When performing the plank it is important to use the correct technique. This will allow you to get the most out of the exercise and reduce the risk of injury.
That is why I contacted Amber Johnson - Founder, Owner and Strength & Conditioning Coach at First Wave Fitness and asked her, "How do you perform the perfect plank?" Here is Ambers' response…
The plank is a brilliant exercise to learn to create and maintain tension throughout the core in a neutral spine position.
Here is how to set up your plank:
1. Setting up on your elbows, feet together, knees locked out straight and your weight evenly distributed throughout your body
2. Align elbows directly underneath your shoulders with forearms parallel, hands relaxed, palms facing down
3. From here, we want to pack our shoulders down into our ribcage and away from your ears. Without moving your forearms, imagine pulling them backwards along the floor to lock your upper body and pelvis together as one unit
4. To align your spine in a neutral position, find the best position where you can squeeze your glutes
5. Your head and neck should also be kept in a neutral position (you may wish to place a broomstick down your back to ensure correct alignment is maintained. With the stick making contact at the back of your head, upper back and glutes).
Engage your core by gently drawing the belly button in and exhaling slowly to hold a strong tension through the middle of your body. From here, take slow, small breathes in and gently exhale to maintain this tension.
When attempting the plank, you should always aim for quality over quantity. When you first set out, run through your mental checklist of form cues and aim for short intervals.
"Always aim for quality over quantity"
Initially you may wish to start with 10 seconds holds and 10 seconds rest to reset and come up again. Try to work towards 6x 10 seconds holds and gradually build the working interval as you feel more confident with your form.
Once you have conquered the 6x 10 seconds hold, a good goal is to build towards a 30 seconds quality hold. As you advance, aim for quality holds between 30-60 seconds, and eventually 60 seconds-2 minute holds.
For those who are looking to advance the plank from here and challenge their Cross Core Sling Systems try the following:
Single Arm Holds
Single Leg Holds
And the real challenge the…
Single Arm and Opposite Leg Hold
Look to progress these in the same fashion as the plank, small intervals of quality over duration. As you build in strength, build the working intervals into longer holds.
Amber Johnson has been working in the fitness industry now for close to 10 years. Originating from a strength and conditioning background, Amber now regularly trains for and participates in the long course and Ironman triathlon series.
After completing further studies in rehabilitation, functional movement and postural correction, Amber works with a suite of athletes both local and professional, to educate, identify and retrain imbalances in the body’s movement patterns to help them move more efficiently and effectively.
Amber’s training philosophy is about building a solid foundation of strength and stability for her athletes to maintain optimum posture across each discipline allowing the body to perform at its full potential which can be summed up in her favourite quote: “First move well, and then move often” – Gray Cook
People who spend more than 5 hours sitting each day need to do planks. Why?
Because sitting for long hours at a time weaken your core muscles which are crucial for providing support for you back and spinal column.
The weaker your core, the more prone to injuries you will be. And planks are especially helpful in countering the detrimental effects of sitting.
In addition, doing plank exercises every day will also give you other health benefits you may not have thought about:
1. Boost Overall Metabolism
2. Improve Core Performance
3. Decreased Risk of Injury To The Back & Spine
4. More Flexibility
5. Improved Posture
6. Improved Balance
7. Mental Health Benefits
It’s worth reading this article by DailyHealthPost in more detail, especially if you suffer with headaches and migraines… strengthening and stretching are two keys to overcome your pain.
We have all woken up with a stiff neck or sore back and immediately thought, “I must have slept the wrong way”.
Most people are aware that poor sleeping posture can cause neck, shoulder and back pain. However the important role that it can play in provoking headache attacks tends to go unrecognized.
Considering we spend almost a third of our life in bed, we ought to pay more attention to our sleeping posture. Perhaps you have an ergonomic chair at work but what about the mattress and pillow on your bed?
A good mattress and pillow can certainly help your sleeping posture. Mattresses and pillows also wear out and need to be replaced regularly.
However it is even more important to look at the way you lie in bed.
