Planks are one of our most-recommended exercises to increase abdominal strength. As far as core exercises go, you would be hard-pressed to find one single exercise that works as many muscles as efficiently as planks do. But what happens when planks hurt? One complaint that I hear often from my patients is that they feel a “pinch” in their lower back while doing planks. Today on the Fit Stop Blog I wanted to share with you the top three reasons why you may be experiencing back pain while planking and what you can do to correct this problem. We’ve even included some video instruction to explain it to you a little more effectively! Check it out below…
Reason #1: Pelvis tilted too far forward (arched back): I would say that 95% of the time this one is the cause of back pain while planking. When people get down into a plank position, most of them align everything properly (shoulders – hips – knees should be a straight line), but the common tendency is to let your stomach sag towards the ground. This creates a significant arch in your lower back and people complain of a “pinching” in their lower spine. In this position you’re relying primarily on your back vertebrae and spinal ligaments for support rather than the core muscles which should be holding you up.
The solution: Concentrate on keeping your back in a “flat” or “neutral” position. Engage your quads, butt, and abs to “tilt” or “roll” your pelvis backwards thereby flattening your back out and eliminating the pinch-inflicting arch.
Reason #2: Hips too low to the ground (rounded back): The second-most common error I see in people who plank is that they let their pelvis drop too much towards the floor. In a correct plank your shoulders, hips, and knees should create a nice straight line. In this error people will let their hips and knees fall below their shoulder line creating a “rounded” back down towards the ground.
The solution: Similar to the fix we just discussed, the rounded back is correct by engaging your stomach to elevate your entire pelvis up towards the ceiling. Again, this is going to take a lot of strain off your spine and put it on your core muscles where it belongs. This results in a more efficient abdominal muscle contraction which ultimately results in more abdominal fatigue. You might not be able to hold the plank as long, but at least you’ll be working the right muscles and taking some of the load of your lumbar spine.
Reason #3: Hips too high (butt in the air or “pike” plank): The last common problem I see is when the butt/hips are way above what should be the straight shoulder line. This is especially a common problem when fatigue starts to set in. This ultimately results in a lot of force being placed on the shoulders and neck and is often compounded when people try to look up/forward during the plank. Usually this posture results in neck and upper shoulder pain, but can also result in some lower back aggravation as well.
The solution: Again, alignment is key. Keeping your butt down and in straight alignment with your shoulders and knees is imperative to working the proper muscles and preserving your back. Oftentimes I’ll tell people to do 1-2 planks in front of a mirror for visual feedback or have a family member/friend critique them on their form. These are great ways to see what the likely cause is of your pain and take some steps to fix it.
When done correctly, planks are one of the most effective abdominal exercises you can do. Check out your form and incorporate some of these suggestions to return to full, pain-free planking!
We often recommend planks to help lumbar/core stabilization. This is one of the most-effective exercises you can do to help with back pain where strength training is indicated. If you have any questions about your back pain or exercises you can perform to stabilize your spine we would love to help you out! Contact us at one of our four convenient locations to ask questions or set up a physical therapy evaluation: