The average person has become more aware of the fact that exercise is a necessary component of living a healthy and lengthy life. There are a number of ways that people choose to get their bodies moving and stay fit. One of the biggest crazes with a steady following is the practice of pilates. These slow motion position exercises are meant to create core strength and a bodily harmony through a series of specific motions and poses. Although this type of exercise is relatively safe for participants, there is one recently popular pose that is gaining popularity and attention for its possibility of causing injury to the person practicing this incredibly taxing pose called “planking.”
The participant doing the pose called a “plank” is positioned so that they are facing the floor mat with their forearms flat on the floor. The entire lower body, torso, and legs are held straight and off the ground by the tiptoes of the feet. This pose requires the use of shoulder, chest, stomach, and leg muscles. Holding this pose for an extended period of time is very difficult and many pilates enthusiasts are very proud of their ability to hold this particular pose for more than two minutes. Most practicing pilates students do not make it past a minute or so.
This type of competitive attitude that has become the norm with pilates and participants everywhere and has hit an all time high. Many yoga and pilates backers are organizing and supporting the one on one competitions between members in a pilates power gym. Others are fond of posting their personal successes and progress on social media sites on the internet.
These competitions often are accompanied by a cheering and encouraging environment of fellow plank participants who are eager to show off their ability to withstand the physical strain that this pose puts on their bodies. The benefit of pilates and the difficulty of this pose is no secret to the pilates student; whether they be a veteran or new to the pilates scene.
Being able to hold this incredibly difficult pose has become nearly a status symbol among pilates practicing enthusiasts. Being able to hold the plank position for a lengthy amount of time may be a wonder for some and source of jealousy for other members of the class. There may be hidden dangers and the possibility of bodily harm due to the practice of holding the plank pose for extended periods of time.
Trying to keep up with the more experienced members of her pilates class, Lisa Brinkworth spent time outside of her class to perfect and hold this particular pose. After 25 years of practicing pilates, Lisa would have never believed that a simple pilates pose could be the cause of the pain that she was experiencing.
After practicing and perfecting this pose over the course of a year, she was able to hold this pose for a complete two minutes. An incredible feat that not many practicing pilates students can duplicate. Unbeknownst to Lisa, she was inflicting incredible damage to her body by straining specific muscles doing this pose.
Being in a small class of six students with a qualified instructor and physiotherapist, one would not think that any pilates pose could be damaging to the participants. Unfortunately, Lisa Brinkworth learned the hard way how holding this pose for extended periods of time is very damaging to the body.
After experiencing excruciating pain in her left side of her chest which radiated down her arm. This sudden pain caused her to believe that perhaps she was experiencing a heart attack. She refrained from medical treatment, and the pain lessened the next day. Thinking that she was out of any danger when the pain reduced to a dull status, she carried on with her daily life and exercise routine.
The dulled pain continued for days. After five days of unexplained pain, Brinkworth took the initiative to call her doctor. Under her physicians supervision, she was placed on a heart monitor which showed no negative results. The general physician’s diagnosis (an inflamed esophagus) involved the presence of acids in the esophagus causing acid reflux. Lisa was instructed to eliminate acidic foods such as juices, tea, coffee, and acidic and spicy foods. Despite her dietary changes, her pain was still disrupting her daily life.
Unknowingly, she continued with her pilates as normal, despite experiencing increasing pain after each session. Because of the general knowledge that pilates is an effective and safe method of exercise and relaxation, she never associated the pain being caused by the class. Eventually, the pain in her chest and arm moved into her inner chest and breast area.
The intense pain that she was experiencing behind her nipple of her breast convinced her that she was experiencing the effects of breast cancer. Not willing to accept her general practitioner’s advice to “wait and see,” Lisa scheduled a private session with a breast surgeon named Katy Hogben from the Charing Cross Hospital.
By the time of her consultation, Lisa had convinced herself that she was going to die and she did not want to leave her three small boys behind. She was an emotional wreck over her fears. After Dr. Hogben’s initial examination, she ordered an ultrasound of Lisa’s chest area. Lisa was rewarded with the good news that neither the doctor’s examination or the ultrasound produced any evidence that there was any sign of cancer.
During this meeting, Dr. Hogben asked Lisa if she visited a pilates studio, and in particular if she was currently practicing the plank. Before Lisa could brag about her two minute achievement, the doctor pressed down on Lisa’s ribs, causing her to deliver audible evidence of pain.
Dr. Hogben immediately knew what the cause and cure of this problem was. She diagnosed Lisa with costochondritis; a condition of inflaming the area where the ribs are joined to the breastbone with cartilage. This area becomes irritated and overworked when holding the plank pose due to the muscles and the position they are held in for extended periods of time.
Lisa eliminated the plank from her pilates workouts, and within three weeks, she was no longer experiencing the pain in her chest and arm. According to Dr. Michael Durtnall, the founder of the Sayer Chiropractic Center in London, “Planks are for the super-fit and athletes, not for soft, desk types to go bananas with once a week.”
He also comments that “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.”
According to Lynne Robinson, the author of Pilates For Life, she insists that the planking position should never be taught in pilates classes by a pilates instructor, under the definition of what is pilates and what the exercises are meant to accomplish. She stands behind her belief that the poses in pilates were never meant to be stationery positions, but should incorporate the fluid movement which defines what is pilates.
Although pilates is a successful way for people to enhance their health through a low impact stretching exercise program, not all pilates poses are completely safe. It is important to pay attention to the body’s warning signs of inflammation, pain, and discomfort. For those who enjoy the benefits of pilates and the peace and tranquility of the movements, may want to avoid getting caught in the growing popularity of the pilates plank pose, and save months of rehabilitation and unnecessary pain and suffering.