When one hears the term “planking,” the first instinct is to smile. Similar to the wildly popular craze from the 1960s of twirling a circular plastic tube around one’s waist – hula hooping – planking is usually associated with the strange and equally popular internet meme from a few years ago which consisted of posing for photographs while holding one’s body completely stiff.
We’ve all seen the pictures and some of us (who will go nameless) actually participated in this silly planking activity. However, it might surprise you to learn that planking and even hula hoops have become legitimate forms of exercise which yield measurable benefits. Even experts on back health have adopted a planking regimen.
“I use plank exercises every day as a part of my workout,” noted Texas Back Institute back surgeon, Dr. Isador Lieberman. To find out why, read on.
Planking Builds Core Strength
The professional kinesiology literature notes planking is an isometric core strength exercise which can be a part of yoga, Pilates and, in some cases, training for boxing. Isometric exercises are strength training where the joint angle and the muscle length do not change during the contraction. This type of exercise is done in a static position rather than through a range of motion.
Online reference site Wikipedia notes front planking is said to improve strength in these muscle groups:
- Primary muscles: erector spinae, rectus abdominis and transverse abdominus
- Secondary muscles: trapezius, rhomboids, rotator cuff, anterior, medial and posterior deltoid muscles, pectorals, gluteus maximus, quadricepts and gastrocnemius.
Performing a full plank involves six steps:
#1 Begin in the pushup position with your back completely straight
#2 Lower both your forearms to the ground so that both your elbows and fists are flat to the ground.
#3 Curl your toes under and engage your abs by tilting your pelvis and pulling your belly button toward your spine.
#4 Straighten your body but keep your neck and spine neutral. Imagine that you’re a plank of wood.
#5 Flex your abdominals and squeeze your glutes.
#6 Hold this plank position until the muscle burning begins. Your body should make a straight line from your heels to the back of your head.
When asked if planking could really improve strength, Dr. Lieberman responded succinctly: “Absolutely.”
An Expert Opinion on Planking and Back Health
With any form of exercise, even those which are isometric and have the least potential for strain, there is a possibility that planking can cause strains in back muscles. “This type of exercise must be done with the proper form,” notes Dr. Lieberman. “And it should be practiced as a part of a progression in an exercise program.”
As one of the leading spine specialists in the country, Dr. Lieberman examines countless patients each week and has seen an extensive range of back injuries. Has he seen or read any research about injuries related to planking?
“No, I have not seen any research related to injuries due to planking, however I have seen individuals who have over-strained their backs because of poor form,” he said.
Among other things, planking strengthens abdominal muscles. How do these muscles, usually associated with the stomach area of the body, affect back health?
“It’s all about alignment,” he said. “If the muscles are coordinated and have increased stamina, the spine has the support it needs to maintain alignment and stability during activity.”
Are there any physical benefits to maintaining a plank for a long period of time? Dr. Lieberman notes, “As with any exercise, the longer one can hold a plank the better the conditioning and the greater the benefit.”
There is always risk associated with any physical activity and undertaking a program which includes planking should not be considered without a checking with a spine specialist at Texas Back Institute. What should someone who is just beginning to use planking as a part of their workout watch out for?
“Do not let your back sag,” notes Dr. Lieberman, “And do not let your butt stick up in the air. It must be a plank.”
Have you had any experience with planking? Has it helped or hurt your exercise program? Let us know by posting below or sending us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.