It’s the abdominal exercise that we see everywhere. Good? Bad? Depends on who you talk to. I’m not really one to have a black and white opinion about an exercise. In different situations, for different purposes, nearly every single exercise out there can be justified as useful (or terrible) – in some way or another.
What I can do though, is help you qualify for yourself whether or not planking at this stage of your own health journey is going to serve you – or completely suck.
So here are my top 5 precautions to get sorted before you consider adding planks to your routine:
Your upper to mid back area – where all of your ribs attach to your spine – is called your thoracic region. During pregnancy due to the position of the belly, and then post birth due to feeding and carrying a baby for long periods, it’s easy to become stiff and sore in this area. A stiff thoracic spine appears as a ‘rounded’ sort of posture, coupled with shoulders that protrude forward along with a forward neck/head posture.
Holding the plank position with a rounded thoracic spine inhibits breathing and places strain on the neck and lower back. We then tend to drop our head towards the floor during the held position, which makes neck tension much worse.
2 – Deep core weakness - do you know how to use your deep core instead of bracing all the time?
The deepest layer of your ‘core’ – i.e – the muscles in and around your torso – contain both the transverse abdominis (TrA) and pelvic floor musculature. This area is tummy rehab 101. Without a deep connection to activating these muscles, we essentially leave the lumbar spine (lower back) unsupported.
Muscles such as the multifidus, which are key stabilisers of the vertebrae, rely on this deep core connection in order to maintain strength in the lower back.
If you suffer from a weak pelvic floor when coughing or sneezing, get lower back pain, or don’t feel confident activating your abdominal muscles from the belly button down, do the deeper core work first.
Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) occurs in 45% of pregnant women, and the after effects of sacroiliac joint pain, hip issues and sciatic symptoms are super common.
Women who are recovering from PGP have weak glute muscles (the ones in our bottom - hence that ‘flat butt’ look).
If you have weak butt muscles you'll clench them super tight during a plank, which is dysfunctional for the pelvic floor.
The plank position can encourage knees into hyperextension (that hard, locked position), and overarch the lower back, so if you are hypermobile it's a great idea to have someone check your form. Even if you're not - systemically postnatal women have similar concerns due to the relaxin floating around during pregnancy opening the structures around the joints.
5 – Abdominal Separation (Diastastis Recti)
If you still have an unhealed abdominal separation, doing exercises such as planks and sit ups can create ‘coning’ – which is where the line that runs down the middle of your torso between the rectus abdominal muscles (the ‘6 pack’) rises up to form a large lump. This makes diastasis recti worse over time, as the pressure from the held position widens the gap.
Not sure how to activate and connect to your deepest core muscles? Watch the free video series here.
Kristy Ahale is an Exercise Scientist with over 15 years experience in orthopaedic rehabilitation and strength and conditioning. She has helped hundreds of women alleviate back pain, abdominal separation and pelvic floor dysfunction.