I’ll be the first to admit it…..
I’ve always hated doing planks!
You might call it a hover or even a bridge.
But whatever you call it, you’ll be familiar with it.
Whether you are resting on your hands or forearms and on your toes or knees, you lock yourself into that static, stationary position, hold it for as long as you can while you try to think about something – anything – to distract yourself!
Once in place, it isn’t long before the familiar ‘shake’ sets in.
Soon your stomach muscles start to burn, your breathing become shorter and more shallow as you struggle to breath properly and your shoulders ache with the effort of holding yourself up.
Eventually your lower back starts to complain at which time you decide you can’t continue any longer and you flop to the ground with relief.
Fortunately research and our understanding of the human body over the years has grown.
We now understand that your body is, and works as, a single integrated unit.
And with that depth of knowledge and understanding, I’m happy to say there are legitimate reasons to stop doing planks.
Now I’m a huge fan of planks that incorporate movement such as mountain climbers or super(wo)mans.
But here are 4 reasons you can ditch those shoulder-aching, back burning, stationary-and-staring-at-the-ground, boring (where-seconds-feel-like-hours) planks ~
This is one of the biggest misconceptions amongst runners and triathletes so far as their core training is concerned.
Even if you’ve been told to “engage your TA” or draw your belly button towards your spine, most of us can’t do that properly without some one-on-one time with a pilates instructor or by a physiotherapist with the use of ultrasound equipment.
So what happens is that you teach your body to use your superficial (top layer) of abdominal muscles – your so-called ‘six-pack’ – and yes, you have one!
That’s fine if you’re only concerned with looking good at the beach over summer.
But if you’re a runner or triathlete who is sick of being injured, then you don’t want to teach your body a faulty movement pattern.
Your ‘six-pack’s job in life is not to stabilise your body – they are called a ‘prime mover’ for a reason.
Like the big truck, their job is to move – in this case, to move your upper body closer to your lower body.
But in this exercise you’re teaching your ’six pack’ to stabilise you – to lock down and not allow your upper or lower body to move.
Not to mention that it cuts off your ability to breathe through your diaphragm.
And your body just isn’t designed to work that way.
Instead you want exercises that specifically target your ‘core’ – the deeper stabiliser muscles which run from your chest through and around your spine, internal organs and torso all the way to your knees.
Planks, quite simply, won’t do that.
Think about the last time you did a plank.
Your breathing was laboured. Your short, shallow breaths left you feeling out of breath by the end.
Most of us don’t breathe properly to start with.
And while you’re breathing is laboured when you huff and puff your way through your training, you don’t want to sacrifice your ability to breathe in order to gain stability.
So why would you want to teach your body to breathe in this way if you’re after sports performance!
Do you hold that static, fixed position in your sport – or really at any other time in your life?
Then it’s not particularly sports-specific and any ‘benefits’ you get from doing that – and I’m using the term ‘benefits’ very loosely – won’t transfer to an improved performance on race day.
Think about what happens to your body when you run: as you take a step forward with your right leg, your left arm swings forward too.
Now in order to do that, your pelvis actually rotates slightly. It’s not ‘locked’ into a static, stationary position. Without that rotation, you’d struggle to walk – let alone run.
But does that rotation happen in a plank?
Your ribs and hips are locked into position.
And even if you ‘tweak’ your plank by moving a leg out to the side, you still aren’t getting the rotation that’s essential in running.
Whether you’ve been holding your plank for 30 seconds or 3 minutes, what starts to happen?
Your lower back starts to complain. It might start as slight discomfort but eventually your lower back will start screaming at you.
Either way it’s a sign that your back is doing too much work.
And guess what?
If you’re a runner – or a human being who sits on their butt a lot – you probably have lazy (butt) glutes so your hamstrings and back muscles compensate for your lazy glutes by picking up the slack and doing the work your glutes aren’t.
So you end up with lazy glutes sitting between tight and overworked back and hamstring muscles.
So why would you want your already tight and overloaded back to do even more work?
Try this – do a hip bridge. Lay on your back on the ground. Bend your knees and rest your feet flat on the ground.
Now squeeze your bum and lift your hips up into the air.
Slide one hand through and touch your lower back while your hips are still in the air.
Those two muscles that feel like steel rods either side of your spine are muscles that are already over-active and too tight in the majority of runners.
They do too much work.
So why choose an exercise that would make them work even more?
Remember back when you were at school…
Remember how happy you felt when your mum sent you to school with a permission slip to get out of school early?
Consider this your permission slip to permanently banish shoulder-aching, back burning, planks from your training program and replace it with a proper ‘core’ exercises.
Aren’t sure what to do instead? Keep an eye open for an upcoming post here!
Do you know someone who is addicted to planks or who would benefit from this post?
I’d love it if you would share it with them!
How to Choose a Race Schedule that gives you the Best Chance of Achieving Your Goal
Enjoying your off-season? Read THIS first.
The Surprising Secret to Faster Long Runs (and the mistake you’re making)
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Siri Lindley and Dave Scott