Want to learn more about Phalakasana aka Plank Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Phalakasana, a complete pose breakdown, misconceptions, contraindications, modifications and more.
I love Plank Pose. It’s one of the best poses for learning how to strengthen your serratus anterior muscles (shoulder blade stabilizers) — an essential part of Handstand and Headstand stability. Plank pose also helps you learn how to consciously tone your core.
I could hang out in Phalakasana for days! OK, not literally, but I love holding this pose for long stretches, feeling my whole body fire up, knowing that all that work is beneficial for my yoga practice and my overall health.
Is it weird to love a pose this much? Maybe, but I’m a yoga nerd. That’s why this is the sort of thing I write about and love practicing. Deal with it!
This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Phalakasana Quick Facts
|Sanskrit||Phalakasana / Kumbhakasana / Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana|
|English||Plank Pose / Yoga Plank / High Push Up|
oo-TEET-ah cha-TUU-rahn-gah dahn-DAH-suh-nuh
|Meaning||Phalaka is a plank or board.|
In Plank Pose your body is meant resemble a straight and strong plank of wood.
Asana means pose, seat or posture.
Kumbhaka is a pause.
The term is often used to referred to a pause in your breathing pattern in yoga.
This pose name translates as Pause Pose.
When the pose name Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana is used, the meaning is a little different.
- Uttitha means extended.
- Catur (or Chatur) means four.
- Anga means limb.
- Danda is a staff or walking stick.
The pose name Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana translates as Extended Four Limbed Staff Pose. I have never been in a class where the teacher used this name for Plank Pose though. Have you?
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Phalakasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Phalakasana include:
- Strengthens legs.
- Strengthens wrists, forearms, biceps and triceps.
- Helps create stability in the shoulder joints.
- Tones abdomen (obliques, transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus) and hips.
- Builds strength in the neck.
- Strengthens the posterior chain (back muscles, butt, hamstrings).
- Strengthens legs.
- Helps correct posture.
- Can help relieve sciatica discomfort.
- Strengthens and tones your whole body.
- Develops core strength and overall balance/stability.
- Prepares the body for other arm balances.
- Strengthens scapula (shoulder blade) stabilizers, particularly the serratus anterior.
If you want more, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- If you easily hyperextend your knees, extra care should be made to engage your hamstrings to protect your knees.
- If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s best to avoid this pose. Forearm Plank is a good alternative.
- If you have a wrist injury, do not over-do it in this pose. You may wish to use a yoga wedge to reduce the pressure on your writs. See Modifications below.
- If you have high blood pressure or low blood pressure, proceed with caution.
- If you have a shoulder injury, this pose may exacerbate the injury, but it can also help build strength during your recovery period.
- If you have a leg injury, you may want to avoid the pose or bring your knees to the ground to lessen the strain on your legs.
Misconceptions & Common Misalignments
Squeezing your shoulder blades together
I have heard teachers instruct students to “draw your shoulder blades together” in this pose. This is actually the opposite action that you want to do if you’re hoping to build strength and stability in your shoulders!
Drawing your shoulder blades (scapulae) together is called retraction. This is an unstable place for your shoulder blades to be when you are in a weight-bearing pose.
In Plank Pose, you want to do protraction, which is moving the shoulder blades away from each other. Your shoulder blades will widen on your back and even slide around the sides of your rib cage slightly. This position is where your shoulder blades are most stable.
The main muscle involved in this action (although it is just one of several) is the serratus anterior, which I call “the finger muscles on the side of your chest”. You can help activate them in Phalakasana by pushing your hands into the ground and consciously widening your shoulder blades.
Point my fingers where?
Another instruction I hear often that I find misleading is, “point your index fingers forward”. I don’t know about you (although I can make an educated guess) but my index fingers can move quite a bit. I can have my wrists turn out and make my index fingers point forward. But I can also have my wrists turn in and still make my index fingers point forward.
I prefer students look at the bones at the front of their wrists — these bones are fairly flat. If you work to make them parallel to the front edge of your mat, then your wrists will likely be reasonably straight.
Once you have that alignment, spread your fingers wide and push down through your hands. This will help create a solid and safe base for your Plank Pose.
Locking your elbows
Sometimes teacher will tell you to push your arms straight in Phalakasana.
While not technically incorrect, if you hyperextend in your elbows easily, this can lead you to do just that — hyperextend.
Instead keep a micro-bend in your elbows. What is that? Well, it’s not meant to be a visible bend, but just enough of a bend so that your elbow joint isn’t locked in place.
But why? This will help to activate your biceps and triceps so that you are building arm strength in the pose. If you always locks your elbows in Phalakasana, then your elbow joint is doing the work of holding you up, not your arm muscles, and you will never build muscle strength.
Phalakasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Phalakasana / Plank Pose
- Start in Bharmanasana, aka All Fours. Place your wrists underneath your shoulders with the middle of your wrists as wide as the outer edges of your shoulders.
- Make the front of your wrists parallel to the front edge of your mat.
- Step one leg back, straighten it, tuck your toes, and place your toes and the ball of your foot on the ground. Repeat with your other leg.
