Through years of practice, many athletes develop the bad habit of powering most movements with only their largest muscle groups. And because they're so competitive, these athletes take the habit even further when they're injured by using their strongest muscles to compensate for injured ones.
Although compensatory movements may get athletes off the bench faster after an injury, they're also likely to put them back on it sooner. Such patterns cause more harm than good, because they throw off the kinetic chain of movement—the natural path of muscle activation during a movement—leaving other areas of the body susceptible to injury. When you only focus on your biggest muscles, you're keeping yourself from tapping into your full power potential.
Want to find out how much you're compensating? Test your traditional Forearm Plank time against the Segmented Plank, a yoga-inspired version that forces muscles to fire properly along the kinetic chain.
If you're like most athletes, you power and hold your Plank through your arms and shoulders—compensating for core weakness by pushing the weight to stronger areas of the body. When you follow the instructions for the Segmented Plank precisely, you'll likely have a much tougher time, because you're putting your entire core to work. The result is increased core integrity for a stronger power foundation and lower injury risk.
How To Perform the Yoga-Inspired Segmented Forearm Plank
The key to this exercise is to come up piece by piece (in segments) to properly fire the core muscles along the kinetic chain. You'll complete the move slowly, in five segments.
1. Begin in prone position (lying on your stomach) with your forearms down, your elbows under your shoulders and your legs and feet relaxed. Inhale and lift your rib cage only—not your bellybutton. Exhale and hold there.
2. Inhale to lift your bellybutton, but not your hips. Exhale to hold.
3. Inhale and lift your hips, but not your quads (this is a very small movement that requires a conscious engagement of the low core). Exhale to hold.
4. Inhale to lift your quads all the way to your knees, keeping your knees on the ground. Exhale to hold.
5. Curl your toes under and press through your heels to straighten your legs and lift your knees without further lifting your hips. It is extremely important that you do not shift your weight forward. Keep your weight evenly distributed through your core, as established when you came up segment by segment.
Take five long, deep breaths. Exhale to drop only the knees down and point the toes back. Inhale to hold. Exhale to take the quads down but not the hips. Inhale to hold. Keep working backward through the segments, with one phase of the breath for each segment, all the way to the ribcage and relax.
Was the experience humbling? It's okay. I have pro clients who can hold the traditional Forearm Plank for two minutes without a problem, but who can barely shake their way through 30 seconds of a Segmented Forearm Plank. Keep working at it, and you'll develop the full-core strength you can use to take your performance to the next level.
Check out three more tough yoga poses that are perfect for athletes.
Dana Santas, E-RYT, ACSM-cPT, is the founder and director of Radius Yoga Conditioning (RYC), an international yoga training and consulting business offering customized sport- and athlete-specific yoga programs. Specializing in serving pro athletes, Santas has worked with more than 16 teams across the NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL and MLS. RYC is accessible to athletes, coaches and teams through numerous formats, including Skype/Facetime sessions and customized team training. Her work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, on MLB.com, the NHL Network, Fox Sports, WebMD, CNNRadio and elsewhere. For more information, visit radiusyoga.com.
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