It’s NOT for Everyone! Here’s How An Experienced Pilates Student Suffered Month’s of Pain From ‘Planking!’
It’s become a craze. Many fitness classes include it and even hold contests for the longest-held plank! It’s fun and effective but for some, very dangerous!
Many Pilates classes now include it. Planking can be a great way to add more challenge to any workout. But Joe Pilates cautioned students that some exercises are dangerous if your body isn’t ready. Early in my teaching career I injured a student by teaching her a Pilates move that her body was simply not yet strong enough to do.
Here’s what ‘planking’ is all about and its terrifying results for one experienced Pilates student!
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Good Lesson Here: If It Hurts Don’t Do It!
Now I don’t mean don’t work hard! You know what I mean – there is a difference between exercise that is unpleasant and difficult because you’re working hard which is positive and important, and exercise that’s causing you damage and injury – you know the difference!
Here is her incredible story! Please share with all your fitness friends!
My Pilates class broke into loud cheers and I couldn’t have felt more triumphant. As I crashed, utterly exhausted, down onto my exercise mat, I was overjoyed that I’d just held ‘a plank’ for two of the longest, most muscle-straining minutes of my life.
A plank, for the uninitiated, is an exercise position that’s generally regarded as one of the toughest things you can do to your body.
You lie flat on the floor, then raise yourself on your tiptoes and elbows — keeping your forearms on the ground and your back flat, so you look like a coffee table. Then you hold that position for as long as you can.
The plank has been a staple in gym workouts, exercise classes such as Pilates and yoga, and with personal trainers for years. It’s brilliant for strengthening your body’s core — the muscles in your torso that keep you stable and balanced.But being able to do it for any length of time — the Holy Grail is five minutes — has become a real status symbol. And in classes around the country, it’s practically a competitive sport, with people cheering each other on and pitting themselves against each other.
Times are posted on social media and photos of six-packs and washboard stomachs put up on Instagram and other websites.
But what I didn’t realize — and what most gym-goers and even exercise experts don’t seem to know — is that I was doing untold damage to myself because the plank can be highly dangerous.
I found out the hard way — I ended up as a hospital outpatient with a condition seemingly suffered by hundreds, if not thousands, of plank-lovers each year.
And, until that moment, I’d been so proud of my ability to do the plank. It had taken a while to master — when I first tried it a year ago, I’d get it wrong by sticking my bottom in the air (which made it feel easier) or holding my head up to see how the rest of the class did it (ditto, but also risked straining my neck).
But after about six months I got the hang of it. Even so, I was surprised at how hard it was. I’d been doing Pilates for nearly 25 years and I thought I was fit and strong. Even so, my body would still begin to tremble after a few seconds.
Eventually, when I could hold it for half-a-minute or more, I began joining in with the ‘plank challenges’ held by my twice-weekly class in Buckinghamshire.
I’ll never forget the day last November when I managed to hold it for those two whole minutes. It was a gargantuan victory and one I wish I’d recorded on Instagram, because I’ve never managed it since. And sadly, I never will again.
Until then, I’d never questioned whether the exercise could cause injury. I was being taught in a small class of six by a qualified Pilates teacher, who was also a physiotherapist.
Ever since I joined her class after moving to the area 18 months ago, she always emphasized the importance of correct positioning and body alignment, and gave us an alternative that was a bit easier if we wanted to.
I was thoroughly enjoying it until, last Christmas Eve, I suddenly experienced excruciating pain in the left side of my chest.
It shot across my shoulder and down my arm and was so bad I was convinced it was a warning sign of a heart attack. I didn’t to go to hospital because I didn’t want to ruin Christmas and was relieved when it died down a day later, to be replaced by a duller pain.
When it hadn’t gone after five days, I consulted my GP. She monitored my heart rate, which was normal, and reassured me that I wasn’t going to have a heart attack.
She diagnosed an inflamed esophagus (gullet), prescribing me medicine and telling me to cut out anything that might cause the acid reflux that had probably inflamed my gullet — everything from spicy and acidic foods to coffee, tea and even fruit juice. Yet still the pain persisted.
I continued with my Pilates sessions, but after each one the pain would get worse. It might seem strange, but I never attributed it to Pilates, because medical opinion seems to be that it helps, rather than causes, injury.
