When you shouldn’t be planking – my top 5 precautions

The Plank Exercise – is it right for YOUR body?

It’s the abdominal exercise that we see everywhere.  Good?  Bad?  Depends on who you talk to.  I’m not really one to have a black and white opinion about an exercise.  In different situations, for different purposes, nearly every single exercise out there can be justified as useful – in some way or another.

What I am here to do though – is help you be able to qualify for yourself whether or not planking at this stage of your own health journey is going to serve you – or completely suck.

So here are my top 5 precautions to get sorted before you bother with planking:

1 – Thoracic mobility

Your upper to mid back area – where all of your ribs attach to your spine – is called your thoracic.  During pregnancy due to the position of the belly,  and then post birth due to feeding and carrying a baby for long periods,  it’s easy to become stiff and sore in this area.   A stiff thoracic spine appears as a ‘rounded’ sort of posture, coupled with shoulders that protrude forward along with a forward neck/head posture. 

Holding the plank position with a rounded thoracic spine inhibits breathing and places strain on the neck and lower back.  Work on obtaining a free, mobilised thoracic spine before considering a plank as part of your program.

2 – Deep core weakness

The deepest layer of your ‘core’ – i.e – the muscles in and around your torso – contain both the transverse abdominis (TVA) and pelvic floor musculature.  This area is tummy rehab 101.  Without a deep connection to activating these muscles, we essentially leave the lumbar spine unsupported – as muscles such as the multifidus, which is a key stabiliser of the vertebrae, rely on this partnership to maintain strength in the lower back.

If you suffer from a weak pelvic floor when coughing or sneezing, get lower back pain, or don’t feel confident activating your abdominal muscles from the belly button down, hold off on the planking.

3 – Pelvic instability and/or hip pain

Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) often needs to be fully rehabilitated before progressing through an exercise program.  The majority of women I see recovering from PGP have weak glute muscles (otherwise know as ‘flat butt’ syndrome ;)) and the lack of tone in the glutes leaves the hips and sarcroiliac joints (SIJ’s) unsupported.   Get your butt strong first.

4 – Hypermobility

A much broader topic than I could ever begin to elaborate on here (I’ll save it for a future post).  The the take home note is  this though – the plank position can encourage knees into hyperextension, so if you are hypermobile get onto a specific program for your body type – an ‘off the rack’ exercise plan is not going to give you the best value for your time and money.

5 – Abdominal Separation (Diastastis Recti)

If you still have an unhealed abdominal separation, doing exercises such as planks and sit ups can create ‘coning’ – which is where the line that runs down the middle of your torso between the rectus abdominal muscles (the ‘6 pack’) rises up to form a large lump.  This visual cue is an obvious indicator to avoid an exercise – as coning is something to be avoided, as it can make abdominal separation worse over time.

No matter what the exercise, if it’s causing you joint pain, it’s not right for you at this time.  There are thousands of ways to move in order to get any result you want for your body – if an exercise isn’t working for you specifically – listen to your body – and just find one that does.

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