I love the plank! In fact, nothing makes me more happy than that complete exhaustion I feel after pushing myself to hold it for minutes at a time until my body starts shaking and I collapse. This has to be good for my golf game right? That is a question I ask myself everyday whether with my own workouts or with my clients. How do you decipher through the good, the bad and the “I can’t believe I ever did that exercise”?
The first step is to better understand your body and how every joint works with one another, and ultimately effects each other when dysfunction is present. Gray Cook and Mike Boyle have explained it best with their Joint-by-Joint approach. It states that the body is made up of an alternating pattern of mobile and stable joints. Starting with a stable foot, mobile ankle, stable knee, mobile hip, stable lumbar, mobile thoracic, stable should blades, mobile shoulder, stable elbow, mobile wrist, stable hand. In an ideal world, joints would follow this exact pattern on everyone. However, since most of us sit all day, slouch over a computer, sit in our cars, sit and have dinner, sit and watch TV and so on, life lends itself towards having dysfunctions in the mobile-stable pattern.
So what happens when a mobile joint stops moving? The joints above and below are compromised, however, as Gray Cook explains here, sometimes the opposite can happen. Lack of stability in the above and below joints can actually cause immobility as well. (This is where I could go on for hours on why as trainers and golf coaches it is so incredibly important to have a medical professional on your team. Being able to identify the root causes of joint dysfunction will only serve yourself and your clients better.)
What does this all have to do with the Plank? As I said before, I love this exercise. However, despite all the good it can do, it can also be problematic. Ultimately, the golf swing is rotational. It requires us to stabilize in places, while moving around out body at high speeds. And this is where the plank can be an epic fail if applied too often and to the wrong person. As Gray Cook talked about in his book, Movement, in reference to the joints above and below our lumbar region, “Logically we must make sure these areas are mobile, because if the hips and T-spine are not mobile, the lumbar stability we create is synthetic. It is not real. We develop enough stability and strength to do a side plank, but we don’t authentically stabilize in natural environments.”
Two of the most common places I see lack of mobility is in the hips and t-spine, which in many cases equals a golfer that comes in with back pain because they have been jamming their lower back in an attempt to rotate it. The lumbar region is not built the same as our upper back, and throughout the golf swing it needs to stabilize. So does this mean a golfer with tight hips and t-spine should do tons of planks in order to stabilize their lumbar better to stop it from rotating? Here’s the problem, plank does not address the mobility restriction going on. On the flip side, if this golfer was to isolate out working on just hip movement or t-spine movement without addressing the instability in the lumbar, there is a problem as well.
The key, finding movement patterns that work together and accomplish a goal! If you choose to do plank, mix it up and incorporate mobility elements. If you check out www.mytpi.com and go into the exercise library, you will be amazed at how many different ways there are to do plank that involve using mobility from the hip and t-spine. And always keep in mind form when doing these exercises. Next time you are at the gym, watch what most people look like when performing plank. They usually have s-posture, the upper back is rounded, their head is dropped down. Sounds a lot like the posture most of us have sitting at a computer all day, but then we expect the opposite when it comes to our golf posture. Understanding how the body moves can only help us, and the more information you can find and learn the better. They way the world is looking at exercise has changed dramatically: the plank is not just a plank anymore!!