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Planks Cause Back Pain

By Todd M. Cambio | January 10, 2013

Or should I say…WHEN planks cause back pain, your form is off!

You should be doing planks.  Its just that you should be doing them correctly.  It is the basis of all movements in my opinion.  By planking correctly, you can transfer this neural recruitment pattern to most other movements and exercises.

Unfortunately, most people know how a plank should look, they just don’t execute it correctly.   Many people, trainers included, are not quite sure what muscles should be firing or how to cue clients to align their spine to get the correct muscles firing.  A neutral spine is key with the glutes, quads and abs all firing at the same time.

By squeezing your glutes like there is a “quarter between your cheeks” you will get the hips in proper position to allow the abs to fire.  By firing the quads along with your glutes, you are helping your glutes line up your hips so that your spine is in a neutral position.  By doing this, your abs should turn on.  Quite simly, if you feel your back, your out of position and something in your kinetic chain is off.

I have listed a few common form issue that you can visibly correct below:

  • Low Back Arch: This arching will compress the lower vertebrae and many times cause a sore lower back.  By continuously doing movements like this with poor form, you will create poor neural recruitment patterns.  Meaning, your body will automatically fire the wrong muscles at the wrong times leading to more and more aches and pains over time, possibly some chronic pain and even injury!
  • Mid Back Arch or “Turtle Back”: This type of arching is actually a false neural recruitment pattern.  By doing plank like this, generally you are firing your back muscles instead of the proper core and ab muscles.  In my opinion, this is actually a form of overuse or even over training in some people.  By having a majority of your movements go through your back, you are destined for back problems because his pattern will transfer to everything you do in life.   
  • Neck Reach or “Bobbing For Apples”: This is usually the first visible sign someone is struggling with a plank and push up.  By doing this poor movement pattern you are making the upper traps and neck muscles strain.  This generally leads to upper back pain, neck pain and many times head aches.   (Guy in the Middle)
  • Butt in the air: not the worse of the bunch mentioned above but it can put excess stress on shoulders and kink up your traps and neck.  (Guy in the bottom of the picture directly above) Basically you are not engaging your hips and glutes so you are actually not firing your abs very much if at all.  So, why do something that doesn’t give you much of a benefit.  Simply do a proper plank for a few seconds, put your knees down when form begins to fade, and then pop back up when ready.
  • Other scenarios to watch for: Planking like an upward dog or cobra position in yoga or tilting your hips to one side.
Solution: Squeeze your glutes, quads and abs.  Align you spine and go for it!  You can start by doing a high plank/push up position until you have improved your core/ab strength to do them on your elbows. a one minute hold is a solid time frame to hold a true plank.

Advanced Solution: You can also go a step further and use a stick and make sure your spine is straight and the stick makes contact with the back of your head, your upper back and your tailbone.   Of course seeing us in person is a great solution too!  😉

Plank well my friends,


Todd M. Cambio, BS, BS, CSCS

Topics: back pain, Plank, planks, Todd Cambio | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Planks Cause Back Pain”

  1. How To Do A REAL Burpee | Todd Cambio: Strength & Conditioning Specialist Says:
    December 29th, 2014 at 1:46 am

    […] Of course when you do the push up, you keep a perfect plank all the way down (meaning tight core, no worm looking thing right?), touch your chest to the […]

  2. Mud Run Training: The Missing Link | Todd Cambio: Strength & Conditioning Specialist Says:
    January 11th, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    […] a straight line that continues from your knees to your hips to your shoulders to your ears.  Think Perfect Plank […]

  3. Sam M Says:
    December 9th, 2015 at 5:06 am

    What about Side Planks? I’ve been having back pain with side planks after recovering from a back injury, do you think that’s due to incorrect form?

  4. Todd M. Cambio Says:
    December 9th, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Sam, it could be due to the fact that you have not healed enough yet. Check with your physician or physical therapist with that question.

  5. Heather Says:
    February 8th, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    I have scoliosis, could that be why my back hurts so much when I attempt to plank. My form looks good but strains my back.

  6. Todd M. Cambio Says:
    February 9th, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    It could be a factor, but also check with a medical profesional. The big question from my side of things is: are you squeezing your butt, quads and bracing your abs while panking or are you just in the plank position hoping the right things are working? If the ladder, start squeezing those body parts at all times in a plank. It should be hard to do. Hope that helps.

  7. Andy Says:
    May 23rd, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Is there a possible solution for the “turtle back” position? I think that i might have this problem. Thanks

  8. Todd M. Cambio Says:
    June 22nd, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Yes. Get your lats firing and sink your scaps together a bit. You most likly cresting false tension by driving your shoukders up. Hope that helps.

  9. Katie Says:
    February 10th, 2017 at 11:54 am

    When I tighten my gut/ stomach while planking I struggle to breath properly. Then, When I keep my breathing steady (requiring me to relax my abdominal), the stress of the plank is on my back, front thighs and arms . Really struggling with it.

  10. Todd M. Cambio Says:
    February 11th, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Hello Katie. Breathing can be tough when first learning this. The key is to diagphramatically breath. There is no relaxation of the abs, you should be actively engaging them. Also, are you contracting your glutes?? Think glutes, quads and abs all contracted. You may still be in an anterior pelvic tilt and not know it…