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The Plank watch


    The plank works your core which is not just your abs, but your whole mid-drift including bum and lower back. It is highly beneficial for you as it joins your lower body to your upper body and for many sports improving your core will improve sporting performance.

    So the plank is a good exercise, much better really than doing 50 sit ups. Just try and maintain good form, (keeping yourself nice and straight) and like every other exercise you do- Overload! So increase the time you perform it every week.

    The plank is an absolutely fantastic exercise when done correctly. However, this is the point. You walk round a gym and you will see all sorts of variations.

    The most common is having an arched lower back. This has the person working mainly the hamstrings as opposed to the 'core'.

    Around 80% of the population complains of back pain. This is due to our sedentary lifestyle. We slump in chairs 9-5. We come home and slump on a couch watching TV. We drive everywhere. In essence, our core area isn't used to working as it should, and this leads to problems all the way up the spine from lordosis to scoliosis (ok, scoliosis is more genetic than brought on) to kyphosis and all sorts of other phosis' :-)

    So, back to the plank, why should you do it? I read a journal not long ago that struck a chord with me. Our bodies aren't going to last forever. The author was saying that the spine has a certain lifespan, and why would you want to do something that shortens this? Performing large amounts of situps stresses the spine and can actually be contra indicated in a lot of individuals. Nowadays, we're seeing a movement away from the classic ab exercises of the 80's and 90's, and leaning more towards static strengthening and smaller movements. Just as it is argued excessive running can shorten the lifespan of one's knees, can you see how excessive amounts of flexion of the spine can lead to a shortening of the lifespan of your back?

    To answer Chumbaniya's question about the point of doing something like this that doesn't move the core. You're doing it because you want to strengthen yourself in posturally relevant ways. The plank is supposed to work the Transverse Abdominus (TVA), which is the deepest core muscle in the body. It's responsible primarily for stabilising the spine, but due to our lifestyles, the muscle is often under used. What is the point in strengthening the core in a forward motion? How many times in a day does the average person do a situp? Once to get out of bed? How many times a day might someone use the TVA and benefit from having a strong inner core? Well, anytime that they are stood up walking around or having to support their own weight. Now, you might be able to do the plank for 5 minutes, but I would put it to you that you are performing it incorrectly for most of the time. Again, the person who said they can do it with one leg raised, I would love to see a photo of your spine whilst you are doing it, as in 9/10 cases the person performs it incorrectly and dangerously by compressing the lumbar discs as they raise the legs. You always get the 20 something year old male in the core classes I run at the gym who wants to do it as its a show off exercise, and I have yet to see it done correctly.

    Further to all this, by strengthening the TVA, you can see big increases in the sports that you do. Weight lifters will see a big increase in the amount they can push. Runners and cyclists will see an increase in speed due to increased pelvic stability. Rugby players will have a firmer hand off and more strength in the tackle as their true core will be stronger.

    I've made the point before about ab exercises. The way to get a six pack isn't through doing 1000's of situps, its through diet and excercise. Yes, situps count as exercise, but you can burn calories in far more interesting ways. It's not going to hurt you to do some ab work, but don't go too crazy.

    As a final thought, an excellent way of training your posture is to sit on a swiss ball whenever you can. The lack of support will force you to be upright and will force you to use your stabiliser muscles. Next time your are watching TV or writing an essay, you could be doing a great ab workout at the same time!
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