The Plank Redefined: Improve Performance with Prehab

The Plank Redefined was originally published on TheBarbellPhysio as a guest post by ThePrehabGuys.

What is the core?

Before we dive into advanced plank progressions, we must first set straight what the core is and why core stability is so vital for our movement system’s health and longevity. The core, from a muscular standpoint, is so much more than just a 6-pack of washboard arms. It essentially includes any and every that moves the trunk and aids in maintaining a neutral spine position.

This includes the popular “core muscles” such as the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and multifus, but also other muscles such as the latissmus dorsi, quadratus lumobrum, and pectoralis muscles.

What does it do?

Exercises to increase core stability are a staple among the rehabilitation and performance communities alike with common goals such as improving athletic performance, reducing low back pain, and improving muscular endurance. Core stability enhances the human movement system through 3 primary mechanisms:

1) Stabilization of the spine. The primary function of the core is to stabilize the spine and limit the amount of rotation and displacement of the spine. A combination of structures like your intervertebral discs, spinal facet joints, and ligaments provide passive stabilization to the spine. On the hand, our muscles provide active stabilization of the spine and through exercise, we can increase our the stability of our spine.

2) The core is anatomical bridge between our hips and shoulders. Increasing core stability helps transfer the full force and power of movement from the lower extremities to the upper extremities and vice-versa. In the large majority of sport-specific movements, power is generated in the hips and then transferred through the core to the upper extremities (ex: baseball swing). A weak core will diminish this transfer of power and limit athletic performance.

3) Core exercises can help with back pain. In certain subgroups of patients with low back pain, core stabilization exercises have been found to be extremely beneficial in reducing pain and improving quality of life.

 

Why planks?

Planks are foundation upon which any core strengthening program should begin. One must demonstrate good proximal stability (core strength) to provide efficient movement control for distal mobility. A lack of core strength will also increase the risk of compensatory strategies distally, ultimately increasing the risk of injury. As we discussed earlier, we utilize our core to stabilize our spine and planks are an amazing way to develop this stability. Some things to keep in mind when performing a plank:

  • Keep a neutral spine throughout. No arching your back or sticking your butt in the air.
  • Your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should always be straight and aligned with each other
  • Try not to shrug your shoulders or tense your neck. Relax and remember to breathe!

plank

 

Advanced plank progressions

Many will argue that planks are simply too easy for the advanced athlete. However, there are always ways to make an exercise harder and more advanced. While there is a plethora of creative ways to advance a plank, we believe every plank progression is accomplished through one of three primary methods: incorporating additional muscle groups, altering the base of support, or adding dynamic movements.

1) Incorporate Other Muscle Groups

You can easily incorporate other muscles groups by alternating the plank position or incorporating specific movements. Shown in the following video are two plank variations: the side plank to target the gluteus medius and the serratus push-up plus to target the serratus anterior.

Episode 39: "Plank Progression Series (1/3) – Incorporating Other Muscle Groups" Changing the plank position or adding specifically tailored movements will not only place additional demand on the core, but will also simultaneously provide a strengthening exercise for a different muscle group. In the first exercise, we show a progression of the side plank to target the gluts. An EMG study by Reiman et al showed that the side plank demonstrates the highest gluteus medius EMG activity of any exercise, including single leg deadlifts and single leg step ups. You'll feel the burn! In the second exercise, we demonstrate the push up plus exercise which targets the serratus anterior. This is a a highly advanced plank exercise. Be sure to keep the elbow locked out, the only motion should come from the scapula protruding and retracting.  Be sure to check out @thebarbellphysio blog next week for our guest post on plank progressions! Reiman, Michael P., Lori A. Bolgla, and Janice K. Loudon. "A Literature Review of Studies Evaluating Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius Activation during Rehabilitation Exercises." Physiotherapy Theory and Practice Physiother Theory Pract 28.4 (2012): 257-68. Web. #plank #core #abs #gluts #serratusanterior #glutmed #6pack ______________________________________________ The Prehab Guys: Optimizing human movement and functional capacity, promoting longevity, and keeping your body in tune one post at a time. Instilling new meaning into #physicaltherapy. Follow us on IG and Twitter, like our Facebook page, and make sure to visit www.humanperformancetherapy.com #prehab #fitness #healthandwellness #exercise #PT #DPT #DPTstudent #mobility #athlete #workout #recovery #rehab #prevention #rehabilitation #fitness #strengthandconditioning #correctiveexercise #stretching #crossfit #gainz #aesthetics #longevity #movement @uclamikey90 @arashxrex @craiglindell

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An EMG study by Reiman et al found that side planks demonstrated the highest EMG gluteus medius activity compared to any other exercise, including the single leg step-ups, single-leg deadlift, and clams. Progressing this exercise in the fashion above is a great way to develop your core stability and gluteus medius strength simultaneously. Gluteus medius strength is vital to hip stability!

