Sunday, 1 March 2015

High Plank Foundation For Firm Tummy And Better Arm Balances

A handstand is an arm balance.  The foundation of the arm balances I do is the high plank.

If I was super strong I could transition from my high plank to bakasana then to a handstand.  But I am a bit weak.

Not all high planks are equal.  Some will not teach you the requisite postural firmness you need for better arm balances.

In this post I show a video where I give some of the fundamentals of the high plank that I do that changed my practice phenomenally and helped me to develop into this handstand.

Watch the video first to see the movement in action.  Then follow the step by step instructions.  I have written about bakasana before so you can also refer to that post (bakasana on a block).

Do not do anything that hurts.  It is better to practice with a teacher.

Get Set
Come onto your hands and knees.  You need to make sure you are using your hands properly so you don't feel sinking into your wrists.  This means pressing with your fingertips, feeling as though you are trying to grip at the floor or make fists.  Imagine there are little holes in the ground like a tenpin bowling ball that you are trying to press your fingertips into to lift up the ground.

Knees are behind hips.  Shoulders are over wrists.  

Lift ribs into upper back. Can you see how rounded and lifted my upper back is?  This feeling of being broad across the upper back is important.  I feel as though I am pushing the arms downwards into the floor.  My shoulder blades come right around the sides of my chest.

My sitting bones go down towards the back of my knees and top of pelvis moves towards the sky to lengthen my lower back.  My lower back is not arched.

The sense is the entire back of my body is lengthened.  This shape is important.  You will need to maintain it.

The actions in my arms are important and maintained.

I push my armpits in the direction they are facing.  Here that sort of means down and back.

I push my hands down and forward--away from my knees.

I feel as though I am pulling my knees towards my hands.

I feel as though I am pushing my hips forwards towards my hands but they do not go anywhere.

You cannot really see these actions.  That is what makes the practice of this posture difficult.  My kneeling plank is already cultivating a postural firmness for me so that my tummy is getting firm through the posture but in a way where I can still feel that when I breathe the tummy can move.

In fact, if you look at my waist area you can see it is like I have little gills there--you can see movement when I am breathing.  I am breathing a lot here! It is hard.  If I could I might try to breathe less.

Lift Up
Maintaining all previous actions, I put the tips of my toes on the ground and lift my knees.

I am careful not to sag my chest or lower back.

Performed well, you should feel very firm in the tummy area without needing to actually try to firm it.  It should come naturally because of the posture.

See how I am trying to be right on the tops of my toes.  Not the balls of the feet.  That is important.

Tip toe forward
From there I try and maintain the same actions but I just tip toe forward--on the very tops of my toes.

A common challenge as you tip toe forward is to keep the tummy firm.  It helps if you keep your knees bent and stay on the tops of your toes.  

I keep all the same actions from before, lifting chest up into upper back, sitting bones down and top of pelvis back to lengthen lower back, feeling as though I am moving my hips forward.

Stay or bakasana
You can just try and stay there, on the very tops of your toes, lifting your chest, firming your tummy.  It is really hard!!

Or you can initiate bakasana by dropping your butt a little, lifting your knees up higher as though into your chest, lightly resting them on our upper arms.

You can stay there or, if you feel light, you can lean forward until the toes feel light and then you can pull the heels into the bottom.

You can still see my little gills breathing.  That is important.  I am firm but calm.

Optional extras!
I am too chicken to do handstand on a bench like that.  I have not yet got the strength.

But if you have built these foundations then a handstand should get easier.

I do the same thing but get onto my tip toes and start to take one leg up.

I give a little tap...

...and up I come...

Sthira sukham asanam.  Firm but calm.

I have written a few posts about bakasana and even kneeling plank and plank before.

That is because they are really important!

Get a good high plank.  Then keep the actions and get a good bakasana.

These will help build the foundations.

There are other poses that you can do from bakasana so that you do not need to kick up into handstand but instead float from bakasana straight up.  I am still working on that one!  In the meantime, I enjoy the inversion with free spine.

This is the type of step by step approach to movement and posture I use in classes, workshops, and retreats.  You are welcome to join me any time!

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,


  1. Hi
    Wow that's so hard! Very different from what I'm used to. This is going to take some practice. Why up on the toe? I'd this to maintain the correct position of the pelvis?

  2. Hi Ann, I think most things I post are different to what most people do! The reason for the tip toes in plank is that it really activates the tummy muscles that need to be firm. If you experiment with being on balls of feet then on the tip toes you should find a deeper activation when moving to tip toes. The other thing is, when you tip toe to the hands (not balls of feet--tip toes) it means you need to be developing strength where it should be developing for the arm balances--around the shoulder girdle and tummy. If you leave the weight on the balls of the feet that is where the weight is! But to come up you need to have no weight there. Bakasana often gets practiced in what I call the 'ego' way, which is to come from malasana and have bent arms and then just tip forward. But that does not develop the strength that you really need to progress to the other postures--like a handstand! If you find this hard, don't worry, that is because it is hard when you work properly! Stay safe as you practice. Don't hurt yourself or over tense. Be patient. Have fun.