Are you over having lower-back pain? Would you like to strengthen your shoulders while increasing their flexibility? Do you want to improve your overall core strength and stability? If you answered yes to any of these, then reverse planks could be the missing piece to your puzzle.
Though this move is traditionally seen in yoga, it can be found in other types of training, as well. Reverse plank activates the posterior (backside) muscles in your body, as well as key components of your core (including your hip abductors, hip adductors, hip flexors, and the lower back) aside of your abdominals. No equipment is necessary to achieve the full benefits of the pose, and regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, there’s a variation of the posture you can achieve today.
As a 500 E-RYT (experienced registered yoga teacher) for the past 11 years, I’ve incorporated reverse plank into my personal practice and sequences many times, and I’m far from the only instructor sold on its value. Here’s what you need to know about finding the proper alignment for reverse plank, variations you can experiment with, and how reverse plank can benefit your body overall.
Reverse Plank — Muscles Worked and Benefits
Reverse plank is a great way to work your entire core and muscles on the back of your body while also strengthening and stretching your shoulders and wrists.
Though many people think of the six-pack muscles (rectus abdominis) as their abs, those muscles are just a small portion of the muscle group that comprises your core. In reverse plank, you engage the rectus abdominis along the front line of your body, as well as your deep core muscles (called the transverse abdominis) and your obliques. Reverse plank also works the spine-stabilizing muscles in your lower back, according to research, which are technically part of your core, too.
In addition to the core and lower back, reverse planks work other muscles on the back of your body, namely your glutes and hamstrings; they help you hold your body up as you drive your heels into the ground. “Strengthening your glutes and hamstrings can help prevent low back pain and helps with overall hip stability,” explains Alo Moves yoga instructor Ashley Galvin.
Many core workouts focus primarily on the anterior (front) muscles (think: crunches, leg lowers, etc.), which can lead to a strength imbalance and even lower back pain. Because reverse planks work much of the back of your body, adding the move to your workouts helps you build more balanced strength.
In addition, reverse planks engage your upper back and shoulder muscles, helping to improve their strength and stability, says Mikayla Campbell, Nike Well Collective trainer and instructor at Hot 8 Yoga. “Performing reverse plank involves lifting your chest and opening your shoulders, which can improve flexibility in the front of your shoulders and chest.” It also strengthens your triceps — the muscles on the backs of your arms — too, Galvin adds. Working to open and strengthen your shoulders can reduce stiffness in your neck and upper body, improve posture, and help keep your shoulders mobile and pain-free.
Another benefit of the reverse-plank exercise is that it strengthens and increases the flexibility of your wrists. “The position of fingers pointing towards feet can help increase wrist strength and mobility, as it requires your wrists to support your body,” Campbell says. Increasing (or at least maintaining) wrist strength and mobility might seem trivial, but it’s important for your overall quality of life. Lack of these abilities can negatively impact your ability to do necessary everyday tasks like driving, opening bottles, and even grabbing objects.
Reverse Plank vs. Traditional Plank
By now, you might be wondering how reverse plank benefits the body in a different way than similar exercises, like a traditional plank, where your chest is facing the floor.
In a traditional plank exercise, you’re mainly working on strengthening the front line of your body. As you hold yourself in a straight line from head to heels, you’re activating your abdominals as you work to stabilize your trunk. Your quads (the muscles on the fronts of your thighs) stay active to keep your legs straight, and by pressing into your hands or forearms, you are forced to engage your upper-trapezius muscles, chest, lats, and shoulders.
In contrast, as mentioned earlier, when you hold a reverse plank, you work more of your posterior chain and increase the strength and flexibility of your shoulders. One isn’t better than the other; instead, having both in your core routine will ensure you’re working both the muscles on the front and back of your body.
How to Do a Reverse Plank
- Start in a seated position with the soles of your feet on the ground and your palms on the floor, fingertips facing your glutes.
- Press the heels of your hands into the floor and push your hips up to the ceiling to make a reverse tabletop shape in your body. (You have the option to stay in this position.)
- Walk your feet out until your legs are straight.
- Continue to press through the heels of your feet and palms of your hands as you drive your hips up. The goal is to maintain a straight line from the crown of your head through your heels.
- Keep your gaze neutral; don’t look behind you or in front of you. Engage your core, and try not to let you ribs flare open.
- Try holding for 10 seconds, working your way up to one minute or more.
Reverse Plank Variations and Modifications
There are a variety of variations and modifications for reverse plank, but here are my top five.
Reverse Tabletop: This modification is slightly easier than the regular reverse plank because your legs aren’t fully extended, putting less weight into your hamstrings and abs. While doing this reverse plank variation, you want your hips in line with your shoulders as you press into your hands and feet; your knees should be bent to 90 degrees.
Reverse Plank on Elbows: This modification for the reverse plank is helpful for those with wrist issues. By pressing into your elbows and forearms, you take the pressure off your wrists while still reaping the other benefits of reverse plank.
Reverse Bench Plank (aka Chinese Plank): This advanced exercise requires you to place your shoulders on one workout bench and your heels on another. Keep your hands by your sides and press your hips up so they’re level with your shoulders, and your body forms a straight line. Because you’re not using your arms, this posture transfers the entirety of your weight to the posterior chain of your body. Outside of taking pressure off the shoulders, the reverse bench plank also engages the latissimus dorsi (lats).
Single-Leg Pull: This Pilates move increases the challenge of the reverse plank by temporarily placing more weight onto one leg and lifting the other toward your face. The kicking motion increases hamstring mobility, targets your lower-abdominal region more than the static posture, and strengthens your hip flexors. To make it easier, you can also do this move with a bent top leg, sometimes called a reverse plank march or knee drive.
Reverse-Plank Triceps Dip: This exercise challenges the upper body more than holding a static reverse plank. By bending and straightening your elbows, you’ll find more activation in your upper back and trap muscles, which are working to keep your elbows from splaying out. Additionally, the motion of lifting and lowering the body through bent elbows engages your triceps even further.
Image Sources: POPSUGAR Photography / Christa Janine and Photo Illustration: Aly Lim