Everybody knows the plank exercise, but does performing this type of core stability exercise actually help people with low back pain? Physiotherapists, Professor Peter O’Sullivan from Curtin University and Professor Paul Hodges from The University of Queensland, wrote the book on spinal stability exercises. They did a lot of research into the abdominal muscles in the 1990’s and the focus on Transversus Abdominis came from their work. So what are they saying now?
The plank exercise involves a person on their elbows and toes while holding their body stiff for a period of time. This is not what core stability means, says Professor Hodges. If you think about most functions, we actually need the spine to move. Core stability is about getting the spine to move. Professor O’Sullivan says many people with back pain are already too rigid. Their muscles have already tensed up as a protective mechanism due to pain. Static
exercises like planking can actually be counterproductive. Tensing up a structure that is already tense doesn’t make much sense. Instead we should be relaxing the muscles around our trunk when we have back pain.
So where does that leave us? Should we be telling the gym instructor to take a jump next time they ask for a plank? If we don’t have low back pain planks are fine. Better still are dynamic exercises that require us to naturally activate our core muscles such as squats. If we have low back pain, core activation exercises along with movement and learning to turn off over active muscles beat planks hands down. The spine is designed to move.
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