- Dr. Stuart McGill, a former spine researcher at the University of Waterloo, says there is ‘no utility’ in holding the plank for longer than 10 seconds.
- He told The Telegraph that instead people should focus on holding the position for shorter intervals and for more reps.
- He says for a healthy back, you should be practicing ‘the Big 3’ routine daily.
- He also advises against doing bending exercises and sit-ups in the morning, when the spine is most vulnerable.
The plank is widely considered to be a powerful movement for strengthening the core. There are entire workouts, like the plank challenge, based around holding the position – which involves holding yourself on your hands and toes as if you’re about to do a pushup – for longer each time you do it.
But getting the most out of the plank might not be all about how long you’re holding it for.
According to Dr. Stuart McGill, who was a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo for 30 years, holding your plank for too long could be a waste of time.
McGill, who specialises in how to prevent back injury among other topics related to the spine, told The Telegraph: “There’s no utility to this kind of activity other than claiming a record.”
Instead, he recommends holding the position for shorter intervals of just 10 seconds three times.
“Basically holding repeated holds of 10 seconds is best for the average person,” he said.
And McGill isn’t the only person to suggest that the emphasis on time spent holding the position is misplaced.
Personal trainer Max Lowery previously told Business Insider that it’s not so much about the length of time you spend holding the position, but rather activating the right muscles while doing it.
McGill continued that for people wanting to improve their back health, he recommends doing “the Big 3” routine daily.
“This was the programme for the front, sides, and back of the core musculature we developed a number of years ago,” he said. “My conclusions come from many studies that we have performed, not just a single one.”
Practice the ‘Big 3’
The Big 3 routine encompasses three back exercises – curl ups, the bird-dog, and side plank – that McGill says will increase the endurance of muscles around the spine. You can see how each is performed below:
The side plank
Avoid sit-ups first thing in the morning
McGill went on to reveal that the spine is more prone to injury first thing in the morning than later in the day, so he doesn’t advise people to do certain exercises first thing.
“Your discs are hydrophilic, which means they love water, they suck up fluids, so when you go to bed at night you’re actually shorter than when you wake up in the morning,” he told The Telegraph. “And it’s harder to put your socks on in the morning, your spinal discs are much more inflated, they don’t like to bend and actually it has three times the stress.
“When we stress real spines they fracture much more than later on in the day. We would really advise against anyone getting up in the morning and doing bending exercises, pulling their knees to their chest, doing sit-ups and those kinds of things.
“They would be much wiser just to wait an hour, go for a walk, and let gravity squeeze out some of the water.”