Arm positioning during the plank exercise

Posted on December 21, 2018

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(Last Updated On: December 21, 2018)
Plank exercise form

This could be better.

prone bridge form

And so could this.

The plank is used as a core exercise. It’s a nice way of training the abdominals to prevent lumbar extension. Ala don’t do this:

Smiling doesn’t help

I actually also like to use the plank as a shoulder mobility exercise. Let me explain.

Without going into too much detail, two common issues for those with shoulder pain / movement issues are:

1) Lack of posterior / inferior glide of the humerus i.e. the humerus glides too far forward.

Tight lats

Right picture is bad, left is better. Because on the right side the front of the shoulder is more forward. From: www.manualtherapymentor.com

For more on this check out: Best exercises for the subscapularis. 

2) In conjunction with 1), the internal rotators of the humerus are often excessively dominant / tight / active / whatever you want to call it.

For more on this see the above link and or 3 common tight muscles. 

By adjusting the arm positioning during the plank we can actually work on correcting these 2 issues.

First, the common arm positioning during a plank:

plank exercise

planks exercise

Notice a few things:

-The arms are internally rotated, giving into those tight internal rotators just discussed.

-The forearms are pronated (palms are down), which gives into the shoulder internal rotation. Plus, people tend to get enough of this as it is. All that typing we do is with the palms facing down.

This can also cause issues at the elbow. See What causes Tennis Elbow? for more.

-The elbows are below / behind the shoulders. In the below picture I’m referencing the horizontal plane, not vertical. (Yes, they are below in the vertical as well, but that’s not what we’re discussing here.) Thus, our “opposite reaction” is in favor of superior and anterior glide of the humerus. We do not want this.

The floor pushes into the elbows, which then push the shoulder forward and upward, which is the direction of impingement.

Turning the plank into a corrective shoulder exercise

Adjusting the arm positioning we can do this:

Now the shoulders are in neutral, if not a bit of external rotation:

The forearms in supination (palms are up):

Looking from the side:

We also have the ground, which is opposing gravity, giving a nice posterior (backward) and inferior (downward (relative to the top of the shoulder)) glide on the humerus. We’re now using the plank exercise as another method of loosening up the posterior capsule. Something nearly everyone could use more of:

This isn’t some magical way of loosening up the shoulders. However, Every. Single.  Movement / exercise. is an opportunity to correct movement impairments. By adjusting our plank like so, we continue to tip the amount of “better” reps in our favor. The more we can do to correct a movement impairment, especially when we’re going to be doing the exercise anyways, the better our chances of alleviating pain and impairments.

If you’re someone with really tight shoulders, you’ll even notice your arms reactively internally rotating while you do your plank. You’ll actually have to actively resist this motion. Further indication of how tight you really are.

For most people doing the exercise in this fashion is more work too. The abdominals will work even harder.

It’s all about Technique, technique, technique. 

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