Walking The Plank

I was recently asked WHY plank position is such a beneficial pose for kids in school, therapy, home, etc, so I decided I would address the question as a blog piece and hopefully help those that would like to understand the benefits and the precautions when introducing this pose to children.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

If you have ever been to an exercise class, you are often required to strike this pose many times.  In the fitness arena, it is one of those positions that I consider, “big bang for the buck.” One simple reason (and I use the word “simple” very loosely because there is nothing simple about it) is that it requires so much core strength and activates many stabilizing muscle groups. In this one posture, abdominal and back extensors engage, as well as co-contraction around the shoulder girdle and pelvis. It is the stability of the proximal (middle) part of our physical structure, which gives us the support to manipulate, coordinate and control the distal (arms, hands, legs and feet) parts of our body. Some other physical benefits of plank positioning include increased hand, head and neck musculature. Bearing weight onto an open palm and engagement of the hand musculature is extremely important for developing the arches of the hands which are needed for various grasp patterns. Development of the arches directly effects manipulative skills such as handwriting, tying shoes, zippering a jacket, using feeding utensils, etc. the list goes on and on. Head and neck musculature are challenged when working against gravity in plank. These muscles give us the support to be able to move our head in different directions and planes such as rotation, flexion and extension, which brings me to many of the sensory benefits of this pose a little further down.

SENSORY BENEFITS

Each of our POWER senses are touched in this pose (vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile).

Let’s start by addressing the vestibular system.  This system, located within the inner ear is comprised of 3 semi-circular canals filled with fluid which moves as the position of our head changes. This system is all about movement and balance. It is responsible for our relationship with gravity, our sense of being “grounded,” and our ability to stay engaged and attentive. Since a plank position assists us in gaining control of the head and neck musculature, it helps us to stabilize our head on our body, move our head independently of our body and keep our head/eyes steady as we move through our environment. To fully understand how important this actually is, think of our body as a tripod holding a video camera.  If the “neck” of the tripod was weak, allowing the camera to flip / flop without control, you won’t really get great film footage. Same applies here; without stability around the head/neck, the vestibular system is taking in a lot more jumpy, wiggly, unneeded information and trying to process all of it. Much easier to get overloaded, affecting our emotional state and attention.

The proprioceptive system is responsible for keeping us informed of where our body is in space without having to visually monitor what each part of the body is doing. It is a crucial part of body awareness. We activate the proprioceptors located in our muscles, ligaments and tendons, each time we stretch, apply resistance or bear weight against gravity. Plank position does ALL of this, activating our proprioceptive system and thereby giving our brain great information about the location of all the parts of our body.

The tactile system processes pain, temperature, light/firm touch and the discrimination of different textures. Many of the students that I work with are tactile defensive. When they come in contact with different materials their brain processes it as pain. They withdraw and often go into a fight, flight or freeze response. Not very helpful when trying to get their nervous systems into a more organized place. The texture of a mat is usually new, so their tactile system has to adjust, but it is a dry material (easiest to handle on an overactive tactile system).  The weight bearing helps to desensitize the tactile receptors, making it easier to accept new sensations through this system.

Sounds ALL good so far, right?

There are some things that you have to be very aware of when introducing and encouraging this posture for any child.

  1. Can the child get into the posture accurately, on their own? If not, then they probably won’t maintain it correctly either. This can do more harm than good, causing pain in the lower back, shoulders and neck. Therapeutically, there is a difference from being able to ATTAIN (get into a pose) and MAINTAIN (hold) a pose.  The latter requires more strength. I am a huge believer in modifying poses so that the child can get the benefits without causing overloaded stress on their system.

A.Plank with your hands on the seat of a chair or the desk.

             B.Plank on your knees

C.Plank on your forearms.

These options decrease the amount of weight on the shoulder girdle and the resistance of gravity.

2.How long are you encouraging the child to maintain the pose. I like to count it by breaths rather than time.  Starting with 2 breaths is usually reasonable for most children.  This reinforces the awareness of breathing through all that you do.  This is a great tool for life and it’s about the quality of the time spent, not the quantity.

3.Know the goal, your rationale for using the pose, and let the child know as well.  If it seems like a “drill,” most likely the child will REVOLT because it is extremely challenging.  If you explain the “why” and your reason is something that the child is invested in, they will enjoy the pose and work to their best potential. And lets face it, that is what we are ALWAYS after:

Helping kids connect joy and happiness with the things that actually support them in their life journey. It shouldn’t be perceived by the child as, “Do this because I told you so.”

Interested in learning more about how to integrate yoga and mindfulness into clinical therapeutic work? Or your classroom? Our comprehensive manuals can help you daily infuse our signature breath, movement and mindfulness activities. We also have lots of free resources.