Planks and Shoulder or Low Back Pain


Love 'em or hate 'em, planks are a terrific test of strength and stability. As part of our strength training regimen, the triathletes on our training team do variations of static and moving front and side planks on a regular basis. A couple of our athletes asked about shoulder and low back pain when doing planks. It's not the first time I've been asked about his issue, and since addressing it may help a number of you out there, here is a post explaining why the pain is happening and what you can do about it.

In nearly every instance, pain when doing planks occurs for these few reasons that follow. In a nutshell, it is poor execution of the basic position and movement.

It is so easy to move slightly, or not completely create integration and connection through the trunk, glute, thighs, and back, when doing a front plank. If you are doing half-front plank with reach, very often as soon as someone reaches, there's a loss of true stability. You must MASTER the movement--make it perfect. The only way to do this is to place a dowel in your low back and watch in a mirror to see whether or not the dowel is moving as YOU move (reach). If it is, you need to peel back to an easier level of the exercise, master that, and then move on. There is no way to assess if you are doing the movement properly without a mirror!

There is not enough INTEGRATION between all parts of the body when working planks. To create "integration," think of it as "radiation." Squeeze EVERYthing. Think of your body as a tight, strong, rope, that is being pulled aggressively on either end away from the center. STRONG.

Part of integration is making the shoulders stable. To do this, FIRE and activate the lats! Those big slabs of muscle under your arms and in the middle of your back are SO important for all movements! Pull those shoulders away from your ears and fire the lat, to create true shoulder blade stability, which in turn will connect your upper body to the lower body as you plank.

Not enough BUTT. Make that butt work in the plank! Simply put, in most instances whenever we feel ANYthing in the low back, it is because our BUTT isn't doing enough or carrying its fair share. And/or the the hip flexors are tight and pulling on that low back. Either way, MAKE THE BUTT STRONGER and make it do its fair share.

Planks must be:

Tight. Strong. Integrated. Get that backside strength from activating the glutes, and pull those shoulders away from your ears!

Hope this helps. Get to work this week planking from a place of stability and strength!

~Coach Al

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