“When can I do plank again?”
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this question…
I tell my students to stop practicing certain yoga poses while strengthening their core and closing their diastasis. Big backbends, deep twists, and traditional core strengtheners like crunches, to name a few. Usually, those recommendations are met with a nod… an easy acceptance.
When I tell them to give up plank? Not so much.
What is it about plank? Is it that yoga teachers use it as THE core strengthener? Directing you to hold it for minutes at a time with the assumed promise of 6 pack abs. Or is it that many yoga practices cue this pose so often you feel like you’re giving up your entire practice?
Regardless of the reason, everybody wants to know: When can I start doing plank again???
Let’s answer this question:
Key Consideration For A Healthy Plank Pose
The key to a healthy plank pose is engaging your transverse abdominis. Without those deep core muscles you risk creating more strain on your already weak abdominal wall.
Plain and simple: You should not do plank pose until you can FIND, and MAINTAIN, engagement of your transverse.
The 4 videos below will allow you to test your ability to find this engagement:
We’ll begin with a quick test to see how strong your transverse abdominis is:
Now let’s take it up a notch. Transverse engagement on your hands and knees (a plank preparation position) is more challenging.
You are working AGAINST gravity. You have to find the strength of your transverse, and pull the weight of your internal organs up with it. Test it out with this video. MAKE SURE YOU AREN’T TUCKING YOUR TAILBONE. That’s cheating!!
If you can’t find engagement in this position, go no further. WITHOUT transverse engagement, this position strains the core (the weight of the organs can be too much.) Build strength by practicing transverse engagement in seated or standing positions.
FYI: practicing good alignment in yoga poses is a great way to do this.
If that felt easy, let’s move on.
Can you hold TA engagement in a modified plank with knees down?
If the answer is no, stay away from plank and work on getting stronger.
If the answer is yes, here we go.
Final test: transverse engagement in full plank position.
You already know what I’m going to say right?
If you can’t do this, focus on building strength.
If you can, you might be ready for plank again!**
**I wish it were as simple as this test alone but the body is never that simple! In addition to transverse engagement, you also want engagement of your pelvic floor in this pose. Here’s why: Plank pose increases pressure inside the abdomen. If you’ve got strong abdominal muscles but a weak pelvic floor, you will strain your pelvic floor. Over time, this could lead to things like incontinence and organ prolapse. You don’t want that. We’ll cover pelvic floor engagement in another post.
A final note: I love a good plank pose as much as the next yogi. But this pose is NOT A REQUIREMENT for a strong core. You could never do a plank pose again, and still have a strong, functional, healthy core that supports you in all the things you love doing. It’s time yogis start thinking outside the plank.