Planks Gone Bad
By: Jon-Erik Kawamoto
If you’re an avid runner, you have probably read somewhere at some point that planks (front, side and hip) are beneficial for runners. If you’re unfamiliar with planks, they are isometric static postures held for a certain amount of time. For example, a front plank is usually performed on the elbows and toes. A side plank is usually performed lying on one elbow and the side of the foot. Lastly, the hip plank (or glute bridge as I like to call it) is performed lying on the back with the knees bent with the feet flat on the floor. The hips are brought up so there is a straight line from the knees through the hips to the shoulders.
These exercises train the body to prevent movement. If you have really good body awareness or a good coach, you’ll also be able to attain neutral spine (no excessive curve in the lumbar spine) and be able to maintain it throughout each of the three exercises mentioned above. When running, the core muscles act to prevent excessive movement in the trunk. When running, the coordinated arm and leg movements create torque while propelling you forward and it’s the abdominals’ responsibility to “tame” the torque to prevent energy leaks or excessive energy usage.
Far too often, I see incorrect postures and positions when people perform these exercises. Also, when I have new clients who tell me “Ya, I do planks” or “Ya, I know what they are;” I then ask “Okay, please show me a front plank” and almost always, the position they get into is incorrect.
I want this to be the last place where you learn how to do these exercises. I want you to leave after reading this post feeling confident in your ability to perform these exercises correctly.
1. Front Plank
Go on your elbows and knees. Have a partner place a dowel rod or broom stick on your back. The stick should be touching these three spots: 1. Hips 2. Upper back and 3. Back of your head. If the stick isn’t touching all three spots, change the curve in your upper or lower back or change your head position. If you have a kyphotic posture the stick will not touch the back of your head. This is okay for now, but should be addressed in your exercise program elsewhere. Anyway, once you have the stick in place with the three spots of contact, from your elbows, go onto your toes. You should have a straight line from the top of your head to the bottom of your heels AND the stick should still have the three spots of contact. Your hips should not be too high or too low – basically, it should look like you’re standing up.
Maintain this position for 10 seconds – it will feel harder compared to how you normally do planks (this is because the position is more correct). If it doesn’t, it means your technique is sound. Place your knees on the ground after the 10 second count and rest for 2 seconds. Go back into the plank and repeat this cycle 6-8 times. Perform 3 sets 2-3x/week.
2. Side Plank
Lie on your side with your back against a wall. You should be on your elbow and resting on your lower leg. I find this method really helps people attain the straight body position required in the Side Plank. Use the wall as a guide to attain a straight body position. Go up on your elbow and the side of your foot. The wall should be touching the same three spots listed above. Raise your top arm and also place it on the wall with 90 degrees at your armpit. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Drop your hips for 2 seconds and repeat 6-8 times. Perform 2-3x/week.
3. Glute Bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. This exercise focuses more on improving gluteals activation in addition to stabilizing the lumbar spine. Pretend you are pinching a coin in between your butt-cheeks (I know, I know, just go along with me). Slightly brace your abdominals (as if you were going to get punched in the stomach) and lift your hips until you have a straight line going from your knees to the your shoulders. Place your hands across your chest or on the floor with your palms up (this will ensure you are using your glutes and hamstrings to lift your hips…not your arms). Keep that coin squeeze and hold this pose for 10 seconds. Again, repeat 6-8 repetitions and perform 2-3 x/week.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, CEP is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Definitions Fitness Company in St. John’s, NL. He is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology at Memorial University and specializes in strength training middle-to-long distance runners. Check out www.JKConditioning.com and www.StrongerRunner.com for more information.
*Remember – always seek the advice of a physician before starting any wellness, nutrition, supplementation and exercise program. The information provided by definitions fitness company is educational in nature and not prescriptive. Definitions Fitness Company does not accept liability for any health condition as a result of its educational material. It is the individuals (Definitions /client’s customer and friends) responsibility to make educated decisions and create their own course of action.*
November 24th, 2011