Exercise of the Week: Plank

For those of you who take my classes, you know that we never do any flexion or extension exercises for the abs. Why? When looking at the anatomy of the lumbar spine, it allows movement for all planes (saggital, frontal, and transverse), however, there are limitations.

  • The lumbar spine is able to cover flexion and extension but most of us know from experience that we should avoid repetition to the extreme, shoot for heavy loads, or avoid a lengthy time in the specific area that’s being worked.
  • Only 13% of the lumbar spine is supposed to contribute to rotation (Sahrmann, 2002). Limiting the rotation of the spine sounds like a better idea.
  • Lateral flexion may occur but is limited. The abdominals should limit rotations and lock the pelvis to the ribcage. Thoracic spine contributes to 75 degrees of lateral flexion where as L1-S1 is only allotted 27 degrees (Sahrmann,2002). Because of these limitations, the lumbar spine is not designed for rotation.

To me, lumbar rotation seems more dangerous than beneficial. When looking at the joints of the lumbar spine, they seem to be more for stability than mobility. Any flexion/extension, rotation, or lateral flexion movements should be focused more on the Thoracic spine and the hips. I have read many studies of the lumbar/thoracic spine, and most point that stabilization is a better answer for maintaining strong abdominals and saving lower back pain.

With that mind, keep your eyes peeled for another article on some exercises designed to strengthen the low back, create a strong core, and achieve tight glutes. So here is my exercise for the week, it’s probably the best exercise for activating that core and learning how to stabilize your back and hips. We call it the PLANK *African music chimes in* Ok, so forget the african music, I just had to throw you off. If you know me, my sense of humor can be unpredictable!

How to:

  1. Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, palms on the floor.
  2. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
  3. Keep back flat, in a nice straight line from head to heels.
  4. Tilt your pelvis and contract your abs to stop your butt from raising in the air or sagging towards the floor.
  5. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, lower and repeat 2-3 reps.

The plank can be and must be gradual. If you feel your hips sagging, or chest dipping to the floor, move to an easier position like photograph 2. Hell, even if you can only hold the plank position for 15 seconds, THAT’S GREAT! It’s a progress! The following week you may be able to hold it for 20 sec! If you’re shaking when you hit 30 sec, you need to do more of them. These exercises are great to throw in as ‘inbetweeners’ with your current program. I HIGHLY recommend planks as opposed to crunches. It’s safer on your back, and makes the lower back “Thank You” for not thrusting it up in the air or rotating it until your hips fall off!

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4 thoughts on “Exercise of the Week: Plank

  1. hey girl –
    i love the plank and want to get into kind of a daily wake-up-and-do-a-plank routine. i’ve recently read about it in a couple magazines on top of you telling me that it’s a great exercise. would you recommend that or is it more effective in a series of exercises? does it matter?

    • Hey Emily!

      It really depends on your goals, however, you will burn more calories if put in with a series of exercises. I think it’s a great stabilization exercise to use as ‘inbetweeners’ as it not only activates the core, but you’re also working your chest, arms, and shoulders (and of course the legs contribute too). But you have to keep your shoulders stabilized, and use your abs to stabilize the hips in order to maintain proper form. You’re working a lot of smaller muscle groups here, hence the shaking towards the end of your 20-30 sec! Whether you use it in a series or after your workouts is up to you, you will benefit just as well either way!

  2. Pingback: Exercise of the Week « Lindsay Mattingly's Blog

  3. Pingback: Exercise of the Week « Serenity Oaks

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