Before we completely explode the myth that planking is beneficial for the core and for lower back pain for good, we should give planking the bit of credit it does deserve.
If you already have a superbly strong core have never had back pain and you play a heavy contact sport, planking is an excellent exercise. The reason planking is great in this instance, is that it does build strength in the layers of the abdominal wall that protect you from impacts. Admittedly also planking is a rough and ready way of activating the core for those who don’t have a history of pain or any postural weaknesses.
But here are the MAJOR issues with planking for regular workout going folk, especially those who have suffered with back pain, neck pain, hip pain and the like. So here are some definite indicators that planking is not currently for you.
PLANKING CATEGORICALLY DOES NOT TARGET YOUR CORE. Planking primarily emphasises the ‘upper front’ portion of the abdominal wall (you can feel that in a plank position for yourself if you want to verify it). These are muscles which tend to be OVER DEVELOPED in back pain sufferers, most of whom need to isolate and work the DEEPER LAYERS OF MUSCLE.
PLANKING STRESSES THE LUMBAR SPINE. If you don’t have a near perfect pattern of activity and strength in your deepest core, planking puts heaps of stress on the lumbar spine. We treat people all the time who have found that the more planking they do the more back pain they get. There is research that backs this observation up. For people with back pain, using planking to help can be a lot like trying to put a fire out by throwing kerosene on it.
OFFICE WORKERS NEED PLANKING LIKE ASTHMATICS NEED A CIGARETTE. Half the problem with desk work is that it over-activates the muscle mass at the front of our bodies and under-activates the back of our bodies. We end up with shortened over-active muscles at the front, and lengthened under-active muscles at the back.
If you spend a large portion of your life sat at a desk when you exercise the primary strengthening you want to do is for the back of the body and the back of the shoulders as opposed to further tightening and building the front with planks and sit-ups. This truth goes double for people with stubborn shoulder pain, neck pain and back pain. PLANKS ACTIVATE AND SHORTEN THE MUSCLES AT THE FRONT OF THE BODY MORE.. Which means that you have gone all the way to the gym so that you can deliberately work on making your postural imbalance worse !!!!!!!
PEOPLE WHO HOLD TENSION IN THEIR NECKS . This relates to another thing you don’t want if you fall into the normal range postural imperfection most of us suffer from. The sheer effort of exercises like planking tend most gym goers to shorten and clench the neck muscles, unless they are carefully coached not to.
We could give you great advice on how to plank without clenching your neck … but we’d rather you just quit. The truth is that even if you are determined to get a hard flat tummy there are so many other ways to achieve this without hurting your neck the way planking so easily can.
IF YOU WANT ABS THERE ARE OTHER WAYS. There are many ways to develop your abdominals without straining your spine if that’s what you want to do. The secret to using other exercises and techniques that target your abs without stressing your spine and adding to your postural imbalances is education. Part of the task is of course learning what those exercises are, the other part is learning to execute them in ways that maximumise the benefits of trunk strength while minimising stress to the delicate spinal tissues.
If you work long term at a sedentary job, if you have any desire to improve your posture, if you have any history of back pain, hip pain, neck pain or shoulder pain, please for the love of logic stop the planking. Don’t give in to PPPP (Professional Planking Peer Pressure) either, you have the right to refuse to do any exercise that doesn’t make sense to you, or that doesn’t feel right for your body.
If you need help choosing exercises that DO work for your body and for your pain without causing harm.. we can help.