Although we change our position many times while we are asleep, we all have a favourite position. This is the position that we adopt automatically as we drift off to sleep, the one we continually return to during the night. Hence it is the position that we spend the most time in. Video studies have shown almost everyone is able to identify it reliably.[5b]
Do you prefer to sleep on your side, on your back or on your stomach? There is some disagreement among scientists and doctors as to whether sleeping on your side or your back is better for the spine.
However all are agreed that sleeping on your stomach is very bad for the spine and should be avoided.
Stopping sleeping on your stomach may be one of the most effective things you can do to stop your headaches. Just what it is wrong with sleeping on your stomach is discussed in the next section.
Having good sleeping posture means that when you are lying in bed in your usual position:
- Your pillow and mattress should support your head and body so that your spine retains its three natural curves, just as when you are sitting or standing.
- Your spine, and especially your neck (cervical spine), should not be twisted to one side – your shoulders and hip bones should be aligned.
The position of your arms and legs should not put any muscles in either an overly shortened or overstretched state. For example, avoid crossing your arms tightly against your chest as shown in the photo.
Awkward positions such as this, when held for hours on end during sleep, will cause or reactivate muscular trigger points and worsen existing muscle imbalances.
Our postural habits are so ingrained that we are mostly unaware of them. It is a good idea to demonstrate the way you usually lie when you go to sleep to your manual therapist and ask them to comment on any possible problem areas that they notice.
This is an excerpt from Stop Headaches Naturally | Chapter 8 - Postural Tips For Sleeping
Are you concerned that cracking your knuckles leads to joint degeneration?
Or have you ever wondered why your neck cracks (pops) whenever you stretch it?
The answer can be found in the article published by the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, PLOS One called, 'Pull My Finger Study'.
"A cavity is created and that event is what's associated with the sound"
With the aid of a MRI, a finger was slowly pulled until the knuckle cracked. It finally proved that when you stretch the capsule that surrounds a joint, a bubble forms in the synovial fluid which is responsible for the popping sound.
Check out the MRI study video:
Leader author Professor Greg Kawchuk explains. "It's a little bit like forming a vacuum. As the joint surfaces suddenly separate, there is no more fluid available to fill the increasing joint volume, so a cavity is created and that event is what's associated with the sound.
"No evidence that knuckle cracking leads to degenerative changes"
The data fails to support evidence that knuckle cracking leads to degenerative changes in the metacarpal phalangeal joints in old age. The chief morbid consequence of knuckle cracking would appear to be it's annoying effect on the observer."
If you are like most people you probably haven’t given much thought to the way you breathe until now.
However, factors such as stress, slumping in the chair, abdominal surgery, or even always keeping the stomach tensed and hence fashionably flat, mean we tend to adopt incorrect breathing patterns without realising it. Perhaps it may come as a relief to know those much sought after “washboard abs” are not so healthy after all.
Common examples of incorrect breathing include:
● Chest breathing (breathing high into your chest)
● Shallow breathing
● Irregular breathing
● Failing to breathe out fully
● Forgetting to breathe out at all for a while and holding your breath
● Breathing too rapidly or too deeply (hyperventilation)
● Breathing through your mouth rather than your nose
Some people who breathe incorrectly complain they tend to run out of breath while talking, others may notice feeling anxious, but many may not be aware of any effects at all.
"We often worry about what to eat and what not to eat but we can last months without food, but only days without water and only minutes without oxygen"
However correct breathing is essential for optimal physical and emotional well-being. Consider that we often worry about what to eat and what not to eat but we can last months without food, but only days without water and only minutes without oxygen.
Incorrect breathing patterns can have some surprising effects.
In Chapter 7 we mentioned that habitual chest breathing could cause trigger points to develop in the neck and shoulder muscles, and that replacing chest breathing by diaphragmatic breathing plays an important part in preventing these trigger points from recurring in the future.
But what is diaphragmatic breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing, which is also called abdominal or belly breathing, is considered to be the normal healthy way to breathe. It means drawing air deeply into the lungs while keeping the belly relaxed and using the diaphragm to do most of the work. This causes the abdomen to expand rather than the chest.
