** not medical advice, always see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. The point of this blog is to create awareness and get you thinking!
Planks are a progression, not a starting point. Repeat that after me.
But, does this mean that they are unsafe for those with diastasis or prolapse, and that you’ll never be able to do them?
The answer is, it depends. Let’s walk through some things to consider, as well as different modifications you can use as you work your way up to doing a full plank.
The Foundation (see the pics for visuals)
- Joints are stacked: wrists are under shoulders; ribs are lined up with hips.
- Back is flat and head is lined up with the rest of your spine
- You should still be able to breathe and talk easily in whatever plank position you’re in. if you can’t, that is telling me that your breath is pushing against your core and pelvic floor. We want some pressure, but not too much.
- Ribs are still in line with hips. This is very similar to the “flat back” cue, but it is now getting you to think about the front of your body. We want our bodies to be in an optimal position, so all systems can work together.
- Hint: if you want to see how you are planking, do it in front of a mirror or film yourself!
So, how do you do a plank safely? Remember what I said, that planks were a progression and not a starting point. This is why! I am going to break it down bit by bit, so bear with me as I explain this.
Let’s start with figuring out where your pelvic floor muscles are. This will provide some support from the bottom up, so you aren’t just bearing down on your pelvic floor. Lay on your back, and place your hand on your lower belly. Take a nice deep breath in, and expand your ribs, back, chest, stomach and pelvic floor with that breath. Now, as you exhale, lift your pelvic floor up. You can imagine your vagina as a straw, or pretend you’re trying to pick up a berry (my free guide goes over these in more detail). It is a lift and squeeze movement that isn’t getting any help from glute or inner thigh activation!
Now, take a deep breath in and relax everything again. This is important as we want the muscles relaxed and able to fire, and not holding on to tension, as this can cause dysfunction (if you are always clenching, the muscles never get a chance to release and you may experience some symptoms of a tight pelvic floor.
Now, let’s add in a stomach contraction. Cues to consider: pulling your hip bones together, gently pulling your stomach away from your waistband, pretend you are “zipping” up your abs from the bottom to the top. This is a very subtle movement and should be accompanied by an exhale. Remember the post from last time? The TVA’s job is to help with breathing, so by exhaling you are working that muscle! We are not sucking in our abs as that is not an activation, just a drawing in of one area over the other. We want evenness and no extra pressure down on the pelvic floor.
Now imagine doing this in a plank position, while still being able to talk, breathe fully, and maintain good form. These aspects are all important because they all work together. See the previous months post for some anatomy and how all of these muscles work together. And never underestimate the importance of breathing throughout a movement! Remember, breathing is coordinating the systems, working the TA muscle, and regulating that pressure. We want to strengthen, not strain.
In addition to making sure you can breathe in a plank position as a way of checking yourself, literally also check yourself. What’s your stomach doing? Watch for coning/doming, a very deep DR, feelings of pressure or pulling, pain or leaking. Experiencing any of the above is a sign that your body is not properly controlling intrabdominal pressure.
Just because you can’t do a full plank, doesn’t mean you can’t work on your plank. Start on the wall, start on your knees, practice, get stronger, and you’ll be there before you know it!
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to try. As with anything in life, balance is key. A lack of strength can also cause injuries! Start where you can, work your way up slowly (either by changing the plank position and increasing the time), and you’d be surprised what persistence can do!