The push up plus exercise not only places an extremely high demand on your core, but also adds an additional strengthening exercise to the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior is one of the three primary scapular upward rotators and is absolutely vital to shoulder mobility and function. Kill time and work on core and shoulder stability simultaneously!

2) Alter the Base of Support

Altering the base of support for either the upper extremities or lower extremities can add a dimension of instability to the plank, demanding even higher levels of core stability. Adding a swiss ball, bosu ball, TRX, or any piece of equipment that provides instability will do. In the video below, we demonstrate using a swiss ball to provide an element of instability to the upper extremities as well as further challenging should stability. A swiss ball can also be used on the lower extremities.

Episode 21: "Plank Progression with Shoulder Stability" There are a plethora of ways of progressing the difficulty of the plank exercise. One of my favorite progressions involves planking on a Swiss ball. Not only does the Swiss ball add an dimension of increased isometric core control,but more importantly, it also demands an extremely high level of shoulder stabilization as well. By rounding the shoulders, you isometrically fire your the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior is one of the primary scapular upward rotators needed for proper scapulothoracic shoulder movement. Shoulder pain is many times caused by weak or improper neuromuscular control of the scapular upward rotators which includes the serratus anterior, lower trapezius, and upper trapezius. During arm elevation, these muscles must work in unison to move the scapula while the humerus moves simultaneously as well. To progress this exercise, slowly rotate the Swiss ball clockwise, counterclockwise, front and back, and side to side, but remember to always KEEP YOUR SHOULDERS ROUNDED and the serratus anterior engaged.  #shoulder #serratusanterior #core #stability #swissball #abs #plank #isometric #pain ______________________________________________ The Prehab Guys: Optimizing human performance and functional capacity, promoting longevity, and keeping your body in tune one post at a time. Instilling new meaning into #physicaltherapy. Follow us on IG and Twitter, like our Facebook page, and make sure to visit www.humanperformancetherapy.com #prehab #fitness #healthandwellness #exercise #PT #DPT #DPTstudent #mobility #athlete #workout #recovery #rehab #prevention #rehabilitation #fitness #strengthandconditioning #correctiveexercise #stretching #crossfit #longevity #movement @uclamikey90 @arashxrex @craiglindell

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3) Add Dynamic Movement

There are many ways to add dynamic movements to a plank exercise, but one of my favorites involves a primitive crawling movement that has been popularized by the Functional Movement Systems group. Each hand and leg lift should be accomplished with as little torso and pelvis movement as possible. Remember to maintain a neutral and perfectly still spine. Bird-dogs are also a favorite in the rehabilitation community. Placing a foam roller on the spine and preventing it from rolling off, as shown below, is a great cue to maintain a neutral spine and pelvis during the exercise.

Episode 40: "Plank Progression Series (2/3) – Adding Dynamic Movement" Adding dynamic movements to a plank is a great way to progress from an isometric core training routine to a more functional core stability training regimen. Dynamic movements perturb your center of mass, forcing your core to stabilize as you move. Additionally, arm and leg movements away from your center of mass increase the lever arm against which your core must stabilize. In the first exercise, we demonstrate a primitive crawling pattern popularized by FMS. In the second exercise, we demonstrate the popular bird dog exercise. For all these dynamic plank movements, DO NOT LET THE TRUNK OR PELVIS rotate or move. Brace your core, and make controlled movements with your extremities while being kinesthetically aware of your spinal position. Notice how I use a foam roller on my back to stay level, if I don't, the foam roller will roll off! Look out for our guest post next week on the @thebarbellphysio blog about advanced plank exercises! #core #FMS #plank #stability #birddog ______________________________________________ The Prehab Guys: Optimizing human movement and functional capacity, promoting longevity, and keeping your body in tune one post at a time. Instilling new meaning into #physicaltherapy. Follow us on IG and Twitter, like our Facebook page, and make sure to visit www.humanperformancetherapy.com #prehab #fitness #healthandwellness #exercise #PT #DPT #DPTstudent #mobility #athlete #workout #recovery #rehab #prevention #rehabilitation #fitness #strengthandconditioning #correctiveexercise #stretching #crossfit #gainz #aesthetics #longevity #movement @uclamikey90 @arashxrex @craiglindell

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Now that you’ve learned what the core is, its purpose, and some advanced plank progressions, try them out and let us know how you feel!

 

 

The Prehab Guystheprehabguys

Michael Lau, Craig Lindell, and Arash Maghsoodi

Doctor of Physical Therapy Students and Strength and Conditioning Specialists providing our scientific insight for your optimal movement system.

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Citations
Lee, Benjamin C. Y., and Stuart M. Mcgill. “Effect of Long-term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29.6 (2015): 1515-526.
Reiman, Michael P., Lori A. Bolgla, and Janice K. Loudon. “A Literature Review of Studies Evaluating Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius Activation during Rehabilitation Exercises.” Physiotherapy Theory and Practice Physiother Theory Pract 28.4 (2012): 257-68

 

 

 

 

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