Slow diaphragmatic breathing is how a sleeping baby breathes, its abdomen rising and falling with each breath.
It is the most efficient way to breathe, requiring the least physical effort and almost completely filling the lungs with air.
"It also has a calming effect, helping reduce emotional stress and excess muscle tension"
It also has a calming effect, helping reduce emotional stress and excess muscle tension and so is normally used as a prelude to relaxation exercises.
Slow diaphragmatic breathing can make a significant contribution to reducing the frequency and severity of your headache attacks.
It does this by:
● Removing one cause of trigger points in the muscles of the neck and shoulder muscles which are a direct source of headache pain.
● Increasing oxygen supply to the brain.
● Reducing emotional stress and excess muscle tension.
* This is an excerpt from the book Stop Headaches Naturally (Chapter 8, Correct Breathing - Diaphragmatic Breathing & Headache Prevention)
Have you ever tried fixing a leaky roof when it’s raining? The only thing you can do is place a bucket under the leak and temporarily repair the leak.
Once the rain stops, it’s easy to remove the water from the bucket and hope it doesn’t rain again. But if this cycle continues, the leak that was once only a single drop in a bucket, can worsen to the point were the roof can buckle and cave in.
Many of us can apply this behaviour to our health. It’s important that once we experience a ‘leak’ in our health - whether its back pain, tension headache or migraine - make the time to fix it.
"Once we experience a ‘leak’ in our health - whether its back pain, tension headache or migraine - make the time to fix it"
So don’t wait until it rains again. If the sun is shining and there are blue skies, make sure you make the time to take preventative measures to ensure that your roof contains no cracks or faulty plumbing.
Stay posted! I will be providing some Preventative Medicine strategies in upcoming posts…
Frequent headaches can really reduce your quality of life but pain-killers are not the answer
Pain of any sort isn't any fun, but headache pain can stop you thinking clearly. Even a relatively mild headache makes it more difficult to do your work properly and just getting through your daily routine starts to become an effort.
But a severe headache can stop you dead in your tracks and render you unable to function normally. And if the pain is accompanied by typical migraine symptoms of nausea and vomiting then probably all you will be able to manage to do is to go home and collapse into bed.
"It is tempting just to reach for a pain-killer to numb the pain"
What makes it harder is that you often don’t get much sympathy or understanding from those around you, unless they are also badly affected by headaches. Because headaches are extremely common they may be seen as “normal” and not a “proper illness”.
Even our language tends to trivialize headache pain as in the expression “a real headache” for some annoying or difficult problem.
"A headache may be seen as an excuse to avoid responsibility or something you don’t feel like doing"
And a headache may be seen as an excuse to avoid responsibility or something you don’t feel like doing, as in the well-worn cliché “Not tonight dear, I have a headache” for avoiding sex in a relationship.
If you suffer lots of headaches, and particularly if they are severe, it is easy to feel helpless not knowing when a headache will strike again or how to stop it from returning. Headaches can appear in the day or the dead of night.
One time, a headache might hit during a stressful crunch to meet deadlines at work, another may occur in the middle of an uneventful day, and yet another during a pleasurable activity.
The cause of your headaches can look like a complete mystery.
"Makes you an easy target for shrewd marketing campaigns by the pharmaceutical industry with their TV commercials promising “a quick fix” for your headache pain"
All of this makes you an easy target for shrewd marketing campaigns by the pharmaceutical industry with their TV commercials promising “a quick fix” for your headache pain.
It is tempting just to reach for a pain-killer to numb the pain.
While this is understandable and OK every now and then, it is most definitely not a good idea on a long term basis for the following reasons:
- You are only masking the symptoms, not treating the underlying factors that are provoking your headache. Only by understanding and correcting these factors can you can ever hope to be free of headache pain.
- You are actually likely to make your headaches much worse. Instead of occurring perhaps several times a month, they now occur much more frequently, often daily, and the pain is more severe and longer-lasting. This is known as rebound headache or medication overuse headache.
