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Improving functional movements for performance and health

Originally Published Feb 25, 2014 in Vail Daily

Exercise programs are typically designed around goals like recovering from an injury, getting stronger or losing weight. To achieve these fitness goals we need to move. But if we want to achieve these goals efficiently and without injury, we need to not just move, but move well.

Asymmetries in motion and limitations in movement can affect the effectiveness of our training, workouts and activities of daily life. Good movement should be the foundation of our exercise program. In many cases this base level is overlooked. Sometimes exercise progression is made without necessarily earning it – meaning we move to heavier weight or more complicated exercises without mastery of more basic movements. If we progress too quickly or do not address underlying deficiencies, we build strength, endurance or sport specific skill on top of poor foundation. This is a fragile balance and is not the way to produce the most durable athletes.

In our workout routines as well as in our daily lives, there are basic movements that can be improved to maximize results. A basic posture or “anti-movement like the plank and more dynamic movements such as pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging and hip hinging are foundational, movements that can usually be improved upon at the base level and then progressed or regressed as needed.

The ability to maintain good posture and generate appropriate core tension during a plank carries over to other exercises. While holding planks for long periods may be a great test, it is far from the best way to train them. The world record for holding the plank is three hours and seven minutes (seriously). For us mere mortals, maintaining a plank for a minute or two requires conserving some energy. We naturally try to make the exercise easier and do not engage as many muscles turning the plank into an inferior exercise, or at the very least prevent it from being a whole body exercise.

There are a few common faults in form we see with planks. Heads may drop, torsos may sag towards the ground or shoulders may ride high towards their ears or round forward. We can cue what is called a hard style plank which can correct these common faults and at the same time make it a more complete core exercise.

Cueing the hard style plank:

  1. While lying on your stomach on the floor, make a fist and drive your forearms into the ground.

  2. Bring your shoulder blades back and down engaging the lats

  3. Drive your heels away and squeeze the glutes.

  4. Contract your quads and gradually increase the contraction in the abdominal wall muscles pulling yourself into a plank position

  5. Ensure that your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles make a straight line.

  6. In this position draw your elbows and your toes together as if you are crinkling the carpet beneath you.

  7. This hard-style plank would be held 10 seconds or so, followed by 3-4 seconds rest to let the muscles recover, and then repeated for 1-2 minutes. The plank and other foundational movements can all be improved with some advanced cueing.


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