Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be publishing a series of seven posts, each one dedicated to a different core exercise. Why, you ask? The reason is simple: The majority of people that I see performing them are doing them wrong.
For those that don’t know, that core is probably one of the most important and misunderstood areas of the body and if you don’t understand it, you’re probably not training it right. So let me give you the 50-cent explanation. First, the core is made of approximately five groups of muscles that include the muscles of the back (Multifidus and Erector Spinae), the muscles of the buttocks (Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus), the muscles in the back of the thigh (Hamstrings), the Hip Flexors (Psoas Major, Psoas Minor and the Iliacus) and the Abdoninal Muscles (Rectus Abdominus and the Transverse Abdominus). All of these muscles have different purposes covering the spectrum from stabilization to power development.
While the core has a variety of different purposes and functions, we are more concerned with how it applies to exercise. During dynamic and sport specific motion, the core stabilizes the spine, preventing damage to the intervertabral discs. This can be extremely important during demanding sports with a lot of movement such as tennis, soccer and basketball; as well as high contact sports such as football, hockey and mixed martial arts training and fighting. The stronger and better trained the core is, the less likely the participant is to suffer a back related injury.
With this in mind proper alignment is the key. The spine can move is only a few basic ways: It can flex, hyper extend, laterally flex (side bending) and rotate. There are proper ways to do this and wrong ways to.
Over the next seven posts, I’ll be explaining how to clean up seven core exercises and hammering home some of the basic concepts to keep your core safe and healthy. And there is no better exercise to start with than the Grand Daddy of all modern core exercises than…
What is It?
There really is no simpler exercise than the plank. When it is performed properly, the weight is supported on the forearms and the balls of the feet with the hips lifted off of the ground and the body maintaining a neutral spine. The purpose of the exercise is to develop anterior core strength and endurance by fighting hyperextension of the lumbar spine and the hip.
What I See that’s Wrong.
This is probably one of the most common exercises I see performed for the core and I’m constantly surprised at how many people actually do it wrong. The biggest mistakes I see are a hyper-extended spine which puts pressure on the discs between the lumbar vertebrae, a hanging neck which can do the same to the cervical discs in the neck and unpacked, protracted shoulder blades which can stress the muscles of the rotator cuff.
What I Should Be Seeing.
Performed properly, the spine should appear neutral from the top of the head to the tailbone. The hips should be slightly elevated; this will prevent lumbar hyper-extension and diminish discomfort in the lower back while increasing tension in the hip flexors and abdominal muscles. The neck should be in a neutral position so that the eyes are looking straight down at the ground. By keeping the neck straight it will take pressure off of the cervical vertebrae and help to strengthen the posterior muscles which help to maintain a vertical neck. In other words, it’s good for your posture. The shoulders should be depressed away from the ears and the shoulder blades should be contracted. This takes undue pressure off of the shoulder and also helps to strengthen postural muscles.
If making these corrections makes your plank feel more difficult, good! One interesting thing that I’ve noticed about core training is that harder the exercise is to perform, the more correct it probably is.
Stay tuned. In my next installment we’ll be tackling an exercise known as the Supine Bridge, or Hip Thrust. See you in a few.