- All medications have side effects. Serious side effects of long-term use of headache painkillers include damage to the gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys.
- By relying on a pill, you perpetuate your feeling of helplessness. It seems like headaches are controlling your life and there is nothing you can do about it. If you unravel the factors that are provoking your headaches, you will restore your feeling of being in control of your life, and this may go some of the way towards actually alleviating your headaches.
There are genuine natural alternatives to pain-killers
It is easy to find detailed information about headache medications on the internet. However information about natural therapies for headache is normally presented in a scatter gun fashion in the form of a list of things to try.
That is why we wrote the book Stop Headaches Naturally - Treat The Cause Not Symptoms. The main aim of this book is to provide you with comprehensive, reliable information about the different types of natural therapies which are available for headaches. We have also tried for to organise this information in a way which makes it easier for you to access and apply.
Photo credit: wolfgangfoto / Foter.com / CC BY-ND
Both migraine and tension headache sufferers list emotional stress, and feelings such as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and frustration that accompany it, as their most important trigger. But emotional stress is more than a trigger. It is part of the mechanism that produces a headache.
Emotional stress can contribute to headaches by:
- Interfering with natural pain suppression mechanisms
- Increasing the excitability of the brain
- Altering bloodflow to and within the brain
- Causing the release of histamine, a vasodilator and inflammatory substance
- Increasing musculoskeletal pain
On-going stress can lower your headache threshold, making it more likely that exposure to your other triggers will provoke a headache attack. Specific short term stressful episodes may trigger a headache attack. 
The role of emotional stress in provoking headaches is reasonably well appreciated. However few headache sufferers are aware that the sustained and excessive amounts of muscle tension may play an equally important role.
Nor are they usually aware of just how tight the muscles in their jaw, neck and shoulders actually are for most of the time. Sustained tension in these muscles is a common response to emotional stress.
It is also the result of maintaining the upper part of your body in a fixed posture. Sitting without moving for lengthy periods of time is a major culprit. Sitting with your neck craned forwards magnifies the problem. This “forward head posture”  will also cause pain in the joints of your neck.
Tight or tense muscles are muscles that are actively contracting. However, as we have seen, when muscles stay contracted for too long without relaxing they start to suffer microscopic tissue damage. Various inflammatory substances are released into the muscle fluid from where they are transported into the blood stream.
"when muscles stay contracted for too long without relaxing
they start to suffer microscopic tissue damage"
Hence on-going tension in neck, jaw and shoulders acts as a continual low level source of pain which can reduce your headache threshold. If trigger points are present, tension may irritate them sufficiently to provoke a headache attack.
Muscle tension, like emotional stress, lowers your headache threshold, making a headache attack more likely. Muscle tension can also act as a headache trigger.
 JM. Nash and RW Thebarge (2006). “Understanding Psychological Stress, Its Biological Processes, and Impact on Primary Headache.” Headache 46(9):1377- 1386.
 DG Borenstein, SW Wiesel and SD Boden (2004). Low back and neck pain: comprehensive diagnosis and management, p231-233, Edition 3, Elsevier.
If you use a smartphone or tablet for more than one hour everyday, you definitely need to learn how to use it more intelligently… and no, i am not referring to another new app that will help you streamline your workflow.
The exponential growth in mobile technology has made it possible for people from all walks of life, young and old to own a mobile device. People not only using mobile devices for texting or phone calls but to read emails and eBooks, interact within social-media circles, play games and watch videos. This forces them to hold their necks in a bent position for long periods, creating excessive strain on the ligaments, tendons and muscles of the cervical vertebrae.
Unfortunately many of us ignore the aches and pains that occur while using our mobile devices, but it is only a matter of time before we begin to experience more serious problems like:
• Tension headaches
• Blurred vision
• TMJ syndrome (jaw pain)
• Joint pain
• Muscular tension and stiffness in the neck, shoulders and back
• Tingling down the arm and fingers
What is the real cause behind the neck pain
Your neck is at its most relaxed and comfortable state when the weight of your head is positioned directly on top of your spine. The muscles around the front, back and side of your neck should be working together to hold your head in a neutral position – looking straight ahead - this is the most natural state or position of the neck. So when you use a mobile device for prolonged periods with a bent and rotated neck, this will create an unnatural position, which leads to overuse injuries.
