I filmed a short ‘PT Minute’ on this topic this week, but wanted to write it up so folks had a place to go to get more information (it will be running on 7&4 during the morning news – I think between 5-6am). It’s not comprehensive by any means, but should definitely get you thinking:
Core Strength has long been touted as a way to prevent or eliminate low back pain, but did you know that many of the traditional exercise like sit ups, crunches, and back extensions can actually hurt your back?
The plank exercise is a safe and popular alternative that works the abdominals to provide support to the lower back, but it too must be done properly to produce the desired results without creating additional problems.
To perform a plank, first assume a push-up position on your forearms and up on your toes. Then lift your body off the ground, getting everything in a straight line. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds for as many repetitions as possible with perfect form and no pain.
A typical mistake is to have too much of a curve in your low back, which puts too much stress on the joints of the spine. To make sure your form is perfect, try placing a stick along your spine, touching the head, mid-back and tailbone. This will give you the postural feedback needed to know if your alignment is correct.
You can see in this picture that I could fit 3-4 finger-widths between the spine and the stick which is way too much. She’s resting on her joints and ligaments versus using her abdominal muscles.
What you want is 1-2 finger-widths. To achieve this you must more actively engage your abdominals by tilting your pelvis backward. Think about bringing your belly button closer to your nose to reduce this curve to a more neutral position. The women in the picture below looks much better!
This is a great exercise for core strength and for stability of the low back when done correctly. Once you’ve mastered the position, now work on belly breathing throughout the set. You should feel your abdomen and sides moving in and out, not your chest and shoulders. If you cannot breathe correctly, this also means your abdominals are not doing the job, and it’s time to take a break.
Here is a link to a short article that appeared in Newsweek on the danger of crunches and sit-ups: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/blogs/the-human-condition/2009/06/03/stop-doing-sit-ups-why-crunches-don-t-work.html. They frequently quote Dr. Stuart McGill who is the foremost spine biomechanist in the world, and definitely knows his stuff when it comes to preventing injury and enhancing performance. On the other hand, ignore the knucklehead trainer talking about the Transverse Abdominus – so far from the truth I bet McGill had no idea that would be in the article.
Any other questions on planks or core training just send them on over. Thanks!
Here is a link to the PT minute video: PT Minute – Core Strengthening