Plank pose is an advanced, strong yet effective posture for core strength, which in turn helps protect our bodies from lower back tension and pain. Yet so often I see people (mainly guys, I’m afraid) doing plank posture at the gym with pelvis either too high or too low, risking injury or strain to their lower backs. Plank is a great strengthening posture but is a tough one, especially on the core and all the more so if done with correct Form. My top tip is to focus on distributing the work evenly through the body and to protect the lower back, which is vulnerable in this posture, particularly if core strength is lacking. If you suffer any active lower back tension or pain whatsoever, you need to adapt this posture: use the Starter version only and work very carefully, paying close attention to any sensation of discomfort or strain in the lower back.
Here are my pointers:
It is crucial to warm up the entire body thoroughly – wrists, arms and shoulders, which are supporting body weight, lower back, due to vulnerability, legs as they’re also involved, feet/toes (to help prevent cramp) and of course, core.
You could also take some dynamic cat-cow movements to warm the spine and core, again, drawing the navel up and back as you exhale into cat. Downward-facing-dog is a good warm up/preparatory posture as it works all these areas, though not as strongly as plank. In the first set, pad the heels alternately toward the floor. On the second set, engage Uddhiyana bandha by drawing the navel strongly back towards the spine as you exhale. Release before you breathe in. Avoid inversion postures if you suffer any cardio, blood pressure or balance/dizziness issues.
Starter Plank (Vertical Plank):
Start by standing facing a wall feet positioned straight and parallel and hip-width apart. With arms straight, place palms at shoulder height, with fingers well spread and middle fingers pointing upwards. Bring your posture to a good standing alignment, with tailbone directed towards the ground (abdominals alerted) and shoulders released down and back from the ears. As you inhale, lengthen through from the crown of the head to create space through the spine. As you exhale bend the elbows and work the chest forward in a straight diagonal line toward the wall.
Moderate Plank – on knees/elbows:
You may find it easier to support the body weight between elbows and knees to begin, as opposed to going straight for the full hands/feet support position.
Begin on all fours with knees directly beneath the hips (hip-width apart) and hands below the shoulders
Take the hands a full hand-span forwards. Come down onto the elbows, ensuring arms remain engaged
This one is only for people who have no active lower back pain.
- Begin in downward facing dog: check you hand placement; the fingers should be widely spread, with the ring finger pointing directly forwards.
- Next and step the feet back a full foot-width backwards
- Inhale and work the body weight forwards so that the shoulders come over the hands and you come onto the balls of your feet
- Check the length of your stance: the heels should be working up and back, the palm of the hand should be directly beneath the shoulders
- Check your Form: your body should form a dead straight line from head to heels. The height of your pelvis (and buttocks) is imperative here – if too high, the core won’t engage, if too low the spine will hammock and be vulnerable to injury or strain
- Relax your shoulders back, avoid hunching them toward the ears
- Work the heels back to activate the calf muscles so they support you in the pose