Of course, bending and turning your neck in various directions is encouraged because the cervical vertebrae are designed to facilitate free movement in all directions. However, you must be aware of your posture and make sure that your neck does not remain in awkward positions for long periods and returns to the neutral position.
On average, people use mobile devices for two to four hours a day. In other words, our necks are bent and held in a forward head position for 700 to 1,400 hours every year. It is the cumulative effect of years of overuse and stress that leads to degeneration and serious neck and back problems.
How to minimize the damage
Dr. Ezriel Kornel, a neurosurgeon from New York has offered some suggestions for computer and mobile users to reduce the damage caused by poor posture:
• Keep your phone or tablet at a higher level so you are not continually bending your head forward
• The Alexander technique is beneficial as it helps you become aware of how you use your body and teaches you optimal body positioning and poise
• If you suffer from neck pain or headaches, use mobiles phones in moderation to help reduce excessive strain on the neck
• Take frequent breaks. Stretch your neck and reposition your body to relieve the accumulated tension (using an app to remind you can be very useful)
Whether you like it or not, using a mobile device has become a part of our daily lives and it is here it to stay. So it is important that you are aware of the negative effects of prolonged mobile use, especially with your neck bent forwards. Not only will it improve your posture but it will also decrease your stress levels, reduce muscular aches and pains and be one the keys to stopping your headache and migraine pain… you will have become a smart smartphone user.
Pablo Tymoszuk is a soft tissue therapist specialising in remedial, myofascial and dry needling techniques. He also acts as an ergonomic specialist and wellness consultant which has motivated him to co-author the eBook Stop Headaches Naturally.
Together with Dr Margaret Scarlett they present a range of strategies for stopping headaches and migraines without drugs. All strategies are organized in a systematic manner and backed up by references to the scientific literature.
Our smartphone obsession is putting Australians at risk of becoming a nation of hunch-backs, experts fear.
Chiropractors and physiotherapists are reporting a marked increase in the number of patients being treated for neck and shoulder complaints due to smartphone use.
Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria forecasts cases of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions will almost double to 8.7 million Australians within 20 years, with health costs estimated to be around $4.8 billion a year.
Australian Chiropractor Association spokesman Dr Michael Black said patients were experiencing headaches, upper back pain, sprains and muscle spasms. “While many people are tablets it appears that their ‘normal’ postural positioning has transformed people to developing rounded shoulders and subsequent forward head carriage leading to upper neck and upper back pain, resulting,” in headaches or migraines.”
Herald Sun | Richard Noone
Are suffering with headaches, back pain and spasms?
Do you need some help improving your posture?
Then have a look at just a few sections of Chapter 8 in the book Stop Headaches Naturally
- 8.2 What does having good spinal posture mean?
- 8.4 The wall test to assess and improve spinal posture
- 8.6 Modern work and leisure sets us up for bad posture
- 8.7 Mobile electronic devices and forward head posture
- 8.9 Set up your computer to minimize postural stress
- 8.18 Diaphragmatic breathing & headache prevention
- 8.19 Learn how to breathe using your diaphragm
RETRAIN CORE MUSCLES
- 8.20 Spinal posture and the core postural muscles
DO SPECIFIC EXERCISES
- 8.21 Why exercises are important for headache prevention
- 8.23 Two part exercise for correcting forward head posture
Pablo Tymoszuk is a soft tissue therapist specialising in remedial, myofascial and dry needling techniques. He also acts as an ergonomic specialist and wellness consultant which has motivated him to co-author the eBook Stop Headaches Naturally.
Together with Dr Margaret Scarlett they present a range of strategies for stopping headaches and migraines without drugs. All strategies are organized in a sy