How to Overcome the Agony of the Plank

I can’t do that. At all.

But maybe one day I will be able to… In order to train for it I have to practice my planks first though, which have proven to be the part of my practice where I see the slowest progress.

Front and side plans are an amazing work out. They strengthen your entire midsection and side body and much of your upper body. They improve balance, posture and alignment and can tone you all over.

But they hurt. A lot. So how do you fight through the pain and actually start seeing some progress? My planks have been very slow to improve. Partially because I already have a relatively weak upper body and partially because I felt I just couldn’t hold them for longer than 3 seconds, until recently. Here’s what worked:

1. Focus on the chest and core, not the arms

I find it’s natural to focus on holding all of your weight in your arms while planking, but think more about supporting yourself with your chest muscles and your abs. Hold them tight and you will take some of the onus off of your arms, and you will ultimately distribute the pressure more evenly.

2. Use your feet

In your side plank, you can modify by putting your top foot in front of your body to stabilize yourself. So if you’re planking on the left side, you can take your right foot and place it in front of your body – and do the opposite on the other side. The closer you move your top foot to the middle of your body, the more support you have; so you can inch your foot closer to your bottom foot as your strength builds in order to maintain an appropriate level of intensity.

3. Bend your elbows

Another option to take some pain out of your plank in the centre or on the side is to bring it down to your elbows. If you have weak wrists, you should always plank on your elbows to avoid any injuries. Make sure to bring your hands into not-too-tight fists while on your elbows, and continue to focus on holding your core.

4. Push the floor away

This changed my plank forever. My instructor told the class to ‘push the floor away’ in a power yoga class, and my goodness did it ever make a difference! If you think of the floor as a door that you are trying to open with all of your strength, you end up engaging the correct muscles to make your plank more effective and ultimately more stable.

5. Breathe

Even when every muscle is in agony, you have to remember to breathe! It does make it easier and it does help your body cope with muscle pain. Remember that by holding each plank for just a few breaths, you keep getting stronger and stronger.

One day maybe I’ll post a picture of myself doing a three-legged side-plank on a beach. Until then I’ll keep my baby-step modifications to maintain my slow but steady progress.

Thanks for reading and happy planking!

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