As this blog title implies, today Dr. Meisenhelder with Back In Motion Chiropractic & Sports Rehab in Beaverton, Oregon will be demonstrating several variations of the side plank exercise.
The side plank exercise is one of our favorite core exercises, and is a staple for low back rehabilitation in our Beaverton clinic. Much has been studied and written in sports chiropractic and physical therapy about the side plank, most notably the work of Stewart McGill at the University of Waterloo, one of the world's foremost experts and researchers on low back pain and rehab. His studies have revealed much on the topic, but for my purposes the most notable are the following:
1. High level of External Oblique muscle activity in a spine neutral position
2. Left vs Right sided endurance variance as a great predictor of low back pain and disability
Traditional core exercises tend to focus on variations of the sit up or crunch. Side crunches, with or without rotation, were designed and prescribed to activation and strengthen the oblique abdominal muscles. Unfortunately, Dr. McGill's research has shown that while muscle activation with this exercise may be sufficient to stimulate growth, compression forces on the lumbar intervertebral discs (IVD) in the crunch position are in excessive of what is considered safe for most people. I see this at the gym during workout classes when participants complain about their backs or stop the exercise the stretch/rub their backs while performing either regular or side crunches - not good! Luckily, the side plank has been shown in EMG studies to activate the external obliques extremely well without adding excessive compression to the lumbar disc material - a win/win!
Point number 2 is very interesting, and is something we can all assess from time to time. As stated in the video, training in the side plank position should not exceed 10 seconds holds for the highest quality rep, but occasional endurance testing in this position is a great benchmark, and can tell you if you are at risk for low back injury. Dr. McGill's work discovered that an imbalance between left and right endurance times (maximum side plank hold time) is a great predictor for low back disability. So check your times every so often and increase your training volume if a notable variance exists - it could literally save your back!
As always, check in with the friendly staff in our Beaverton clinic if you have any questions on this exercise. Happy training!
Back In Motion Chiropractic & Sports Rehab - Proudly Serving The Beaverton and Portland Community For Over 25 Years - "Moving Toward Your Finish Line"