Category: Abdominals

Planking exercises are a very popular and challenging form of fitness training.  By positioning the body parallel to the ground, the force of gravity is perpendicular to the body segments.  This creates a lot of torque that must be offset by the body’s muscles.  Although this horizontal position isn’t replicated in the vast majority of functional movements, it’s a way to strengthen many muscle groups.

The problems with plank exercises

Problems with plank exercises arise from the static nature of the “correct form”.  The criteria for excellence in planking is the ability to hold the straight body posture without any wavering or “buckling” for long periods of time. None of these criteria are part of day-to-day functional activities, or consistent with athletic movements.

Proponents would counter these facts with arguments that as long as clients are building strength there is no harm in utilizing them as a major component in training regimens.  However, training muscles to work in an isometric fashion, with no joint motion and no muscle, tendon, or fascia lengthening results in an inefficient and ineffective musculoskeletal system.

Is there a better way?

The principles of Applied Functional Science suggest there is a better way to take advantage of the force of gravity to build functional strength and movement efficacy.  After choosing one of the horizontal positions, motion should be introduced utilizing one or more of the body segments. These segments include:

  • Head
  • Pelvis
  • Arm
  • Leg

These body segments act as drivers of the joint motion in all three planes, to which the muscles, tendon, and fascia must respond.  These soft tissues first decelerate the motion and then, utilizing the stored energy, accelerate the body back to the initial position.

Advice for AFS practitioners

Practitioners of Applied Functional Science should recognize the benefits of exercising in the horizontal position and create strategies for designing programs that eliminate the long-term negative consequences of static positioning.  There is no need to “throw the baby out with the bath water”.  But it is essential for all movement practitioners to create training programs that maximize the functional and eliminate the dysfunctional exercises.

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3 thoughts on “The Negative Side of Plank Exercises”

  1. Isometrics in varying applications have been coming up a lot recently and it has me really questioning the use and potential benefits, detriments and wastefulness. I like the idea of isometrics used to train tissue to be able to both contract fully and relax fully, as discussed by Dr. Eric Cobb of Z Health ( I agree that healthy tissue should be able to do both well.
    Dr. Jade Teta uses isometrics to create vascular occlusion in his metabolic exercise training but fully discloses that the theory behind it is not proven. The theory is that holding a muscular contraction keeps the blood in place for a longer period of time. The longer the blood is staying in one place, the longer myokines have to stimulate beneficial fat-burning and muscle-shaping events in that tissue.
    Finally, some of my clients recently ordered some DDP Yoga DVDs. DDP Yoga also uses isometrics. I do not know enough yet about why or how Diamond Dallas Phillips uses the isometrics but I will soon be finding out. From the online videos, it just looks like a way to pretend for a second like you are a pro-wrestler.
    I don’t use pure isometrics in my Pilates and movement training but the fact that it keeps coming up has me thinking about why not and should I consider incorporating it. What you have written here gives me a bit of confirmation that I am thinking along the best lines. I can probably leave the isometrics to the body sculptors and builders and stick to my more functional movement approach.

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