Then, at the end of February, the pain spread into my breast. It was a sharp pain behind the nipple and my first thought was breast cancer. With three young children, I wasn’t prepared to accept my GP’s ‘wait-and-see approach’, so I booked a private consultation at Charing Cross Hospital with Katy Hogben, a consultant breast surgeon.
By the time I walked into her consulting room, I was in such a state that I practically broke down in tears, telling her that I had to live for the sake of my three sons.
She examined me and sent me for an ultrasound. Neither found evidence of cancer.
But then she asked me a strange question. Did I do Pilates, particularly the plank?
‘Yes,’ I told her, proud of the fact that I exercise regularly. In fact, I was about to tell her about my two-minute victory when she suddenly pressed down on my rib. I yelped. ‘That’s it, that’s the exact pain,’ I managed to squeak.
‘You’ve got costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone,’ she told me. ‘Every week, I see one or two women presenting with costochondritis, and the most common cause is Pilates and yoga.’
As I sat there stunned, she explained that every time someone does a plank, they tense the intercostal muscles between the ribs, and the pectoral muscles of the chest. This puts pressure on the costochondral joint — the area of cartilage joining the ribs to the breastbone.
‘You undoubtedly overdid it,’ she said. I was absolutely astounded — but also relieved.
At last I had a diagnosis, and it wasn’t the terrifying one I feared. Instead, it had a simple solution: no more planks.
So I stopped — and within three weeks the pain had disappeared completely. ‘Planks are for the super-fit and athletes, not for soft, desk types to go bananas with once a week,’ Dr Michael Durtnall, founder of the Sayer Chiropractic Clinics in London, told me.
‘Planks put a searing pressure into the costochondral joint as you lift up. As you hold the body from the floor, there is tremendous pressure on all the rib joints as well as the shoulder joint.
‘Patients with loose ligaments or joint instability will find this a potentially upsetting exercise, as it can inflame joints quickly.
‘Costochondritis can cause months of agony — you can’t sleep, turn or lift. Nauseating pain goes across the ribs, into the pectoral muscles, across the shoulder, down the arm and up into the neck.’
Having spoken to experts, I now know I should never have been planking in the first place.
In the past, I’ve been treated for acute shoulder strain and a back injury from lifting too many weights in the gym, which apparently makes me particularly prone to conditions like costochondritis.
I can’t be the only one ever to strain a muscle, yet the plank is regarded as just another exercise, one anyone can and should do. How many of us are putting ourselves at risk of such a painful, unnecessary injury?
What’s more Lynne Robinson, the author of Pilates For Life, says the position should never be taught in a class.
‘Trying to hold any pose is not done in Pilates. Pilates is about movement, not holding poses,’ she says.
Lynne Robertson, Director of the Body Control School of Pilates and author of Pilates for Life, has taught Pilates Teachers safely for twenty years. She is adamant that planks are not taught as a standard Pilates exercise. “The nearest thing to it in Pilates is the Leg Front Pull, which our Pilates teachers would build up to very gradually with a client. It can take years to build core strength before attempting the Leg Front Pull, and many people will never be ready for it. Furthermore trying to hold any pose is not done in Pilates. Pilates is about movement, not holding poses’.
Michael Durtnall; chiropractor ‘Planks are not a standard Pilates exercise but a modern gym exercise used by sports medicine physios and trainers for very fit sports’ people’.
Glenn Withers is the founder of the Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute, a recognized world leader in rehabilitation, with clinics and APPI trained instructors in the UK.
He strongly rejects the idea that planks could have caused my conchondritis, and says the plank is one of the foremost classical exercises developed by Joseph Pilates. ‘APPI was commissioned fifteen years ago to investigate the clinical relevance of Pilates to injuries. In all that time I’ve never heard of planks causing costochondritis,’ he says. ‘They shouldn’t put pressure on the chest and ribs. The only time that load would be put on the pectoral muscles would be if the person isn’t in the correct position in the first place’. He adds. ‘I aim to have all my back pain patients doing planks. You will be hard pressed to find evidence to support your consultant’s view that planks have caused this’.
My own instructor was horrified to hear of my problems — the first she’d ever encountered in more than a decade of teaching — and has replaced our planking competitions with a much gentle move.
It’s not made me the most popular person in class, but it should ensure no one ends up in hospital again.
More of this excellent article by Lisa Brinkworth for The Daily Mail can can be found by clicking here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3030983/The-ultra-competitive-exercise-fad-ruin-health-called-planking-suddenly-sweeping-gyms-Pilates-classes.html.