Increase Abdominal Activation By 400%

Key Points

  • Posture dictates abdominal activation

  • A long lever posterior tilt plank is more effective than a traditional and long lever plank

  • A long lever plank is more effective than a traditional plank

  • A strong core is essential for injury prevention

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I have lived with scoliosis since my early teens. I am not sure if I was born with it. I remember seeing the x-rays for the first time (right). During college, I dealt with numerous lower back flare-ups, from bulging discs to back spasms. I experienced shooting pains down my legs and lost the ability to train. I was in chronic pain. All I could do was walk and stretch. I was miserable.

At the time, I blamed my scoliosis for the pain. However, looking back, I don’t think it was due to my spine being crooked. Most likely it was due to my core being too weak. I have come to learn that a strong midsection is essential for injury prevention, especially regarding the lower back.

Train The Core

Since college, my chronic back pain has been non-existent. I believe my consistent core training routine has dramatically reduced my risk for chronic back pain. The plank has been an exercise that I have performed regularly. It isn’t the sexiest exercise in the world, but when done correctly, it is one of the most effective core exercises. Plus, it has a low injury risk and can be done anywhere.

Further, there are hundreds of progressions and variations you can add to keep the exercise fun and novel. After all, we aren’t robots and exercise boredom is a real thing. I see it firsthand among my clients. The majority of people are reluctant to perform the same exercises month after month. You have to keep the workouts interesting while making sure they are safe and effective.

It would be best if you taught the movement accurately or you risk training the wrong muscle groups. For example, a common mistake I see in a plank is the dropping of the hips and excessive arching of the lower back). When the body is out of alignment, the muscles of the hip and trunk are affected. The abdominals become over-lengthened and weak, forcing the lower back to do all the work.  A study done in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science supports this idea.

Form Follows Function

Seventeen healthy adult males had their muscle activity, and spinal curve measured during a neutral, sway back, and lordosis standing posture. A neutral position has a rib cage stacked over a pelvis. Swayback is characterized by excessive lower back rounding, whereas lordosis is an excessive lower back arch. The study showed a three-fold increase in lumbar erector spinae and lumbar multifidus muscle activity in a lordosis posture versus a neutral stance (1).

Effect of standing postural deviations on trunk and hip muscle activity ( 1 )

Effect of standing postural deviations on trunk and hip muscle activity (1)

As you can see in the chart above, alignment determines muscle activation. The neutral posture increased core and glute engagement tremendously compared to the other poses. Moreover, if standing compromises muscle activity, then I believe it would be affected even more in the plank position. Thus, performing a plank properly is essential for training the abdominals and obliques.

Did you know you can increase the effectiveness of a plank exercise by 400%! A recent study published in Sports Biomechanics found the position of the pelvis and elbows to play a crucial role in abdominal activation. The purpose of the study was to compare the muscle activation of the abdominals in a traditional plank, a posterior tilted pelvis plank, a long lever plank, and a long lever posterior tilted pelvis plank (see below).

An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise ( 2 )

An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise (2)

The authors found the long lever posterior tilt plank to be the most effective at activating the core musculature.

“This is the first study to show that a modified version of the traditional plank employing a long lever and posterior tilt significantly and markedly increases muscle activity in the rectus abdominis and external oblique as compared to the traditional prone plank.” (2)

As you can see in the averages below, the long lever posterior tilt plank engaged the rectus abdominis 400% more and the external obliques 300% more versus the traditional plank.

An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise ( 2 )

An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise (2)

The long lever posterior plank is much harder to perform than a traditional plank, so it makes sense that it would engage the core to a greater extent. But, it does show us that posture and alignment play a crucial role in muscle activation. Thus, technique and quality of movement should be paramount. Check out the video below to learn how to perform the perfect plank.


erik rokiskyComment