is often used to prepare the body for more challenging arm balances. Plank also strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine, which improves posture. Practicing Plank Pose for several minutes builds endurance and stamina, while toning the nervous system. As part of the Sun Salutation sequence, it is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes.
Do not practice the full version of the pose if you have carpal tunnel syndrome — either practice the pose on your knees in Half Plank Pose or on your forearms. Those with osteoporosis should also avoid Plank Pose due to risk of fractures. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Do Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana)
- From Downward Facing Dog, bring your hips forward until your shoulders are over your wrists and your whole body is in one straight line from the top of your head to your heels. This is very similar to the position you would take if you were about to do a push-up.
- Make sure your hips are neither drooping toward the floor nor hiked up toward the ceiling.
- Spread your fingers and press the firmly down into your palms.
- Don’t lock your elbows. A little microbend is the way to go.
- Press back through the heels.
- Move your shoulders away from your ears.
- Keep your neck in line with the spine and look at the floor.
- Hold the pose while breathing smoothly for five breaths. If you are using the pose to build strength and stamina, hold for up to five minutes.
- To release, slowly lower onto your knees, then press back into Child’s Pose and rest. Those practicing Sun Salutations should move directly from Plank into Chaturanga or Knees-Chest-Chin Pose.
Plank Pose for Beginners
Plank Pose can be an excellent core and arm strengthener when practiced correctly. It can take some time to build up enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Take it slowly and be careful not to over-stress your arms and shoulders.
- If your arms or abdominals are not yet strong enough to support your full body weight, you can lower your knees to the floor (this is called Half Plank Pose). Be sure to keep your head and spine in a straight line.
- Move back and forth between down dog and plank without moving your hands or feet. The distance between your hands and feet should be the same in both poses.
- Pay close attention to the position of your hips. Do not stick your butt in the air or let it sag towards the floor. If you can’t tell, exaggerate in both directions so you can feel what its like in the middle. A glance in the mirror occasionally also can help.
Plank Pose for Advanced
Plank Pose can build a lot of strength and stamina throughout the body when it’s done with the correct alignment. Do not allow your hips and butt to sag too low or poke too high — it’s important to keep your body in one straight line, from shoulders to heels. Never lock your elbows in the pose — doing so can lead to hyperextension and injury. Instead, keep them soft by engaging your biceps and triceps, creating a "micro-bend" in the joint.
- Hold the pose for up to 10 deeps breaths, which takes about a minute.
- For an extra challenge, try lifting one foot off the floor at a time for a three-legged plank. Hold the lifted leg for five breaths. Then, repeat with the opposite leg for the same amount of time.
- Check out these plank variations.
Lengthen & Strengthen
Practicing Plank Pose will strengthen your core and arms in no time. Holding it for extended periods will build endurance and determination. Find a variation or modification that works best for you, and then watch as your power increases!