In an ever increasing plague of busyness, improving core strength can often fall off an already crowded plate. The truth? Improving core strength and endurance can be done in only a few minutes a day. A perfect way to not only take out some aggression from watching the Buffalo Bills play, but to find use of the ever growing commercial breaks in an NFL football game.
The key to avoiding injuries is all in “the core.” Before you roll your eyes at another article highlighting the importance of core strength take a minute to ask yourself “Is my core helping or hurting me?”
By definition your “core” is the center of your body. Without a strong and stable core the rest of the body will have pick up the slack, potentially leading to injury.
What is the best way to strengthen your core muscles?
Your goal is to increase your strength and endurance. Start hammering countless crunches and sit ups right? Think again. Crunches can produce an increased pressure on the spine through excessive bending (1). It is important for exercise to mimic movements which occur throughout the day.
Keeping the spine in “neutral” and a supported posture for walking, lifting, and changing positions is crucial for long term spine health. Our bodies require a stable, “neutral” spine to support our arms and legs throughout the day. Abdominal endurance is more important than strength when preventing low back injury (1). That should make sense, right? We need our abdominal strength for 16 hours a day (assuming you sleep for 8 hours). Endurance means maintaining a stable posture for an extended period of time.
Alternative to Sit Ups
A plank is an extremely effective exercise which will increase strength of the upper and lower abdominals, back, hips, and shoulders. Talk about bang for your buck! You may be thinking that planks are only suitable young athletes; however at any given time in our Williamsville office you will see variations of planks being performed by patients of any age, fitness level, and injury. A plank will effectively protect your spine, shoulders, neck, hips, and knees all at the same time. The key is proper form and progression.
Proper progression and modifications
Effective “core” endurance aims to build a plank to sixty seconds. While that may seem like a daunting task, breaking down planks to shorter intervals and multiple repetitions can make it more manageable. For those struggling to plank on their elbows and toes, begin with elbows and knees. I start with ten second holds, repeated six times (60 seconds). After mastering six at 10 second holds, progress to 15 second holds, four times. Then 20 seconds three times… you get the idea.
My favorite therapy quote is “If you don’t have time to do it right you must have time to do it over.” Proper planking requires a straight back, feet shoulder width apart, elbows under your shoulders. The most common mistakes I see are patients allowing their backs to sag or sticking their rear ends in the air. Take a look at the pictures below on correct technique vs. common errors.
A full plank will be performed on the forearms and toes, while a modified plank is performed on the forearms and knees. I always recommend that those new to planks and patients to start with the modified plank (on their knees) and progress to the toes. I am such a strong believer in planks that I use them daily in my exercise routine, practicing what I preach.
Lack of time is no excuse. Commercial breaks are the ideal time to crank out a few repetitions.I am challenging all of you to start planking today.
1. Start at a time that is appropriate for you. It should be challenging; yet attainable.
2. Proper form leads to most effective results.
3. Exercise should not be painful. If something hurts (other than the feel of muscles working) you should stop. Either modify the position or consider talking to your local BRG therapist for a formal evaluation.
There is no better day than today to start improving your core strength and stability. Start the BRG planking challenge and let us know how you are doing!
1. McGill, Stuart. “Low Back Exercises: Evidence for Improving Exercise
Regimens.” Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association 78 (1998):