Love how it feels to go from Plank to Downward Dog in yoga? There are stellar benefits for each pose. Combining them into one fluid movement is the perfect match when it comes to building your core strength and improving flexibility (plus it just feels so dang good).
Traditionally a transition or resting pose in yoga, this exercise is completely equipment-free. Just grab yourself and a mat (or find a comfortable surface) and get moving.
You also don’t have be a yogi to perfect Plank to Downward Dog (aka Downward-Facing or Down Dog). Even if yoga’s not your thing, Plank to Downward Dog can be a great workout to add to your routine.
We chatted with three yoga instructors to show you how you can master this move, and incorporate it into your yoga or fitness routine.
- Start on your hands and knees. Keep your shoulders directly above your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Tuck your toes under and straighten your legs. Your core should be engaged, and don’t let your back sag or your shoulders scrunch up toward your ears. Relax your head and neck. You’re in Plank Pose.
- Press your hips and butt back. Push away slightly with your arms as you engage your core. You’ll be in an upside down, V-shaped pose. This is Downward Dog Pose.
It’s all about foundation
Making a smooth transition between poses begins with your foundation, says New Jersey yoga instructor Kris Fleischer.
“Keep your fingers completely spread apart like a star to give yourself as wide a supportive base as possible,” she explains. “The inside of your elbows facing forward assists with the external rotation of your shoulders as you press your hips back to find Downward-Facing Dog.”
Also, make sure you don’t collapse your lower back, hyperextend your legs, or have your butt already in the air while in Plank. Drawing your belly away from your thighs also helps wake up your core for stability in Downward Dog.
Take your time
There are no rules for how long you should hold each pose, or how many times you should do each pose. Moving between them should only take a few seconds, and the transition is equally as important as holding each individual pose. Do what feels right.
Try bending your knees in Downward Dog
Hammies feeling tight in Downward Dog? Slightly bending your knees can help prevent muscle strain.
“I really like bending the knees as I transition into a Downward Dog from Plank Pose. It allows me to focus on lengthening the spine and helps me to build momentum so I can shoot forward into Downward Dog,” says Alice Blunden of Yoga Medicine in London.
Modify Plank if you need to
“Don’t try to be a Plank hero,” says Bridget Riepl, founder of the New Jersey Yoga Collective. “If the pose feels uncomfortable, especially in your low back, drop to your knees… rather than holding something that ultimately might sideline you from continuing to practice.”
Planking on knees can be done by walking your hands out so your hips are not over your knees. You can also lower your forearms to the ground or plank on a wall to modify the pose, Blunden adds.
Keep space between your shoulders
When in Plank or Down Dog, make sure you keep space between your shoulder blades and don’t round your shoulders forward.
“If practitioners hear the cue, ‘bring your shoulder blades down,’ this doesn’t mean squeeze them together. It means to slide them down toward your hips. You want to keep space between your shoulder blades,” Fleischer adds.
No weights required. “Both transitions are definitely hard, but if you move from Plank into Downward Dog, you have the additional weight of gravity to work against so it can feel more challenging,” Blunden adds.
Get a full body workout. Plank works your upper body, abs, glutes, and legs while Downward Dog stretches your hamstrings and back.
Core exercises like this move have been shown to activate muscles better than isolated exercises.
Plank Pose uses your own body weight to tone and strengthen your upper body, ab, glute, and leg muscles.
Here’s how to perfect your Plank to reap the benefits of the Plank to Downward Dog transition:
- Get onto your hands and toes with your hands under your shoulders like you’re doing a push-up.
- Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes.
- Neutralize your neck and spine. Look at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond your hands. Keep your head in line with your back.
- Hold the position as long as you can. As you get more comfortable, hold it longer.
Downward-Facing Dog opens your shoulders, stretches your hamstrings, and lengthens the spine. “The upper body gets most of the muscle work in Down dog, where the lower body enjoys the stretch,” Riepl adds.
Here’s how to practice Downward Dog Pose:
- Get on all fours with your shoulders in line with your wrists and your knees in line with your hips.
- Walk your hands 6 inches in front of you and spread out your fingers.
- Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back to lengthen your spine, creating a reverse “V” shape. Press your thighs back toward the wall behind you and push the floor away with your hands to gain more stability.
Think you’ve got the moves down? Here are some challenging variations of Plank to Downward Dog to try out.
Plank to Downward Dog toe taps
This works your core and boosts balance.
- Begin in Plank and transition to Downward-Facing Dog.
- While in Downward Dog, lift your right hand and reach back to touch your left toe.
- Then place your right hand back on the floor.
- Repeat on the opposite side. Go back into Plank.
- Start with 5 reps per side. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Downward Dog knee to elbow Plank
Intensify your abs and improve balance with this variation.
- Start in Downward Dog. Lift your right leg into the air, coming into Downward Dog Split (or three-legged dog).
- Shift your right knee under your torso toward your right elbow.
- Extend the right leg back into Down Dog Split.
- Put the right foot back on the ground.
- Switch sides. Start with 5 reps per side and repeat 2 to 3 times.
Pro tip: You can also twist your right knee across your torso toward your left elbow for more intensity.
Plank to Downward Dog walk up
This variation stretches the legs while improving upper body and ab strength.
- Start in a forward fold and walk your hands out in front of you until you arrive in a plank.
- From there shift into downward dog.
- Return to plank and walk your hands back toward your feet to go back into a forward fold. Then unfold into an upright standing position, or walk yourself back to plank.
- Do 10 reps. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Three-legged Downward Dog to Plank
This move works your whole body and improves balance.
- Begin in Down Dog.
- Lift your right leg up so it’s parallel to the ground. Keep your hips square and flex your foot.
- With the right leg lifted, shift your weight forward to stack your shoulders over your wrists in Plank Pose.
- Return to Down Dog and put your right foot down.
- Do 5 reps per side. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Downward Dog and Plank can both build strength on their own, but transitioning back and forth between the two poses is even better for a complete workout.
Combining the moves can work your upper body, abs, glutes, legs, and hamstrings. Even if you’re not doing the move in yoga, remember to breathe as you move.