“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Connect Your Cuff to Your Core in Forearm Plank

Update on Forearm Plank: 

One of my goals in reviewing the scientific literature is to identify information that can be translated into a practical cues that you can integrate into your practice. With this in mind, I want to call your attention to a new study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

The investigators showed that drawing the shoulder blades (scapulae) towards the midline (adducting) and tilting the pelvis back and down (retroverting) resulted in greater activation of the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique and erector spinae muscles. 

Figure 1 shows you the muscles involved in this cue. Engage your rhomboids and middle trapezius to draw your shoulder blades towards the midline. At the same time, engage your glutes and rectus abdominis to retrovert the pelvis. Take a look below at how this fits in with the other cues for forearm plank that I describe below on connecting your cuff to your core!

Figure 1: Adducting the shoulder blades and tilting the pelvis helps to activate your core.

Your wrists are not an area where you want to “work through pain”...

Scientific studies have demonstrated that having a strong core can improve the efficiency of your rotator cuff. A strong and efficient rotator cuff leads to improved stability of your shoulder girdle. This decreases load transfer to your wrists in poses where you bear weight on the hands (like arm balances, Dog Pose and Chaturanga).

Conversely, if your core is weak, or you don’t properly engage it in these types of poses, your cuff is less efficient and your wrists have to bear more of the load. Practicing with imbalances of this nature can lead to a cycle that reinforces the imbalance and, ultimately, injury to the wrist (and shoulders).

The Sanskrit term “Ahimsa” means nonviolence or reducing harm (translation from Nicolai Bachman’s book “The Language of Yoga”). While this term is often used in relation to social ethics, it also applies to how we work with the body.

Reducing the risk of harm to your wrists (and other joints) can include decreasing the frequency and duration of poses that load the wrists and correcting imbalances in the postures. If you have developed wrist pain, you should consult a trained medical professional and work under their guidance. Managing wrist pain almost always includes a period of time off and resting from weight bearing poses, usually combined with some light wrist mobility exercises.

In the interim, I’ve found that Hard Style Plank Pose is a great pose to work on. That’s because it’s awesome for strengthening the core and addressing the underlying imbalance and it doesn’t involve weight bearing on the wrist. Figure 1 illustrates this pose.



Figure 2: Forearm Plank Pose with the posterior oblique myofascial subsystem.

In Hard Style Plank, your weight is on your forearms, with the upper arm bones (the humerus) perpendicular to the floor (in Chaturanga, they are parallel to the floor). Clench your fists to strengthen the muscles that cross the wrists. Then press your forearms into the mat and gently attempt to internally rotate the shoulders. Your forearms are fixed on the mat and don’t actually move. Next, co-contract the external rotators of your shoulders by attempting to externally rotate them. The cue for this is to pretend that your forearms are like windshield wipers that are fixed in place. This co-contracts the subscapularis, infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the cuff and connects them to your core. Finally, engage the lats and attempt to drag the forearms towards the feet while, at the same time, contracting your abs and gluts. Hold for five to ten seconds and repeat two times. Remember to breathe!

Figure 1 above illustrates the muscles involved here, with color-coding according to the strength of your engagement. Check out the posterior oblique subsystem of the lats, thoraco-lumbar fascia and gluts. Engaging this connection helps stabilize the SI joint. Click here for info and illustrations of side forearm plank and the another myofascial subsystem. Click here and here for more on the gluts and abs connection and the lumbar spine in Chaturanga.


As an aside, soaking your wrists in ice water between sessions of injuring them is a lousy solution; it doesn’t address the underlying imbalances and can lead to more injury. You have to dedicate time off from weight bearing to let your wrists heal, not to the “practice” of injuring them.

Thanks for stopping by--I hope you're enjoying learning about biomechanical concepts like the force couple. Stay tuned for the next post when I'll go over the hamstring connection to the pelvis and lumbar. Click here to browse through the Bandha Yoga book series on anatomy, biomechanics and physiology for yoga.


All the Best,


Ray Long, MD



26 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post and posture. I find as asenior, to do this posture, I need to be aware of my bone density. Usually vegetarians have this problem of low bone density. While even supplements are taken, bone density limitations should be understood while doing these postures. Gradual is better than wanting to do perfect. This is not frightening but just cautioning from undesired bone fractures. Shared in common interest

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    1. Usually vegetarians suffer from low bone density???!!!

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    2. I believe there are conflicting opinions on Vaidy's statement. In fact, here is an article citing the opposite...https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090416102302.htm

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    3. On the other hand, the use of the body as weight brings gravity into play, as we need movement and weight on our body from gravity to support healthy osteogenesis, the growth of new bone cells and tissues.

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    4. Davids link concerns a study of an isolated group. Here's a study that appears more broad.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898237

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  2. Thank you,great article, I like the point of non-violence. And great pictures too.

