If you think yoga is only about stretching, think again. It’s about strengthening, too. Take the plank, which you’re likely already familiar with from other workout routines. Well, many yoga poses include the plank and plank variations. This phenomenal exercise works every ounce of your body. It tones your abs, back, shoulders, and legs. Planks also strengthen the wrists and hands.

Perform planks more often, and you’ll find yourself having better posture and balance. As a bonus, planks can be done anywhere!

Here are 6 you can try that will tone, strengthen and elongate your body. (Sanskrit name included)

Standard Plank (High Chaturanga or Phalakasana)

standard traditional plank pose

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with the toes curled under. Position your shoulders over your wrists, spread your fingers, and press your fingers and palms down.
  2. Extend one leg backwards followed by the other.
  3. Anchor the tailbone down towards the heels to avoid the hips being higher than the shoulders.
  4. Engage your abdominals, which will help avoid that banana (sagging) shape.
  5. Engage your quads (thighs) and press through your toe mounds.
  6. Press through the shoulders.
  7. Keep the neck neutral by looking down, yet a few inches forward.

You can modify this pose by bringing the knees down to the floor or mat. You can also come down to the forearms instead of the hands.

Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana)

low plank

  1. Start in standard plank.
  2. Shift forward and roll onto the toes (you might end up on the tip of your toes). Bend at the elbows to lower down until the body is parallel to the floor or mat.
  3. As you lower down hug the elbows to the sides of the body.
  4. Engage the abdominals and quads (thighs). Push through the toes (heels stacked over the balls of the feet).
  5. Broaden the collarbones.

Practice this pose in front of a mirror until you get the proper alignment. What often happens is our shoulders end up low while our hips are high. This puts a lot of stress on the shoulders!

You can modify this pose by keeping the knees on the ground or mat as you lower down to parallel.

Side Plank (Vasisthasana)

side plank

  1. Begin in standard plank. Shift to the outside edge of the right foot, and stack your left foot on top of the right.
  2. Move your left hand away from the floor or mat and extend the arm upwards. You can also place your left hand on your hip.
  3. Press down on the right hand to keep the shoulder away from the ear.
  4. Firm the legs, press the hips up, and engage the core while lightly squeezing the shoulders together. Flex your toes toward your shins.
  5. Want to challenge your balance even more? Look up at your left hand rather than down at your right.
  6. Be sure to do your other side and have fun!

This pose has many modifications. As an option, you can come down to the forearm. Also, instead of stacking the feet, place the top foot on the ground, either in front or behind the bottom foot. You can even bring the knee, of the bottom leg, to the ground while the top leg is extended.

Reverse Plank (Purvotannasana)

reverse plank

  1. Begin seated with your legs in front of you and the big toes touching.
  2. Place your hands behind your hips, with the fingertips pointing toward your feet.
  3. Press the hands and heels down as you lift your hips up.
  4. Squeeze the shoulder blades together in order to allow the chest to lift naturally. Start to point the toes and move toward pressing the soles of the feet into the floor.
  5. Provided there is no neck pain, release the head, allowing the throat to open.
  6. To release, lower the hips to the mat.

Good stretch, huh? Reverse tabletop is another alternative. Instead of straight legs, bend the knees and walk the heels toward your hands. The knees should be stacked above the ankles. Press the hips up just like you would with the legs extended.

Fallen Triangle (Vasisthasana Variation)

Fallen Triangle

  1. Begin in standard plank (with knees away from the ground or mat).
  2. Bring the right knee across the body towards the left elbow.
  3. Straighten the right leg and place the edge of the right foot down.
  4. Place the sole of the left foot down (left toes pointing left).
  5. Extend the left arm over your head. Anchor down on your right hand while pressing your hips away from the floor.
  6. To exit the pose, bring your hips down to the ground or mat. Do the other side.

This pose is a variation of side plank. To modify, you can come down to the forearm. As your hamstrings become more flexible, you can move the bottom leg upwards, increasing the distance from the bottom leg. For more core work, you can lift the bottom foot, hovering it above the ground.

Flying Warrior (Visvamitrasana)

flying warrior

  1. Begin in a low lunge position (right foot forward, left knee away from the ground) with the palms or fingertips on the inside of the right foot.
  2. Hug the right inner thigh against the right shoulder. In fact, if your hips are open, drop the right shoulder slightly below the right knee, and place the shoulder under the knee.
  3. Place the left foot flat on the floor or mat. Press down firmly with the right hand (the right arm should be straight). Notice your chest and hip have started to open up toward the left side.
  4. With your left hand, reach for the pinky toe edge of the right foot.
  5. Begin to straighten the right leg, while pressing the left foot and right hand firmly into the ground or mat.
  6. Continue to rotate the chest open. Look down for more stability or look up to challenge your balance.

This pose is tough yet amazing! It does require the body to be warm and does well to open the side body and hamstrings. To modify, begin with the back knee down for low lunge, rather than above the ground or mat. The foot on the bottom leg will be behind you, rather than extended. You can also do this pose on your forearm.

Have patience with this pose, and remember it is a variation of the original standard plank.

So, how long should you hold each pose? In general, what matters is that you get into the pose and take one full breath (inhale and exhale). But here is a guide for beginners and beyond:

Beginners

High Plank – 10 seconds (3 full breaths)

Low Plank – Aim for 2 seconds with the knees down, 2 seconds with the knees away from the ground (proper form is necessary)

Side Plank – 5 to 10 seconds (2 to 3 breaths)

Reverse Plank – 5 seconds (1 to 2 breaths)

Fallen Triangle – 2 to 5 seconds (2 to 3 breaths)

Flying Warrior – 2 seconds, and focus on the opening (1 to 2 breaths)

Beyond Beginners 

Now that there is comfort in the pose, try to engage more of the body in addition to building endurance in the pose.  For example, focus on engaging the quads. Press more with the toes.  Press the hips higher if in side plank and fallen triangle.  Press more through the hands and shoulders while engaging the finger tips.
 

High Plank – Hold longer than 10 seconds (5 to 10 full breaths)

Low Plank – Aim for 10 seconds (3 breaths)

Side Plank – Hold longer than 10 seconds (5 to 10 breaths)

Reverse Plank – 10 seconds (3 to 5 breaths)

Fallen Triangle – 5 to 10 seconds (4 to 5 breaths)

Flying Warrior – 10 seconds, and focus on the opening (5 steady breaths)

Chioma Njoku is a freelance writing, number-crunching yogi based in Houston, TX.  She and her pink nosed pit, Brody, love movement, good food, travel, and anything inspirational. Learn more about her at Yoga with Chi or follow her on Instagram at chi_fityogi74.