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How long can you hold Plank? One yogini stayed in this pose for 34 minutes and 15 seconds during the Powerflow Yoga Plank Challenge at YJ LIVE! in NYC this year. Can you imagine? We went to challenge teacher Kristen Kemp for tips on upping your own Plank game. Want to practice with us in person? Join us at YJ LIVE! San Diego, June 24–27.
Either you love it or hate it—or maybe both. Plank Pose brings up a lot of feelings (and shakes and sweat) for most of us. That’s because it’s really hard to hold all of your body weight on just your two palms and the balls of your feet. But Plank Challenge winner Katalin Axman, a yoga therapist from Houston, held this pose longer than 50 other yogis that day. And she made it look relatively easy. “I never did a Plank challenge before,” she says. “I thought, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ I just really tuned into my body and tried to make it fun.”
As a yoga teacher for the past eight years, Katalin knew a few tricks to get her through. “I tried to focus on my breath,” she said. “I adjusted and shifted my weight a little bit. I was really being in the present moment, working with the breath and having fun.” Sound impressive? We thought so. The cool thing, though, is you can do it too. Plank Pose is great for building total body strength—arms, shoulders, neck, core, legs and more. And strength aside, it’s a workout for your mind. Plank teaches you to think more clearly, and stay calm and focused—despite every internal desire to drop to your knees. Here’s how you can start holding Plank longer at home or in class with more poise and grace.
Prep for Plank Pose with Rounds of Cat/Cow
Come to all fours in a tabletop position with a long, neutral spine. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms into your mat, grounding down through your pointer fingers’ root knuckle. Exhale to round your back, tucking your tailbone and pointing your toes. Inhale and drop your belly, putting a dip in your back. Push your heart forward as you move your shoulder blades down your back and lift your sit bones.
Repeat these cat and cow shapes, moving with breath, 5-10 times. (Hint: If your shoulders still feel tight, move through 3-5 Sun Salutations As.)
Prep Your Mind for Plank Pose Using Your Breath
Before you try the Plank challenge, take a comfortable seated position, settling into your mat and the present moment with five deep inhales and exhales. Focus on the feeling of air moving in and out of your nose. (Calming your mind is just as important as warming up your body for this pose.) Later on, when you reach your edge and you feel like dropping, you can return to your breath and ground down in a renewed sense of purpose to stay in the pose.
Build Your Daily Challenge: 6 Steps to Master Plank Pose
Plank Pose is demanding, so first thing’s first: we need to ensure your shoulders and wrists stay supported and safe. Be aware throughout that your biceps and triceps should be doing the heavy lifting, not your joints. To master Plank, follow these steps.
1. Start in tabletop position. Slide your right and left knees back 4-6 inches until you have formed one straight line of your spine, from the crown of your head to your knees on the floor.
2. On your hands and knees, engage your biceps and triceps by squeezing and lifting the muscles above your elbows. Protect your wrists by spreading your fingers wide and pressing down through your fingertips and knuckles. Engage your shoulder blades and pull them down your back to keep pressure off your rotator cuffs.
3. In this half-Plank position, take 5 deep inhales and exhales through your nose.
If you feel like you’ve had enough stop here. Repeat half-Plank once a day to build strength.
4. If you need more, step your right foot back and your left foot back into full Plank. Press into your fingertips and knuckles. Slide your shoulders down your back. Hug your side body into your spine as if your waist was getting smaller. Lift your inner thighs toward the ceiling and lengthen through the heels of your feet by pressing them toward the back of the room.
5. Take 5 deep breaths in Plank.
6. Place your knees down and take Child’s Pose.
Repeat this exercise, starting with a half-Plank to warm up, and build up to a point where you can hold it for 10 breaths, then 20 and 30 and so on. Do it once a day adding a few breaths each time.
See also Watch + Learn: Plank Pose
Incorporate What You’ve Learned to Hold Plank Pose
Now that you can hold Plank, how and when should you do it? The answer’s simple: you can Plank during a flow or on its own. It’s ALL beneficial to you.
Don’t Forget the Warm Up
Do 5 Cat and Cow Poses and at least 3 Sun Salutation As. Plank Pose should come after your warm ups when your joints and muscles feel less tight. Hint: Plank earlier in your practice, about one-third of the way into your time on the mat to maximize the benefits of this pose before you get too tired. Try Plank after a standing poses like Warrior 1 and Warrior II to fire up your legs. Finish your practice with core work in Boat Pose. Then move to backbends, forward folds and Savasana.
Use Plank to Inspire Your Vinyasa Flow
Plank is an important part of a vinyasa flow. It’s the top of a push up, and also the beginning of lowering halfway down into Chaturanga. When you start to hold Plank with less effort, bend your elbows straight back and hover your chest four inches above the floor for Chaturanga. Knees can be up or down. Then lift your heart up and through into Cobra Pose or Upward-Facing Dog. Send your hips up and back into Downward-Facing Dog. Turn your Plank strength into empowering Chaturangas during your flow.
Be patient with yourself — Strength comes with time
Use the timer on your phone to see how long you can hold Plank with a smooth steady breath. When your breath gets choppy, it’s time to come down. Tricks to holding Plank longer include breathing more deeply and focusing your gaze on the floor in front of you. Try not to let your mind wander from what you’re doing. You want to stay present and aware of all of the sensations in your body (and come down as soon as you feel you need to). Plank becomes meditative in this way. When you want to hold on just a few moments longer, you can slightly shift your weight into one arm, then the other, one leg, then the other. The shifts are subtle, but they give different body parts tiny little breaks. Eventually, you will have had enough, and you’ll start to shake. Gravity is a powerful force after all. But building your staying power in Plank will increase your self-confidence and the strength of your entire body. When you do come down, be sure to take a Child’s Pose for five breaths or more. If you have time, take a five minute Savasana to wind down.