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  3. love the point of non violence as perspective to myself in yoga. this will assist me in being gentle and mindful. thank you

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  4. Thanks for this Ray. I am particularly mobile in my shoulder girdle so this is the sort of thing I really need to focus on - however, I'm having difficulty with your shoulder internal rotation cueing (my shoulder proprioception is equally duff!). Do you mean squeezing your shoulder blades together (contracting rhomboids)? The diagrams don't seem to show that though, so I'm confused... Or taking the inferior lateral scapular angle towards the midline - that sounds closer to it...? 'Pulling your armpits down' is the cue which works for me to engage lats.

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    1. A cue my teacher uses is, draw your shoulder blades down toward your waist, which creates space between the ears and shoulders, rather than squeezing the rhomboids together. I don't know if that's what he is implying here (I have very limited anatomy knowledge) but I hope it helps the visualisation.

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    2. I can't speak for Ray Long, but my understanding his "internally" rotating the shoulders would involve elbows trying to drag apart from each other (against mat resistance, without actually moving)... squeezing shoulder blades together would be an external rotation...

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  5. precise and efficient explanation, thanks also for translating some of the action into actual cues, sometimes it is difficult to put into words what we mean in our heads...at least for a non native english speaker teaching in english ;O) love your posts !!!

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  6. Excellent info, coherently presented. The illustrations are fantastic! Thank you, once again!!

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  7. " Then press your forearms into the mat and gently attempt to internally rotate the shoulders. Your forearms are fixed on the mat and don’t actually move. Next, co-contract the external rotators of your shoulders by attempting to externally rotate them."
    These instructions leave me completely confused.
    Could you please try another way of explaining these actions?

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    1. Hi Nancy,
      Thanks for stopping by. If you imagine your forearms on the mat to be like windshield wipers, with the pivot or base at the elbows, then try to rotate them inward, while at the same time resisting and trying to rotate them outward. Your arms won't move, but you should feel increased stability in your shoulders. Try it a few times to get it--it takes a bit of practice. Ray

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    2. So how do you handle it if you've had rotator cuff surgery? Do you still put that much into it, or do you have to do other work to strengthen the rotator cuff before you attempt this?

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    3. The same bit confused me too. I get the windscreen wipers bit, but your follow up explanation... "try to rotate [your forearms] inward, while at the same time resisting and trying to rotate them outward" ...doesn't really clarify it – sounds like I'm supposed to try to rotate them simultaneously in and out. It's akin to telling someone to sit down and stand up at the same time (?)

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  8. Thanks for usefull explanation and pictures, just a little question: how long should we stay in the asana in order to become efficient for our core streghening? Thanks
    Valeria

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  9. Thanks for all the usefull info and pictures. Just a little question how long the Hard Plank pose should be keep in order to be efficient for the core strenghening, I mean 10 breaths or 5 minutes and do we have to repeat it several times? thanks valeria

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  10. My shoulders burn out before my core. Is this because my shoulders need to strengthen?

    I'm careful to stack shoulders over elbows, tucking tailbone, pulling fist together and elbows out (windshield wiper), pulling toes forward and elbows back, glutes engaged. I'm trying to "round" my scapula, "like an ice cream scoop from my chest, because I was told to do that in PT, also echoed by some very good yoga teachers (at least my interpretation of their suggestions).

    I've had atrophied T3s in my recent history (treated summer 2015) hence the PT of planks.

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  11. When I do plank, my wrists are actually angled above the ground a bit so there is no way that I put weight or force on them. I too would like to know how long to hold plank for.

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  12. So thankful for all your info, Bhandayoga! The icing on the cake would be recommendations for practice following total hip replacement - in particular posterior approach surgery as a result of trauma not wear & tear. Lifelong precautions recommended by consultants preclude most yoga asanas. But, hey! What do they know about yoga??? Ray???

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  13. Hello Ray, i am taught that i should lift up through the chest. Seperate shoulderblades and not let them sink in to eachother. And that is only there you build strength for armbalances and handstands. So you say the best way let the shoulderblades come together? What do you think about the way i been tought? Best nicklas

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  14. Hold as long as comfortable . Work slowly to build up duration. Do wrist exercises as well. Honor your body...that is what I was taught and it made sense. I slowly learned to ease up on myself without loosing the drive to do my best.

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  15. Thanks so for all of the wonderful useful information!

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  16. Hi, Ray: I find it curious that you have not pictured not described serrates anterior as it is so important for scapular upward rotation as well as sagittal plane alignment.

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  17. Hi,
    The windscreen wipers thing is confusing. Am I to consider rotating both forearms outward? I guess I have had many different cars! At the sane time I try to pull elbows towards me?
    Many thanks

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