The Side Plank is a legitimate exercise to help improve core strength in the frontal plane. When done correctly, it is a great movement. More often than not, form is sub-par and can place the athlete or client at an increased risk for injury and/or decrease the effectiveness of the exercise.
Common mistakes that are seen with the side plank are:
Lateral Flexion of the Spine
Hips too Low
Poor Shoulder Position
If someone performs a side plank with these technique flaws, their back and/or shoulder will not become instantly injured. Over time, these technical flaws will have a tendency to creep up and eventually cause issues at the low back, shoulder, or some other adjacent joint.
Let’s dive into those mistakes and how to fix them!
Lateral Spine Flexion
Setting up in a poor position can cause the athlete to perform the exercise poorly. This is true with the side plank. Far too often, athletes will prop straight up into a side plank from the floor.
Even though the end position of the side plank may be great, the fact that the athlete went through lateral lumbar flexion to get there isn’t the best idea. I am not saying that spinal movement is bad. Spinal movement is good. Repetitively flexing the spine over time and/or under load is not good.
Instead of laterally flexing through the spine, try hinging through the hips!
By hinging through the hips and maintaining a neutral spine, this provides more benefit and less risk while doing the exercise. Plus, it forces the athlete to have to maintain a neutral spine during movement (going from the floor to the finished position).
Hips Too Low
Another area that can be an issue is when someone is maintaining a side plank position and their hips are too low or are below the mid-line of the body.
As stated before, this can place increased stress on the lumbar spine and adjacent structures. One purpose of core strengthening exercises is to make the core stronger. By allowing the hips to drop lower than they should be, this is decreasing the effectiveness of the exercise.
So, to determine if you are too low or not, you can videotape your side planks using an Iphone. You can also use a mirror at the gym to make sure that you are in alignment with the rest of your body.
You can also place a dumbbell under your down-side hip.
By doing this, if you drop too low, you will feel the dumbbell pushing into your hip telling you that you are out of position.
Poor Shoulder Position
Last, the one area that most people don’t think of when it comes to side planks is the shoulder. The shoulder is a key component to the position and control of the side plank. Often times, athletes will get out of position and allow their shoulder to “dump forward” or go into anterior humeral translation.
By doing this, it is similar when someone is doing a 1-arm row or dumbbell benching and allowing their elbows to go too far back.
This position in either the 1-arm row or side plank can cause irritation of the labrum, biceps tendon, rotator cuff, etc. Since it is loaded via body weight in a side plank, it can accelerate those issues.
Even if someone doesn’t have pain in this position, it can create faulty movement patterns and teach the athlete an improper way to stabilize at the shoulder.
To help clean that up, we want to make sure the shoulder and elbow are in alignment vertically with one being on top of the other. As well as the elbow and shoulder being in alignment with the rest of the body at the finished position of the side plank.
One way to help an athlete maintain the proper position is to instruct them to keep their shoulder “down and back” as also instructed during rowing variations. It does not have to be an aggressive “down and back”, but a small movement of the scapulae to get into a better position.
Another way to help an athlete is by using their other hand and placing it on the front of the shoulder to ensure that there shoulder remains in a good position. If their shoulder is out of position, they will feel it via their hand.
If you or your clients are having trouble performing side planks with proper technique, try implementing some of these cues to clean up their technique.
The squat is a great movement for improving strength, power, etc. Often times, athletes experience pain in the ankles, knees, hips, low back, and/or shoulders. There are a multitude of reasons why someone may experience pain ranging from sub-par technique to bony or soft tissue limitations.
If you are squatting and have tried foam rolling your quads or worked on improving your hip mobility, then there may be a few other options you haven’t tried to decrease strain at adjacent joints so that you can squat effectively and pain-free.
*Remember, if these tips don't help and you are still having pain, make sure to seek out a licensed medical provider.
Here are 3 Quick Tips for Pain-Free Squatting
1. Widen Your Stance
Not everyone is created equal. Not everyone is made to squat shoulder width apart. Due to bony, capsular, and soft tissue limitations or differences between right and left legs as well as between people, squatting shoulder width apart may not be feasible for all people.
If squatting shoulder width apart causes pain, doesn't allow for adequate depth, or feels awkward, try moving your feet out 1 inch per side. Try again. If that doesn’t feel good, try going another inch. Then another. Try squatting after each change and see if there is an improvement.
2. Toe Out!
As mentioned before, not everyone is made to squat shoulder width apart. With that being said, not everyone is made to squat with their toes straight ahead. There is a myth that you must squat with your feet pointing straight ahead. As mentioned before, due to soft tissue, capsular, or bony changes, squatting with the feet straight ahead may not be an option.
Try squatting straight ahead. If that doesn’t work, slightly turn your feet out.
You can toe out slightly more if that feels better. As mentioned before with width, there comes a point where there is diminishing returns and toeing out too much can actually decrease your ability to move as much weight as possible and can place you at an increased risk for injury.
