Pushing Up To Plank

Yoga teachers often avoid getting their yogis to push up from their bellies to plank pose, because it is so challenging to do correctly. Yogis must have the triceps strength to push the whole body, as a unit, up into plank, and they need the core strength to be able to stay flat as a board from the shoulders all the way down to the heels. If a yogi with weak triceps or core muscles is determined to push up, they will often compensate by letting the hips sag down as they lift the shoulders. This puts the low back in a dangerous position where it may easily be injured. Since the core muscles are not strongly contracted in this position, the weight of the legs and hips hangs off the connective tissue in the low back instead of being supported by the muscles.

Avoid letting the hips sag down.

Lifting the shoulders first and letting the hips follow behind is a common mistake when pushing up.

Here’s a way to avoid putting the low back at risk; instead of leading with the shoulders, we’re going to lead with the hips. Start laying on the stomach, hands palms-down underneath the shoulders with the fingers spread. Squeeze the elbows into the sides of the body. Now tuck the toes under. As you inhale, contract the quads (muscles in the front of the thighs), hip flexors (muscles in the front of the hips), and lower abdominal muscles so that the knees and hips lift off the floor.

Lift the thighs

Contract the quads, hip-flexors, and lower abs so the knees and hips lift off the floor.

Looking at the two photos above, you may think they put the low back in equally awkward positions. The difference is, in the second picture, the core muscles are active, which takes the strain out of the connective tissue in the low back.

To help out the core muscles, step the toes forward just a touch. The feet shouldn’t be so far forward that the hips stick up when you reach plank, but if they’re too far back, it makes the hips more likely to sag at you push up. You should feel like you have a strong base of support. Now, as you exhale, squeeze the elbows in to the sides of the body and lift the chest off the mat, coming into chuttarunga.


Exhale, squeeze the elbows in to the sides of the body and lift the chest off the mat.

If the triceps are weak, the tendency is to bow the elbows out to the sides or slide the shoulders up toward the ears. Try to avoid this. Use the chest, shoulder, and upper back muscles to keep the elbows tight. Use the upper back muscles to slide the shoulder blades down the spine toward the hips. Keep the abdominals contracted, and continue straightening the arms until you’re all the way up in plank. Breathe.


Plank Pose

Using this progression to transition from the belly to plank pose makes lower back injuries much less likely.

Turbo Dog

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of yogis like adding “turbo” to the beginning of a pose’s name, and turbo dog probably deserves that apprehension. It is a variation on downward facing dog that targets the triceps (muscles in the back of the upper arms). Pretty simple instructions: start in downward facing dog, and as you exhale bend into the elbows so that they hover just above the floor. Don’t touch the elbows down or you lose the tricep strengthening. Contract the muscles in your shoulders, upper chest, and upper back to keep your elbows from bowing out to the sides; keep your arms parallel. Always keep the abdominals contracted, and, other than the variation in the arms, maintain good down dog form.

Turbo dog

Turbo dog