Can Planks Hurt Your Back?

Most of us have experienced back pain at least once in our lives, and some of us suffer from chronic back pain. So, the prospect of doing an exercise that could potentially aggravate that pain is enough to deter almost anyone. However, if you think about it, sleeping wrong could anger your back, so just about anything can do it. 

Planking can be incredibly beneficial for back pain, potentially relieving it altogether. However, whether you reap the benefits of planking hinges on your form. Without the proper form, you could hurt your back. But, if you do the move right, you could alleviate your back pain. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Are Planks Good For Your Back?

Anyone who has held a plank knows that a plank minute is longer than a regular minute (or it feels like it is). Considering how many muscles planking engages, it makes sense why this position feels like such a struggle. 

Aside from being an excellent core exercise, planks target several other muscles. To properly hold a plank, you must engage your core, arms, back, and thighs – it’s a full-body exercise. While your core might scream at you right out of the gate, the rest of you will start to feel the burn if you hold the position long enough. 

Most great things in life are on the other side of hard work. Planking is no different – on the other side of lots of planking, you’ll find quite a few benefits. As mentioned, planks can alleviate back pain. 

The move challenges your body, strengthening your entire core muscles, both inner and outer. On top of that, your glutes, hamstrings, and the muscles in your lower back are forced to engage in supporting a proper plank.  

By strengthening these muscles, your spine is more supported than if these muscles are weak. Your posture will improve, which helps align the vertebrae and take unnecessary stress off the spinal region. Or, in simpler terms, goodbye back pain!

In addition, planking is excellent for your overall flexibility. Planks are a core move in yoga, as multiple variations challenge your flexibility, strength, and endurance.

Why Does My Lower Back Hurt While Planking?

Planking is great for your body – providing you do them right. If you have improper form, you could hurt your back. Many folks planking with incorrect form feel pain in their lower backs, which can be a turnoff. Who wants to do an exercise that hurts our body in a way it’s not supposed to? Not us!

Generally, when folks experience lower back pain in a plank, they’re making one of three mistakes:

  • Pelvis is overly tilted: If you tilt your pelvis too much in a plank, your lower back will arch, placing quite a bit of stress in that area. You’ll have more difficulty engaging the proper muscles, resulting in back pain.
  • Hips are too high: This is actually a completely different exercise called a pike plank. While you could do a pike plank, you won’t feel it in the right places for a regular plank. On top of that, you might notice pain in your shoulders as you rock back too far with your tailbone in the air. 
  • Hips are too low: When your hips are too low in a plank, your back arches like a tilted pelvis. This places too much strain on your lower back, causing you to feel lower back pain in the plank. 

How Do You Do Planks Without Hurting Your Back?

There’s no doubt that planking isn’t the most pleasant experience – it hurts. Hold a plank long enough, and your muscles will begin to burn, ready for you to release the pose and let them rest. However, the challenge is good (but remember to work within your limits).

While planks should challenge your muscles, you shouldn’t feel back pain. This is a clear indicator you’re doing something wrong, whether that means your hips are too low or your pelvis is overly tilted. 

You’ll need enough space to stretch out to perform a plank correctly. If you’re doing a high plank, you don’t need extra cushioning, but you might want to cushion your elbows if you’re holding a low plank. A yoga mat works perfectly, but you can also use a soft towel – just ensure it doesn’t slip around on the floor. 

Once you find the perfect spot, start in a tabletop position (on your hands and knees). When you’re ready, extend your legs back, holding your body weight up on the balls of your feet and toes. Keep your elbows directly underneath your shoulders. If you’re in a low plank, bend your elbows, extending your forearms out in front of you. 

For a high plank, place your hands directly under your shoulders, ensuring your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are directly stacked. Once you’re in a plank, make sure your body is in a straight line. Your hips shouldn’t be overly tilted, as this will put stress on your lower back. 

Use a large mirror to check your form, or have a friend adjust your form as necessary. Imagine a perfectly straight line from your neck down to your heels. There shouldn’t be any dips or arches on your body – your body should be in a straight line. 

Keep your neck in a neutral position as you hold the plank position. It should be in the same straight line as the rest of your body. Don’t look up or drop your head to look at your feet (they aren’t going anywhere!), as this can strain your neck. 

If you have a tough time not arching your back, try tucking your pelvis under. Imagine tucking your hips up toward your ribs. Don’t tuck so much that your back begins to round, just enough to feel your abdominal muscles engage. 

If your hips fall or rise too high, bring them back into the correct spot. Holding this position can be challenging, but try to engage your abs, glutes, legs, shoulders, and back to maintain the proper position. You may need to drop out of the plank after a few seconds, especially if you’re a beginner. 

This is entirely okay – we all start somewhere! Over time, challenge yourself to hold the plank for longer periods until you reach your goal. As you build your endurance and strength in the plank, you may begin to notice other benefits in other areas of your life, such as better posture, reduced back pain, and many others. Your core strength will improve, allowing you to complete tasks more efficiently, such as moving through more advanced yoga poses or maintaining excellent posture.

So, while your muscles might scream at you during the pose, the challenge is worth it in the long run! That said, make sure you work within your parameters. If you feel excessive pain, stop and reevaluate your form. You might be able to hold it for a few seconds at first, which is okay.

Don’t force yourself to hold the plank if your body isn’t ready for long periods in the pose. While challenging yourself is good, overtaxing your body could lead to sacrificed form and potential injuries.