6 Ways to do Plank Pose for beginners and Fitness fanatics + Anatomy Break Down

Beginner YogaYogaYoga Pose
September 20, 2022

Curiosity isn’t what killed the cat, it was the rabbit hole it got stuck in. 

I’ll tell you that’s how I felt when writing about plank pose, I was stuck in a dark damp rabbit hole 10ft underground with nothing illuminating the pathway out. 

Have I been doing plank pose wrong? Have I been cuing plank pose incorrectly!?

With years of yoga education and experience teaching, plank pose had me questioning myself and everything I learned. I use several cues for plank pose, or phalakasana, in every class. I know how the actions change the way the pose feels in my own body, but I was struggling to reconcile their anatomical purposes. 

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After I opened 341 tabs in my browser for research – that lead nowhere 🙄, I decided to flip through the pages of my first yoga anatomy book by Dr. Ray Long

The answer wasn’t there 😔.

But it was on his website 😃.

And I learned something new. Watch the video below to see all the ways you can adapt plank pose to your needs, and how to spice it up when you need to add some fire in your practice. Then read on to find out the cues that had me in the depths of a rabbit hole, and a key muscle you need to engage to get a straight line in your plank pose.

Plank 101 (Phalakasana): How to Set It Up

Plank pose variations are numerous, as you’ll see soon. In past blog posts, I break this down by sections of the body, but plank is one of those poses where each thing is so integrated it makes sense to list some key connections first. 

Key points for all variations:

Now on to the body section break down. These notes are for traditional plank pose (phalakasana) with hands and toes on the mat.

The Legs

The Torso

Important Notes

The Upper Body

Important Notes

Let’s Get Into It: How to Move In and Out of Plank

If you’ve ever flowed through a vinyasa or ashtanga yoga class you have moved from down dog, to plank, and into a chaturanga dandasana (aka low push-up). You then continued into up dog then back to down dog, and the cycle continued on, and on, and on 😅, until you curled up in child’s pose and waited for the class to end (or maybe you snuck out in the middle 🤨).

On the flip side, you may be a vinyasa junkie and do the double chaturangas and take the EXTRA vinyasas when the teacher offers it, or even when they don’t. You know who you are. Us teachers know who you are. And yes, we see you 🧐. 

But for many people, it can be a challenge and painful to bear weight on your wrists, and vinyasas can be tricky. There’s all that slippage in down dog when vinyasa-ing into plank without a pricey yoga mat to support you. 

With that in mind, I’ll explain a non-vinyasa approach to plank pose. This might be how you’d approach plank in a group fitness class, or when you want to bust out a tricep push-up.

Moving In

  1. Start in a tabletop position (wrist underneath shoulders, knees under hips)
  2. Look straight down (about 1 to 2 feet in front of the hands)
  3. Engage the core – draw the tops of the hips towards the low ribs, low ribs knit towards one another, hip points draw towards one another.
  4. Press the hands into the ground, allow the insides of the elbows to roll forward and the collar bones to spread wide. You’ll feel the shoulder blades draw down and connect to the back of the ribs.
  5. Step one foot back so the leg is straight with pads of toes connected down to the floor
  6. Step the second foot back
  7. Engages the inner thighs and pelvic floor by draw the inner thighs towards one another and up towards the ceiling.
  8. Breathe

Moving Out

  1. Lower one knee down to the ground
  2. Lower the other knee down to the ground
  3. Stand up, take child’s pose, take down dog, or lie down

Plank Variations: hard, harder, I’m a glutton for punishment

Plank is one of the best poses you can do for your core. With so many variations you can choose what works best for you – today.

At the Wall

Reason: You’re new to plank pose out or you can’t bear much weight on your wrists.

How to do it: 

Elevated Upper Body (kneeling plank)

Reason: Need an intermediary between the wall and a kneeling plank on the floor.

How to do it: 


Reason: Not ready for, or don’t want to do, full plank.

How to do it: 

Important notes

Elevated Upper Body (full plank)

Reason: Need an intermediary between kneeling plank and full plank.

How to do it: 

Feet Elevated

Reason: You want to elevate your plank, and make it more challenging.

How to do it: 

Important notes

Protecting the wrists

Reason: You can’t extend your wrists far enough, you can’t bare weight on your wrists in extension, or you don’t want to place your palms on the ground.

To do it, follow steps 1-8 above and choose one of the options below… 

Important notes

Want Feedback – block between the legs

Reason: You dig proprioceptive feedback whenever you can, or you’re not sure you’re activating the legs and core appropriately

How to do it: 

Am I doing this Right? What you should feel in Plank Pose

Plank pose is all-consuming. You press your arms into the ground so you don’t face plant, your legs and glutes squeeze to make sure your knees and hips don’t sink to the floor, and you have to breathe on top of it all 😅.

So how are you supposed to know if you’re doing it correctly? Here are a few tips

Once the pose looks right, notice what you’re feeling where.

Important Note – Looking correct, doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing the pose correctly. It’s also important to feel the appropriate activation in the pose (see descriptions below), and find steadiness in breath and mind.

Lower Body:

Trunk of the Body:

Upper Body:


Let’s Nerd Out: The Anatomical breakdown of Plank Pose

This is a tricky one! There’s so much engagement and so little action for a straight line. 

Muscles Worked

Muscles Stretched

Plank isn’t a pose you think of when you want to stretch, but for some people who type on a computer all day, run, cycle, or wear high heels every day, they may feel a little bit of a stretch in their:

Questions Answered & Unanswered

Did you see it?

How to get your plank in a straight line?

Your adductors, in truth one of the bunch – the aductor magnus, is responsible for the straight line in plank pose. (ok not by itself – those big glute muscles 🍑 also help, along with your core countering the action)

I love to cue “inner thighs move toward one another and up toward the ceiling” and it was one of the two cues that had me stumped and the answer was here (in the book excerpt at the bottom). 

I assumed it was to encourage people to engage their inner thighs, getting the pelvic floor to lift, and the transverse abdominis to fire up (if the inner arch cue didn’t get it first). But now I know it is also to align the hips with the rest of the body. It’s a win-win-win-win 🙌.

And the second cue that had me stumped:

Eyes (insides) of the elbows forward

I couldn’t find the answer to this one, but I have 2 theories:

  1. This is a setup for chaturanga dandasana where the elbows go back towards the hips.
  2. It’s a cue to counter the standard western body posture where the average person sits with their hands on a desk the majority of the day. This leads to shortened pectoralis minor and major muscles which cause internal shoulder rotation at rest (eyes of the elbows turn inward). But we know the shoulders should be neutral in plank pose which means the eyes of the elbows are forward (look at any anatomy diagram to see what I mean). 

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about plank pose before I wrote this post. I honestly thought it was going to be easy-breezy lemon-squeezy, but it wasn’t. 

It’s always exciting to learn something new, and yes curiosity sent me down a dark hole, but I’m glad I found the answers and my way out.

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