One of the worst things about lower back pain is that it stops you doing a lot of your normal activities, sports or exercises. From experience, I’ve watched lower back pain reduce some very active people into couch potatoes due to their lower back pain preventing them from following their normal sporting routines. These individuals often struggle to find other ways to keep fit until their lower back pain settles.
A definite exercise no-no for lower back pain is sit ups (read my post on sit ups and lower back pain), or some form of them. Since core exercises are an integral part of any training program, many people must ask how they can exercise their abdominal muscles while they’re suffering from lower back pain and until their lower back pain settles?
Enter: The Plank.
The plank is one of my favourite exercises. It’s easy to perform at home and it will give you a good overall work out. The plank is a lot harder than it looks.
In addition to working your abs, the plank is also a very good exercise for protecting your shoulders against rotator cuff injuries. It accomplishes this by working your shoulder stabilisers while simultaneously working your abs. The plank has another added benefit of strengthening your spinal extensor muscles at the same time as well. It’s an excellent overall core strengthening exercise and should routinely be a part of any training programme.
When Performing the plank, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Position your feet hip width apart and keep your knees straight and off the floor.
- Keep your arms beneath your shoulders and your forearms parallel to each other if you want to work your shoulder stabilisers as well. Ensure that your upper trapezius muscles stay relaxed (in other words, make sure that your shoulders stay away from the ears during your exercise).
- Most importantly, keep your spine straight. That means that you mustn’t collapse in the lower back. Your lower back shouldn’t hang like a hammock. In order to keep your lower back straight, you will need to work your core muscles very hard. In order to accomplish this, you will need to contract your stomach muscles in the area just below your belly button. When they contract, they support your spine and prevent too much sagging from occurring in the lower back.
- The last part of creating a good plank posture is to ensure that you keep your neck in line with your body. In order make sure that you’re doing this, don’t look up or down and keep your chin in the neutral position.
- Now, hold this position for as long as possible, but at a count that you can repeat at least 5 times. A good first goal is to try start holding the plank for 15 seconds. Slowly increase your count over time as you get stronger.
- Lastly, it’s important to remember to breathe. Make sure you breathe in and out while you hold the plank. It will make it a bit harder but you will be stronger in the long run.
McGill S. (2010). Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32 (3), 33-46.