Let’s not sway the pendulum too far in one direction and squat with the toes completely pointing out to the sides of your body. Find the right position for you.
If your squat feels better and you can squat more effectively with your toes slightly turned out, then try incorporating that into your training.
3. Two Feet, Two Different Positions
Lastly, not everyone is made to squat with their feet in the same exact positions right versus left. Some athletes have differences in their hip structure right versus left that need to be appreciated. Some clients or athletes may have more or less hip internal rotation on one side versus another and squatting with a leg slightly externally rotated more may feel the best for them.
So, if you are squatting and something hurts or doesn’t feel right, trying turning your feet out, widening your stance, performing your squat slightly different side to side, or a combination of these!
Rest is an often prescribed mode of recovery. It is imperative after a long season, training session, or competition. It allows the body to heal and recover to be able to perform at the highest level. If an adequate amount and high quality of rest is not achieved, then athletic performance can suffer and potential injury can arise.
The problem arises when rest is prescribed for an injury. Now, I am not saying that rest is never indicated. There are times where a sport or activity needs to cease due to continued stress placed upon the body. Times where the level of stress exceeds the athlete’s capacity and their body cannot adequately recover.
If someone’s capacity cannot handle a certain level of stress, then rest may be indicated. But, if rest is the only modality that is prescribed, then we are missing the boat. When an athlete is injured, they are injured. They are NOT dead. Depending on the injury, there are usually other areas of the body that can be trained or other movement patterns at an “injured” area that can be trained pain-free.
Lower Body Injuries
For injuries or operations to the lower body, train the opposite leg. If someone is injured on their right leg, perform strength training on their non-involved leg. Movements such as:
Single Leg Deadlifts
For injuries that elicit pain in certain movement patterns, train pain-free patterns.
If someone has pain with squatting patterns, try hip hinging patterns such as:
Landmine Single Leg Deadlifts
Trap Bar Deadlifts
If someone has pain with hip hinging movements, try squatting patterns such as:
Goblet Squats to a Box
Upper Body Injuries
For injuries to the upper body, train the opposite arm!
1-Arm Cable Row
1-Arm Dumbbell Bench
½ Kneeling OH KB Press
½ kneeling Landmine Press
For pain with vertical/horizontal pressing movements, train horizontal/vertical pulling movements such as:
1-Arm Cable Row
1-Arm Face Pulls
Remember, if you are injured, you are not dead. You can still get a training effect by training the opposite limb and/or non-painful movement patterns.
Injuries happen! There are a multitude of mechanisms and predisposing factors that can contribute to one suffering from an injury. One factor that plays into injuries is living in the sagittal plane.
Life doesn’t just happen in one plane of motion. Life happens in all planes of motion. Whether it be the sagittal, frontal, or transverse planes, daily life and sports live in these planes of motion. Some sports place more emphasis on one plane more than others, but training your body to absorb and adapt to stress in all planes of motion will make your body more resilient to injury.
Photo credit: http://andersonvillept.com/blog/february-2012-body-wellness-planes-motion
If your training consists primarily of sagittal plane movements, 2 things can happen.
First, you continue to train in the sagittal plane and in turn, it becomes harder to perform movements in the frontal or transverse planes since your body is not accustomed to it.
Second, since you are not spending time in the other 2 planes of motion, it can be more challenging for your body to control itself and in turn, the body can be more susceptible to injury.
Injuries rarely happen in the sagittal plane of motion. They typically happen in either the frontal or transverse planes. For example, an ACL tear. ACL injuries can happen for a multitude of reasons, but lack of control of the pelvis, hip, knee, and ankle in the frontal and transverse planes of motion place increased stress at the knee
So now that we know many injuries happen in these two “other” planes of motion, why don’t we train our body to learn and adapt to stress in these planes to become more resilient.
Sagittal Plane movements consist of:
Overhead Shoulder Press
With that being said, what are some movements that we can train in the frontal and transverse planes?
1-arm Cable Row
The 1-arm Cable Row involves a horizontal pulling movement for the upper body, but it also is forcing the athlete to have to stabilize in the transverse plane due to the cable attempting to rotate the body. This can be said for any 1-arm variation. Other variations include:
1-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
1-Arm Landmine Press
½/Tall Kneeling Chops/Lifts
1-Arm Stability Ball Rollouts
Multi-Direction Stability Ball Rollouts
Split Stance Anti-Rotation Extension Press
Split Stance Anti-Rotation Press
Landmine Single Leg Deadlift
Anti-Rotation Single Leg Deadlift
Anti-Rotation Forward Step Up
One thing to remember with some of these movements is that the body may be moving in the sagittal plane, but various joints need to stabilize and control movement that may be causing instability in the frontal and transverse planes.
Start implementing training for your upper body, core, and lower body outside of the sagittal plane to improve performance in the sagittal plane, decrease your risk for injury, and improve your body’s resiliency.
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