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September 7, 2016

Why Do Teachers Say Don’t Jump Back to Plank?

To Jump Back or Not to Jump Back (to Plank)

Jumping back is a exciting and athletic transition in vinyasa yoga.

From standing forward fold (uttanasana) at the front of your mat, you have the option to step back to plank then lower to the yoga push-up (chaturanga dandasana) or to jump back.

Some teachers or traditions offer the option to jump to either plank or chaturanga, but many cue to avoid landing in plank. Ever wondered why?

Basic Physics

Think about the point of contact on the floor in both plank and chaturanga — the wrists. Imagine that point of contact as the axis of a see-saw. A see-saw balances only when the board is centered over the axis.

Why you should only jump back to chaturanga, and never jump back to plank

chaturanga dandasana

In chaturanga dandasana the wrists are at natural waist level (elbows flexed to about 90 degrees). Everything from the natural waist and up is forward of the elbow and wrist. Everything waist-down is behind. They balance each other much like a see-saw. 

In plank, approximately 90% of the body weight (15 pound head/ neck on a 150 pound person) is behind the wrists. 

Jumping back repeatedly and landing with 50% of the body weight on the big toe (which usually touches the floor first) is very different than landing with 90% of the body weight on that (relatively) small joint.should you jump back to plank

Static vs. Dynamic Biomechanics

The difference is not simply 75 pounds landing on the big toe vs. 135 pounds (90% of 150). When you look at dynamic as opposed to static analysis (i.e. the difference between analyzing a held pose vs. understanding the body in motion), you must add in velocity.

Force equals mass times acceleration.

The pounding that your big toe takes during a jump-back is directly related to:

1) The amount of weight landing in it. Your bodyweight is not particularly changeable, especially within one yoga practice. The difference between choosing to land in chaturanga or plank is huge, however. Your choice between the two changes the amount of weight. And chaturanga places significantly less weight in the toes. 

and

2) The speed at which you jump back. Controlling speed in a jump-back requires muscular strength and whole body stability, regardless of which pose is your landing of choice. You cannot make a meaningful improvement in muscle strength within one asana practice. You can, however, first build over time a solid and stable chaturanga. Once achieved, you can easily slow down the velocity of a jumpback via the see-saw effect of landing in chaturanga, as opposed to plank. 

If you choose to land in plank, both the velocity + the percent of your body weight are substantially higher.

If it isn’t yet clear, we recommend jumping back to chaturanga only.

C’mon, What’s the worst that could happen?

Some of the effects of jumping back with a major thud could be the following:

First, broken toes. You can break your toe with a jump-back. It happens fairly frequently.

Second, bunions. The repeated forces of an uncontrolled jump-back will lead to torsion and poor alignment in the great toe joint. Pretty!

Third, excess force will be distributed up the joints of the body. The lumbar spine will also be vulnerable to the impact. 

A highly controlled jump-back lands in chaturanga in (relatively) slow motion, adding minimal force to the big toe and reducing all of those possible side-effects.

Take note:

The population that is able to control a jump-back into chaturanga is tiny: Perhaps 3% or fewer of your students in a general, all-levels vinyasa yoga class.

Does this mean eliminating the cuing of jump-backs in all but the most advanced classes? Maybe. You might also consider creating crystal-clear “If [this], then [that]…” suggestions in your teaching.

One cuing option for the jump-back might be:

“If you can hold chaturanga dandasana for 5 breaths with good form, then try sliding back from uttanasana to chaturanga on a blanket next to your mat. If you can also control the blanket transition without collapse, with easy breathing, then you have my permission to jump back to chaturanga only (not plank).” Of course this requires massive self-awareness on the part of the student, but it gives clear steps to build toward a pose — something we often lack in asana instruction. 

Here’s a visual (with fancy ambient music for fun):

As always, Yoga Anatomy Academy would be delighted to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Love this detail? Check out our Online Yoga Anatomy Mentorship  https://yogaanatomyacademy.com/product/yoga-anatomy-mentorship/ for a deep dive into subjects like this + so much more —

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9 Comments on “Why Do Teachers Say Don’t Jump Back to Plank?

Venna
September 8, 2016 at 3:02 pm

This was incredibly helpful, also in giving a solution And idea as to what to say to Students that do jump back into plank.
Thanks

Reply
DrFoster
September 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Thanks, Venna! Happy to be of service. Please share the post on social media or with friends or students if you feel moved!

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Venna von Lepel
September 8, 2016 at 4:19 pm

I will! I only use instagramm though…
Best Venna

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DrFoster
September 8, 2016 at 9:38 pm

awesome. Instagram is the best! We are on there at @yogaanatomyacademy or http://instagram.com/yogaanatomyacademy, feel free to re-post any of our images 🙂

Reply
Emily
December 3, 2018 at 8:42 pm

This was really helpful!! Thank you. I’ve always foregone jumping back in my practice because of sensitive joints in general. This is a safe way for me to explore it.

