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Beyond the four-minute plank

By Jo Cordell-Cooper*

 

IT was eight years ago that I attended a mind changing and thought-provoking lecture on the value of core workouts.

I attended with curiosity because as a fit and sporty person, I did wonder why I was so stiff around my spine.

Within 90 minutes I had all the answers – within five minutes I was thinking, “well now that you mention it, that’s pretty obvious.”

If you’ve ever stepped into a gym or watched an exercise video, you will no doubt have been told to “lock on your core” – this will protect your back, we were told.

Locking on the core refers to drawing in the belly “as if someone is about to punch you” and I would have to say it is the most overused cue ever to leave the lips of our well-meaning fitness instructors.

So, what is the point of locking on the core.

From the lecture I attended, locking the core is best used when lifting something unpredictable like a wriggling child, or something particularly heavy.

At other times, let the core move as it wishes (unless recovering from an injury – then the rules change).

We really should be letting the core do what it is designed to do – that is hold us upright, to move, bend, twist and transfer power from the legs to the arms, or vice versa.

It can be held rigid, but rigidity can set in.

This is what I believe had happened to me by locking on the core too much and over many years.

My back and torso had become stiff, and it took a few years to undo this.

So, this brings me to the point of this article – what is the value of doing a plank exercise for longer and longer periods of time?

I recently watched a Facebook thread filled with keen participants wanting to master the four-minute plank.

The person who posted this is an excellent runner so I questioned the merit of holding oneself rigid for four minutes and perhaps do some core conditioning exercise from a standing position that encouraged rotation.

Just think of the torso when you run – the arms and rib cage swing opposite, hand to legs running.

Rigidity in the torso would restrict this.

While runners do need a strong core, I’d prefer to see strength and softness, not strength and stiffness.

My experience as a personal trainer tells me the training needs to match the lifestyle.

So, if you are a rugby player in a scrum, or hanging out on a ladder while your team mates climb over you in some ninja warrior competition, you’ll need to plank – rigidity will serve you well.

But for the rest of us, think on the movements you need like twisting, reaching, pushing and pulling, all while standing.

See your fitness professional for a good selection of core exercises and if they move you towards the four-minute plank, ask them what else they have on offer.

Ask them to take you beyond the four-minute plank.

*Jo Cordell-Cooper is JoCC Holistic PT, an award-winning personal training business focusing on all the elements that make up you and your health. Make contact at jo@jocc.com.au or phone 0409 862 206.