Once again we welcome back the very talented Mr. Andy DuBois for some more ultra training goodness. The reception to Andy’s articles has been fantastic, so we thought we’d share this little gem with you about the ‘plank’. I’m sure we all have friends who’ve posted their various ‘planks’ on Facebook that are perhaps a little far-fetched from the core exercise, but Andy goes into a little more scientific detail as to why runners shouldn’t be doing the plank.
The plank is seen as a fundamental core exercise that every runner should include in their training routine. But could it be making your core less suited to the demands of running?
If you have read any of my other blogs on the topic you’ll know that there is no research that shows that traditional core training has any positive effect on running performance or in preventing injuries.
Having no positive effect is different to having an adverse affect but when you consider the action of the abdominal muscles in exercises such as a plank and when you run there is a strong case that exercises like the plank could be detrimental.
The plank is all about training your abdominal muscles to maintain a neutral spine. A neutral spine is the natural position of the spine with all the curves of your back in good alignment – lumbar, thoracic and cervical. Once you have this position the exercises are designed to challenge your abdominal muscles to maintain neutral.
The biggest problem with this approach is holding a neutral spine is not desirable when we run. Have a look at this illustration of some elite female runners – you can see that every one of them has a sideways tilt in their pelvis of around 20 degrees and a rotation through the abdominal area (illustrated by the green line). Clearly not a neutral spine.
The illustration below shows a side view of some of the best runners the world has seen and you can see the extension of the leg behind the body. It is important to understand that the hip-joint can only extend 20 degrees due to its structural design. Any more extension than this has to come from an anterior pelvic tilt. You can see in the diagram the three runners have between 23-31 degrees of extension. this means at least 3-11 degrees that must come from an anterior pelvic tilt. This is the very thing you try to avoid when doing core exercises that emphasise maintaining neutral spine. In practice the pelvic tilt would be more as it is unlikely the hip-joint would be allowed to go to extreme end range during a dynamic activity like running.
So when you see that elite level runners never maintain a neutral spine you either have to agree that maintaining a neutral spine is not desirable when running or try to argue that elite athletes have all got weak cores and need to do the plank.
Just in case you are leaning towards the second option you should understand it is physically impossible to walk or run effectively with a neutral spine.
The movements of the pelvis into rotation, side tilt and anterior/ posterior tilt are essential for effective loading of the core and hip muscles and to allow movement of the extremities during walking and running.
If an exercise such as the plank is designed to keep the spine and pelvis still and in running we need a spine and pelvis that is able to move in three directions then it makes no sense to do the plank or any other neutral spine type exercises. You are teaching your body to limit movement that we need to have when we run.
Thanks again to Andy for allowing us to post his valuable insights. Andy has written previously on the types of exercises that are more beneficial for runners to strengthen the core. Have a look here for more information and go like his Facebook page here as well while you’re at it