- Bring your heels over the balls of your feet and your shoulders over your wrists. If you need to lengthen or shorten your stance to make this alignment possible, do.
- Claw/grip the mat with your thumbs and index fingers and keep your index finger knuckle (where it comes into your palm) rooting into the ground. It is OK if your middle knuckles lift — this is actually a sign of a really strong foundation. Work to root down through the outer edge of your wrists as much as you do with the inner edge.
- Push through your hands and widen your shoulder blades across your back. This can — and should — feel like rounding your upper back a little. But it’s a little not a lot.
- Tuck your tailbone slightly and tone your abdomen (Uddiyana Bandha). Also tone the muscles at the very bottom of your pelvis (Mula Bandha).
- Work to make your body a straight line (not parallel to the ground, but straight) from your heels, through your hips, shoulders and the back of your head.
- This is Phalakasana.
- To come out, you can push back into Adho Mukha Svanasana or bend your knees and come back to Bharmanasana.
Modifications & Variations
If you hyperextend your knees
Extra care should be taken to engage your hamstrings (the back of your upper legs) so that you protect your knees. To engage your hamstrings, imagine that you are pulling your heels up towards your buttocks.
Over-engaging your quadriceps (thigh muscles) can pull you into hyperextension. By focusing on your hamstrings instead, you can prevent this tendency.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome
It’s best to avoid this pose. Forearm Plank is a good alternative.
The instructions for Forearm Plank are mostly the same as for Plank Pose but instead of your hands flat on the ground, you place your forearms on the mat. With your elbows under your shoulders, your forearms can:
- Be parallel to each other with your palms flat on the ground.
- Or you can interlace your fingers so that your forearms are on an angle.
If you have a wrist injury
For people with wrist injuries, you have the option to:
- Skip this pose
- Do Forearm Plank (see the modification above for instructions)
- Use a yoga wedge
To use a yoga wedge, place the wedge across the top of your mat with the thick edge towards the back of your mat. Place the heels of your hands on the yoga wedge and your fingers on the ground. Then set up the rest of the pose as instructed in the Plank Pose step-by-step instructions above.
If you have a leg injury
You may want to avoid the pose altogether until the injury is healed.
Or, try bringing your knees to the ground to lessen the strain on your legs. If putting your knees down hurts your knees, you can place a folded yoga blanket under your knees.
If your legs turn out
If your legs turn out or your baby toes lift off the ground and it is difficult to stop them doing this, place a yoga block between your thighs to help activate and strengthen your adductor muscles (inner thighs).
If your legs don’t feel strong enough to hold you
You can use the wall for support. Place the sole of your feet on the wall, with your toes tucked right at the baseboard (toes pushing into the ground). This can help you activate and strengthen your legs more.
You can also try the two modifications above.
If your shoulder blades lift off your back
This is called this scapular winging in yoga.
In Plank Pose, to prevent your shoulder blades lifting away from your ribcage, you want to do protraction of the shoulder blades. Protraction is the action of moving the shoulder blades away from each other. They will widen on your back, hug the back of your rib cage, and even slide around the sides of your rib cage slightly.
The main muscle involved in this (although it is just one of several) is the serratus anterior, which I call “the finger muscles on the side of you chest”. You can help strengthen the serratus anterior in Phalakasana by pushing your hands into the ground and consciously widening your shoulder blades.
If you can easily hyperextend your elbows
Be careful not to hyperextend in Plank Pose. It can make the pose feel easier, since some of the work is being done by your elbow joint instead of your muscles. But this won’t help you build the strength in your arms that you need for this and so many other poses.
To prevent hyperextension, put a slight (nearly invisible) bend in your elbows so that your triceps and biceps have to work to hold you in the pose. While you are building strength, you may wish to practice Phalakasana with your knees on the ground.
Yoga Poses Related to Plank Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Phalakasana with Knees Down / Knees Down Plank Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Bharmanasana / All Fours
- Bitilasana and Marjaryasana / Cat Pose and Cow Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Kakasana / Crow Pose
- Bakasana / Crane Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana / Four Limbed Staff Pose
- Vasisthasana / Sage Vasistha’s Pose
- Parsva Phalakasana / Side Plank Pose
- Kapinjalasana / Chataka Bird Pose
- Mayurasana / Peacock Pose
- Camatkarasana / Wild Thing
- Vishvamitrasana / Sage Vishvamitra’s Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Bhujangasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Post: Downward Dog Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Phalakasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Foam Yoga Wedge
Save 10% – Yoloha yoga gear, including cork yoga mats and blocks, organic cotton yoga straps, bolsters and more, is 10% off when you use our code adventure10 at checkout!
A Final Note About Plank Pose
The world record for planking is 8h 15m 15s. World champions, however, do the modified (and imho easier) version of Forearm Plank rather than Yoga Plank! What? Wimps.
The world record is something to keep in mind when your teacher asks you to hold this pose for 30 seconds. Don’t complain and just do your best. With any luck they won’t ask you to hold it for more than 8 hours, so things could be worse!
While we’re on the topic, who’s into the idea of working to beat the world record with me? We’d do it the yogic way, in full plank, of course. Sounds like a fun challenge to work towards!
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Plank Pose. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!