Reply
Caro
January 27, 2021 at 8:41 am

I am wondering, where you’re taking those risk claims about broken toes, bunions and lumbar spine endangerment from? It sounds like a sure statement, which would mean, you do have some studies or scientific articles to back this up?

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Dr. Ariele Foster
January 28, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Sure – a few things first: 1) the point of this blog post was to increase awareness of risk (there is risk to everything, including sitting on a couch), and to offer a pathway to decrease that risk. 2) As the writer, I would like to point out that my viewpoints and the words i might choose are constantly evolving – and have somewhat evolved on this topic as well. However, I still think there is a lot of value in this post. If I were to re-write this blog post, I would probably re-write it with a more kinesio-positive perspective. And point out that I occasionally do burpees without shoes on (but also how i prepare for those). 3) remember the main point of this post is to compare the force distribution of a landing in chaturanga vs. a landing in plank. I already spell out the physics above to help explain why jump back to plank is inherently more risky to the feet. 4) to more directly answer your question: there are different levels of evidence and no, none are published and peer reviewed:

My friend Martin broke his toe during the jump back. I know other people who have broken a toe or suspected a toe break because of jump backs. I’m sure others could chime in and share what they have seen or experienced.

Bunion formation would be much harder to “prove” causality or connection, but many folks have the preconditions that would exacerbate bunion formation in a jump back — ER of hips, ER of tibia relative to femur, genu valgus, poor foot intrinsics and ankle control, but overall just poor landing control, period (see above). Ditto to lumbar pain / dysfunction, except that would be even more challenging to prove.

I’ve seen (and have video…if only i could find it – i made it around 2016) a fellow yoga teacher with hallux valgus bilaterally who was landing on the medial aspect of his great toes, and he’s a phenomenal teacher with great strength. Yet there is no way his bunion wasn’t worsening with that.

As far as published articles from journals: here is where your question gets tricky. Who would fund such a study? What university or research program would invest in this? What would be the desired outcome of the knowledge from the study, and how would it compare to the outcome and value from using research time on another scientific study? If such a study could reasonably cause or contribute to harm, would it pass the Institutional Review Board? For a progressive study, the persons studied would have to perform the same movements on a frequent basis over a long period of time — months or years. This is inconsistent with fundamental movement science, hence the ethical questions around harm, though it is consistent with the actions of the ashtanga population. In the end, you would likely be looking at no more than a case study, or only at the ashtanga practitioners of a certain level who self select to stay in the group (i.e. who haven’t dropped out due to other injury or changing life priorities). Case study is little more evidence than what I’ve conveyed here.

So no, there are no studies in pubmed or google scholar for “hallux valgus” + yoga or ashtanga or burpee. None with “hallux fracture” either.

The takeaway from this post should not be “be afraid. be very afraid”. It should be the reader considering her risk vs. reward given information that may be different from what her regular yoga teacher knows. Secondarily, it offers the reader a path to test their own readiness for jumpbacks to either plank or chaturanga. and third, gives a freebie lesson in how to build control toward less risky jumpbacks.

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Caro
January 31, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Hi Ariele,

thank you so much for taking the time to write up such a detailed answer! I always appreciate it, when people are open to discussion! 🙂

I do think, that especially your points about research funding are very well made. This is why I believe, it is so tricky to draw conclusions about the risk of certain movements in yoga especially, when all we can rely on here are theoretical concepts and anecdotal evidence (which is highly dependent on the limited amount of people we know and talk to).

I agree, that jumping back into plank means a higher load put on the lower half of the body. On the other hand, jumping back into Chaturanga means a higher load on the upper half of the body, especially the shoulders, which could bear injury risk potential as well. Plus, Chaturanga requires a lot more coordination, cause you’d have to bend your arms as you “fly”.

Therefore I think, the main takeaway shouldn’t necessarily be, that one is to be favored over the other, but that either would require a certain amount of control to provide for a “cushioned” landing. You know, what I mean?

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Dr. Ariele Foster
February 1, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Definitely! (And forgive the long answer above!) This is something I speak about in the Yoga Anatomy Mentorship a lot. Everything “depends.”

Also – yes, less force through the lower half of the body definitively means more force through the upper half (shoulders, wrists, etc).

There’s no way around it: Chaturanga jumpbacks require significant preparation, both upper body, through the “core” / lumbopelvic control, and the only way to get that “cushioned” or controlled landing is through really thorough preparation. It takes time. It takes some prerequisites. Those with athletic backgrounds before entering a yoga practice may be ready. The rest of us may need months or years to build up.

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