Living with Vitality column: Improving functional movements for performance and health

Exercise programs are typically designed around goals like recovering from 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 can’t just move, we need to move well.

Back to the basics

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 mastering 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 a 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 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 in a plank position carries over to other exercises. While holding plank for long periods may be a great test, it is far from the best way to train for them. The world record for holding a plank position 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 toward the ground or shoulders may ride high towards the 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

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

Bring your shoulder blades back and down engaging the lats.

Drive your heels away and squeeze the glutes.

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

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

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

Hold for 10 seconds or so, followed by three to four seconds of rest to let the muscles recover, and then repeat for one to two minutes.

Learn More

Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., Dr. Pitcher will present a free interactive lecture on improving functional movements for performance and health. We will dive into the plank and many other foundational movements, increasing their effectiveness to improve your workout, prevent imbalance and reduce injury. The lecture is offered by the Vail Vitality Center and takes place at the Tivoli Lodge in Vail.

Mark Pitcher is a sports chiropractor, exercise physiologist and EMT with Vail Integrative Medical Group located at the Vail Vitality Center. He specializes in rehabilitative medicine. For more information visit www.vailhealth.com or www.vailvitalitycenter.com


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 25, 2014 05:34PM Published Feb 25, 2014 10:18AM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.