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Reverse Plank | Upward Plank Pose: The Complete Guide

An arm balance targeting full-body strength, Purvottanasana is the ideal counterpose to the countless Chaturangas you've done in your lifetime.


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If you’re the type of yoga practitioner who looks for every opportunity to take a vinyasa, more power to you. Literally: flowing to and from the characteristic “push-up” position of Chaturanga builds upper body strength and endurance. But if you don’t counter this pushing action with the appropriate amount of pulling action, you can develop muscle imbalances. Your chest and shoulders can become tighter while your back becomes weaker, which can lead to injury.

Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank or Upward Plank Pose) can help address that imbalance. While Chaturanga strengthens the front of your body, Upward Plank stretches the front and strengthens the back.

“Purvottan” means “intense east stretch” in Sanskrit, and you’ll feel certainly feel the stretch throughout your whole body while in this pose. As you move into Purvottanasana, you’ll activate through your legs, core, shoulders, and arms, seemingly engaging every muscle. The pay-off: you’ll stretch the overly tight muscles in your shoulders, chest, and the front of your ankles, while strengthening your arms, wrists, and legs.

Like every yoga pose, alignment is key in Reverse Plank and creates space in your body. Breathe into the expansiveness. And remember that while you want to build strength in yoga, balanced strength is what allows you to keep practicing safely for years to come.

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Upward Plank basics

Sanskrit: Purvottanasana (PUR-voh-tun-AHS-uh-nuh)
purva = east
uttana = intense stretch

Pose type: Arm balance

Targets: Full body

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Benefits

This energy-boosting pose can fight fatigue and help you build confidence in yourself and your practice. Reverse Plank strengthens your core, neck muscles, thighs, shoulders, and arms. It also stretches your shoulders and chest as well as the palm sides of your wrist (your wrist flexors), which can counteract the negative effects of typing.

Other Reverse Plank perks:

  • Improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting.
  • Stretches your biceps as well as the front of your ankles.
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Step-by-Step instructions

  1. Begin seated in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your legs extended and your hands next to your hips, palms down with your fingertips pointing forward toward your heels.
  2. Touch your big toes together and keep a little space between your heels.
  3. Flex your ankles to draw your toes toward your knees. Press forward through your heels.
  4. Rotate your inner thighs down and firm your outer ankles into your midline.
  5. Lean back slightly, and slide your hands back about 8 inches.
  6. As you inhale, move your shoulder blades in and up, lifting and opening your chest from behind.
  7. As you exhale, reach toward the floor with your big toe mounds and lift your hips.
  8. Press into the mat with your big toe mounds. Continue to rotate your inner thighs down while directing the flesh of your buttocks toward the backs of your knees.
  9. Press down with your hands to inflate your chest and lift your thoracic spine toward your sternum and your sternum toward the ceiling.
  10. Allow your head to tilt back slightly, making sure the curve of your neck is a continuation of the curve of your upper back
  11. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Press into your feet and hands as you exhale; lift your hips and chest as you inhale.
  12. Ease out of the pose as you bend your knees and elbows and carefully lower yourself to the floor.
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Explore the pose

Beginner’s tips

  • Keep your shoulders directly above your wrists. If they’re not in line, adjust the position of your feet.
  • If you feel pain in your wrists, bend your elbows slightly. If the pain persists, come out of the pose.
  • Press into your heels and hands and lift your chest to avoid sinking into your shoulders.

Common mistakes

  • For most people, it is best not to drop your head back in this pose, particularly if you have a neck injury or are at risk for stroke. Instead, try to keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine.

Be mindful!

  • Avoid or modify if you have wrist arthritis, wrist pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome. You should also avoid or modify if you have shoulder injuries (including rotator cuff injuries), a shoulder replacement, or neck issues.
  • Do not practice this pose if you suffer from a hernia.
  • If you have high blood pressure, do not allow your head to tilt back
  • Use caution or avoid strong core engagement if you are pregnant, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Modify to a gentler version like Reverse Tabletop and hold for just a couple of breaths.

Deepen the pose

Press your feet and hands down even more firmly into the ground and lift your hips and chest higher.

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Reverse Plank variations

To modify or deepen the pose, try one of these variations.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Reverse Tabletop

Begin seated on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat. Press your hands into the mat about 8 inches behind you, palms down with your fingertips pointing forward toward your heels. Slowly begin to lift your hips and press your chest upward.

Avoid dropping your head back. Instead, keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine or tuck your chin slightly. Stay here for several breaths. Slowly release your hips back down as you draw your chin in toward your chest.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Upward Plank Pose on a chair

Place a chair on the mat or against a wall. Sit on the chair with your knees bent. Bring your hands to the front edge of the chair with your fingertips facing forward and curled under.

Slowly walk your feet away from the chair. Lift your hips and press your chest upward. Push down into the chair so it doesn’t slip. Extend your knees to straighten your legs if it’s comfortable for you. Stay here for several breaths. Bend your knees and slowly walk your feet back in toward the chair.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Upward Plank with a wedge

Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Place a wedge behind you with the thick side of the wedge facing you. Bring your hands onto the wedge so that your fingers point away from you going down the incline.

Lift your hips. Avoid dropping your head back; instead, keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine or tuck your chin slightly. Hold for several breaths.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Make sure you spend time in your practice opening your shoulders, arms, and wrists before coming into this posture.

Preparatory poses

Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)

Bitilasana (Cow Pose)

Plank Pose

Humble Warrior

Dolphin Plank Pose (Forearm Plank)

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Counter poses

Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

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Your body in Reverse Plank | Anatomy

Purvottanasana is a backbend that is similar to Ustrasana (Camel Pose) in how your shoulders engage. However, your hips extend less in this pose, which in turn focuses the stretch more on your shoulders, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. It combines upper body extension with a lift of the pelvis to lengthen your front body and strengthen your entire back body.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Illustration: Chris Macivor

The posterior deltoid muscles extend your shoulders back and away from your torso. This creates an intense stretch of the anterior portion of the deltoids in your shoulders, the pectoralis major on your chest, and the biceps muscles on your upper arms.

The triceps extend your elbows, and the posterior portion of the deltoids extend your shoulders, synergizing to deepen the stretch through your front body.

Your knees are straightened by your quadriceps.

Illustration: Chris Macivor

Your back arches thanks to the work of the erector spinae along the spine and the quadratus lumborum in the lower back. Activate the gluteus maximus in your buttocks to push your pelvis up and out, accentuating the arch of your back. Your hips are straightened further by the adductor muscles along the inner thigh, especially the adductor magnus. Purvottanasana stretches the flexor muscles at the front of your hips, including the psoas.

When you engage your hamstrings, this action presses your feet into the mat and causes an upward force that synergizes the lift of your pelvis. The peroneus longus and brevis muscles along the back and side of each calf help press the balls of the feet to the mat. Your feet are stretched out and curved downward by activation of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. This requires some length in the muscles at the front of your lower legs. Poses such as Virasana (Hero Pose) can help stretch those prior to coming into Purvottanasana.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Backbends and Twists by Ray Long.

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Put Reverse Plank into practice

Here are a few sequences to try that feature Upward Plank.


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.