High Plank Pose in yoga is one of those love/hate kind of postures. It’s right up there with Chair Pose (Utkasana), isn’t it? If you don’t know what I mean, then maybe you haven’t been holding your high planks for long enough. Because, similar to Chair, once you hit the 5 breath mark there’s no doubt that you’re feeling it.
While High Plank Pose can be challenging, it is also equally rewarding. This is a foundational posture particularly to Vinyasa and/or Ashtanga Yoga. Because you need to have a solid High Plank Pose in order to get through the five million Chatarungas in the class.
Plus, High Plank Pose is a great way to tonify and strengthen the entire body. Not just the upper body, but truly from the tips of your toes to your fingertips. And, High Plank Pose is the perfect shape to practice as you begin to enter your inversions era. Check out my pose on inversions for all levels for more on that.
Because High Plank Pose is so beneficial, it’s definitely something to start incorporating into your practice regularly. However, it’s also important that you’re doing it correctly in order to actually reap the benefits.
5 Tips on How to Improve High Plank Pose in Yoga
This post will outline my top 5 tips for how to improve your High Plank Pose in yoga, to ensure that your hard work will pay off. These tips are valuable for those looking to increase their strength, improve their inversion practice, and also gain a better understanding of functional alignment in classical shapes.
First and foremost, let’s not forget that this is a really important shape to modify if you don’t quite have the strength yet to hold yourself up in the fullest expression of the pose. The modification is super simple for High Plank Pose, in that all you need to do is put your knees down. Oftentimes, once someone puts their knees on the ground, they shuffle into more of a Table Top position, as opposed to a modified High Plank Pose.
The difference is that Table Top traditionally stacks the joints: hips over knees, knees as wide as the hips, shoulders of wrists, and hands as wide as the shoulders. Whereas a modified High Plank Pose involves the knees landing behind the hips. It might feel a little awkward, because you’re so used to Table Top. But I promise you the knees behind the hips will help you to build the strength needed to eventually lift the knees into a full High Plank position.
Whether you’re modifying or not, the following tips will still apply. So, don’t check out now if you’re someone with your knees on the ground!
Protraction of the shoulders is the same motion you make in the upper back when you curl into Cat Pose. This means the shoulders are spreading on your back, and even slightly puffing up and back behind you if you’re pressing the ground away from you enough to get that lift. With the shoulders spread on your back you’re able to ensure more activation in the shoulders, as well as the hands.
If you’re practicing home alone, and unsure if you’re doing it right- take a quick video! You can literally see your shoulder blades poking out behind you when you’re not protracting. As soon as you think Cat Pose, and press the ground away from you, you’ll see the upper back dome and spread slightly. Plus, you’ll feel the difference, in that protraction is more challenging than sitting and sagging in the joints.
Cat Tilt Pelvis
Since we’re talking about Cat Pose, let’s not forget the hips, ok? The same way you’re protracting the shoulders like you do in Cat Pose, you also want to scoop the hips underneath you when you’re in High Plank. When you tuck the hips like you do in Cat Pose, you are creating a posterior tilt of the pelvis.
Why is this important in High Plank Pose? Because this allows you to turn on your low belly by hugging it up and back towards your spine. While High Plank Pose is certainly beneficial for the whole body, the core is an area to focus on while in this shape to ensure you’re using your center effectively.
The Posterior tilt of the pelvis combined protraction of the shoulders is great compression work. Which is killer for your inversion practice. Try out my How To Handstand series to get a better understanding on compression.
Most of the time we’re balancing on our feet, not our hands. This means, our hands don’t get a ton of love when it comes to strengthening the wrists and fingers. While many yoga poses involve strength and mobility of the hands and fingers, High Plank Pose is the perfect posture to start.
I like to remind my students that anytime their hands are on the ground, they should be alive. This means all 10 fingers fan out nice and wide. And you’re actively clawing into the mat like you’re trying to bunch it up underneath you. To create a bit more space across the chest and shoulders, as well as in the wrists themselves, feel free to slightly rotate your hands outward so that your pointer finger points straight in front of you.
Try to avoid spiraling weight into your pinkies, as this will dump excess weight into the wrists in a way that’s not actually beneficial for strength building. When your hands are on the ground, think of them like your feet. Your toes wiggle and grip with or without you knowing in order to adjust for weight distribution as you move throughout your day. Your hands will do the same if you keep them alive on the mat.
Sure, High Plank Pose is known as an upper body posture. And I get it, because we usually stand on our feet, it feels like a lot of work to suddenly hold up a portion of our body weight with our hands. Plus the core work. Phew, there’s a lot going on in the upper body. And, it’s important that the legs are involved, as well.
Once your knees are lifted up off the mat in High Plank Pose, you can work on really shooting the weight back through your heels as you draw your kneecaps up towards your hip bones. While the posterior tilt of the pelvis helps to activate the core, it also helps to activate the glutes and thighs by hugging everything up and in.
The more active your legs are, the lighter you’ll feel on your hands. Just because a pose is strong in one area of the body, it doesn’t mean the rest of the body is just chillin’. Quite the opposite, in fact. Keeping activation in your legs is great practice for inversion work. As you’ll notice the more engaged your legs are overhead, the lighter and more controllable they’ll feel.
Above all else, my friends, make sure you can always breathe where you land. It’s easy to clench everything up, and totally restrict the body from breath when something is challenging. Remember to soften in the areas where you can, like unclenching your draw and relaxing your eyebrows to allow your breath to flow with a bit more ease.
You’ve got this!