Yoga for Runners: 6 Plank Poses to Build Core Strength

Want to improve your running form, core strength and stability? These six plank pose variations will help you become a better runner.

Yoga instructor, ultrarunner and WeeViews ambassador Brynn Cunningham shows you how it's done.

Plank pose is a classic staple in many fitness regimes

You’ll find it in:

  • Pilates
  • CrossFit
  • Mossa
  • HIIT
  • Tabata
  • Yoga
  • School physical education classes
  • Collegiate sports programs 
  • Physical therapy-inspired exercises
  • and the list goes on…

Needless to say, when it comes to core strength, plank pose takes the cake.

In Core Workout for Running: 8 Yoga Poses for a Stronger Core, we learned that the core is comprised of:

  • The low back
  • Abdomen
  • Obliques
  • Hip flexors 
  • Glutes
  • And according to most sources, even the chest

Plank pose: 8 benefits for runners

  1. Targets all of the muscles listed above
  2. Strengthens the back muscles, in turn strengthening the spine
  3. Strengthens the shoulder muscles
  4. Increases total body strength 
  5. Creates stability in the pelvis
  6. Coordinates the movement between the arms, pelvis and hips
  7. Acts as a foundation for moving the legs forward and backward in a repetitive motion over many minutes, hours and sometimes even day
  8. Keeps the torso upright, making breathing more efficient and posture correctly aligned

Alignment cues for all versions of the plank poses in this article:

  • Draw the navel to the spine 
  • Shoulders stack on top of wrists or half an inch forward of wrists (regular plank)
  • Knit the ribs toward one another so they do not flare out, which puts undue pressure on the low back
  • Hips and shoulders should be at the same level, i.e., the hips should not be drooping toward the floor or too high above the shoulders (does not apply to side plank versions) 
  • Isometrically drag the hands or forearms to the toes while simultaneously dragging the toes (or knees if knees are down) to the hands or forearms to activate all the muscles of the body
  • Engage the quadriceps and glutes to create a total-body experience 

When to practice the poses

They are best practiced within a body or weight-based strength routine, such as yoga. 

  • Choose your favorite strength-training routine and be sure to add plank. 
  • Plank pose is the main pose in many vinyasa yoga style classes. 
  • The poses can also be done before, during (if you want to mix it up!) or after a run.

How to practice the poses

  • Option One: Hold each pose for 30 to 60 seconds (five to eight breaths) before switching to the next set of poses. Do one to three sets of each pose, choosing different versions each time or the ones that work best for your body.
  • Option Two: If practicing within a yoga class, these poses are often woven throughout, incorporating many other types of poses, and held for one round of breath. 
  • Practice them at least twice a week for best results.

1. Forearm Plank Pose, three versions

Forearm Plank (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
One-Leg Forearm Plank (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Cross-Diagonal Balance Forearm Plank (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

Instructions:

  • Come to hands and knees 
  • Lower forearms to the ground - interlace hands or keep hands apart as shown in the photos
  • Keep the elbows from flaring out to the sides by keeping them stacked underneath of the shoulders
  • If hands are not interlaced, spread the ten fingers wide and press down through the thumbs and index fingers
  • Lift the knees off the ground 
  • Bring hips to shoulder height
  • Draw navel to spine
  • Isometrically drag feet to hands and hands to feet
  • Look slightly forward or down to keep space in the neck

Three Versions:

  • Regular Forearm Plank (photo one)
  • One-Leg Forearm Plank (photo two). If version one feels easy or you’re looking for a challenge, try lifting one leg, then switch. Repeat with opposite leg.
  • Cross-Diagonal Balance Forearm Plank (photo three). If version two can be done while still keeping proper alignment, try this version by reaching the opposite arm forward. Repeat with opposite leg and arm lifted. 

2. Side Forearm Plank Pose, two versions

Side Forearm Plank (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Side Forearm Plank with Leg Lifted (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

Instructions:

  • From forearm plank pose, turn the left forearm so it’s parallel to the top of the mat
  • Roll to the outer edge of the left foot
  • Turn the torso so it’s facing to the side
  • Reach the top arm up to the sky
  • Press the bottom forearm into the mat
  • Draw the shoulder down away from the ear
  • Flex the toes back toward the knees
  • Lift the top hip up toward the sky to activate the outer hip of the stabilizing leg

Two Versions:

  • Regular Side Forearm Plank (photo one) 
  • Side Forearm Plank with Leg Lifted (photo two) - Lift the top leg off of the bottom leg 
  • Repeat on other side

3. Plank Pose with Toes Lifted One Inch

Plank Pose with Toes Lifted (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

Instructions:

  • Come into regular plank pose
  • Lift the left toes one inch off the mat
  • Keep the hips as level as possible
  • Switch sides

4. Chaturanga Push-Up

Chaturanga Push-Up (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

Instructions:

  • Come into regular plank pose
  • Squeeze the elbows into the ribs
  • Draw the shoulders down the back
  • Bend the elbows up to 90 degrees, but no farther, to lower into a low push-up position 
  • Press back up
  • Do as many as you can until you feel a burn
  • This can be done on the knees - if you cannot press up without the hips dipping, then do your push-up on the knees

More push-up power

5. Supported Side Plank Pose

Side Plank Pose, supported (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Side Plank Pose, supported with leg lifted (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

Instructions (photo one):

  • Begin on hands and knees
  • Lift the left arm up to the sky
  • Reach the fingertips to the sky to create length and to avoid collapsing into the stabilizing shoulder
  • Turn the torso open to the side
  • Place the left foot in line with the left knee and left hand
  • Kick the left foot out like a kickstand for more balance 

If you can hold the supported version (photo one), try the lifted leg version (photo two) 

  • Repeat on other side

6. Side Plank Pose

Side Plank Pose (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Side Plank Pose with Top Leg Lifted (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Side Plank Pose, Top Knee to Chest (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Side Plank Pose, Leg Extended Forward (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)
Side Plank Pose, Bottom Leg Lifted with Bent Knee (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

Instructions (photo one):

  • Begin in regular plank pose
  • Roll to the outer edge of the left foot
  • Lift the left arm up to the sky
  • Stack the left foot on top of the right
  • Flex the toes back toward the knees
  • Keep the top hip level with the bottom, so the body is in one even plane
  • Press the top hip to the sky
  • Look down, to the side or up

If side plank pose is easy, try the following with different leg variations for more challenge:

  • Side Plank Pose with Top Leg Lifted (photo two)
  • Side Plank Pose, Top Knee to Chest (photo three)
  • Side Plank Pose, Top Leg Extended Forward - this can also be done with bottom leg extended forward (photo four)
  • Side Plank Pose, Bottom Leg Lifted with Bent Knee (photo five)
  • Repeat on other side

More on yoga for runners

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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