When people are struggling with back pain, I often get asked if there are any exercises that can strengthen the back. Unfortunately, I also hear that finding time to exercise can be difficult. While I usually recommend a comprehensive stretching and strengthening routine, like yoga or Pilates, many people just don’t have the time work out for 90 minutes, two or three times a week. So I had to decide what to recommend that would give maximum benefits in a minimum amount of time. The exercise that fits both of those criteria? The Plank.
Planking can be done anywhere, and only takes a few minutes to get the full benefits of this exercise. But don’t let that take away from the power of this movement to fortify all the muscles that control your posture. Combine that with the likelihood that having a strong core makes you less likely to suffer from back and neck pain. That is what makes it the best exercise for your back.
Time needed: 2 minutes
How to Perform a Plank Exercise
- Lie Face Down
Start on a mat or on the floor in a prone position.
- Prop up on Your Elbows
Keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders, lift your body up onto your elbows.
- Keep Your Body Straight
Make sure you are not sagging in the middle, and you could draw a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Look down at the ground.
- Squeeze your Glutes and Abdominals
Contract your Glute muscles to rotate your pelvis back, and try to pull your abdominals into a hollow.
Hold this position as long as you can maintain it without sagging your middle or raising your bottom. Try to work up to two minutes or more.
Benefits of the Plank
Probably the first group of muscles that comes to mind when you think of a plank is the core. And when we think of the core, we think of the abdominal muscles. However, there is a lot more to the core than just abs. It is called the core, because it is the stabilizing force that allows power to be transferred from one limb to the other. It also has a responsibility to hold you upright while you sit or stand for prolonged periods of time.
Muscles of the Core
Abdominals, lumbar erectors, quadratus lumborum. These are the muscles that surround your waist. How does the plank target them? When you are trying to hold yourself straight while gravity pulls you down, you will either sag towards the floor, or lift your behind to try to make it easier. In order to resist these tendencies, you have to activate the abs and the lumbar muscles. Activating these postural muscles, especially when they are not moving, strengthens them to be able to hold you in the right position during the day.
The shoulders are also very important in posture, and are integral in the positioning of the upper spine. If the shoulders are rounded forward, more weight is carried in front of the spine which can cause it to round forward, in a slumped posture. To strengthen the shoulder blades to be able to maintain the right neutral positioning, you need an exercise that holds them in the correct posture against stress. Again, the best exercise for the back does exactly this.
Remember how you have to contract your glutes to put your pelvis in the right position for this exercise? That rotation of the pelvis to avoid letting the stomach sag also activates the hamstrings and quadriceps. These are two muscles that are responsible for keeping your lower back properly positioned while you are standing.
The action of holding your head straight while gravity is pulling your head forward duplicates the kind of muscle contraction needed to hold your head up straight while sitting or standing. It also stretches the muscles under the skull that can cause headaches.
The Best Exercise for the Back
This one exercise works every part of the spine, the shoulders and the legs. Most importantly, it works these muscles in a static position that mimics the demands that prolonged standing and sitting put on your body. Your muscles adapt to the specific stresses you put on them. That is the reason the plank gets the title of The Single Best Exercise for the Back.
Make an Appointment
If you are in Norwalk, CT, and need advice on how to perform a plank properly, or need chiropractic care, you can contact us, or use the button below to schedule an appointment with Dr French.