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Unlocking Plank Pose: Engagement vs. Strength

Mar 02, 2023

Do you get tired when holding plank pose? Do you ever feel as though you might collapse, especially in the low back and core when holding plank for 5 breaths or longer? Have you ever thought that maybe you just aren't strong enough?

I have good news: You might actually be strong enough!

We need strong muscles to hold a plank pose. But just as importantly, we need to engage our muscles to hold a plank pose! Oftentimes, we don't have a clear idea of which muscles need to be working, and when this happens we might rely on the same muscle groups and ignore other muscle groups that might be available to help us! If you are tired in your plank pose, it might be that you are only using your abdominals, and not your quads and glutes and pecks and serratus and rhomboids...

Here are some of the cues that I use both on myself and with my students to better engage in plank pose:

  • Press the hands into the mat to lift the upper back towards the ceiling, protracting the shoulders. (This activates the rhomboids and serratus). 
  • Puff up the upper back (again, shoulder protraction, activating rhombods, serratus, and others).
  • Pull the low belly in and up (abdominals, also pelvic tilt for optimal core engagement). 
  • Knit the front ribs into the body (abdominals, also pelvic tilt for optimal core engagement). 
  • Squeeze the glutes (supports the core)
  • Squeeze the quadriceps (also supports the core). 

If you are holding plank for a long time and getting tired, switch up the groups that you use!

The following instructions refer to isometric muscle engagement, which means that the muscles activate without shortening or lengthening. When I say "energetically," I mean to squeeze without actually moving.

1. Energetically squeeze the hands towards each other on the mat to activate the muscles in the front of the body. 

2. Energetically squeeze the hands away from each other on the mat to activate the muscles in the back of the body. 

3. Energetically squeeze the feet together on the mat to activate the muscles of the inner thighs.

4. Energetically squeeze the feet away from each other to activate the muscles of the outer hips. 

As an aside, this post was all about engagement, but you definitely also need strength. If you are working up to a plank pose, dropping the knees into a modified plank is always an option. Just know that strength is only half of the picture. 

Try it out and let me know what you think! 

Happy planking! 



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