An exercise can only be effective if every aspect of its performance is on point. Sure, you can get away with some sloppy technique for a little while, but that is where we often see people complaining about some aches/pains that they claim are totally random. So often in fitness programs people jump from exercise to exercise, program to program, because they don’t spend the time learning how to do things with the right intent. That doesn’t mean you have to perfect all the time, but you can’t have massive issues in your technique or how you even program movements into your routine.
A great example of this is time and time again I see people totally misunderstanding and even worse, incorrectly teaching our plank lateral drags. When we came out with the exercise almost 15 years ago, I never thought people would get so consumed by a weight moving that they would totally miss the point of the exercise. Now we have people dragging anything with really no intent or thought behind the movement because they are often just bored with their plank training and want to do something different.
That’s fine, but don’t expect to see a results if you don’t know why or how you do something. So, where do people go wrong with the plank lateral drag? For one, they don’t get the point of the exercise, they think the goal is simply to move a weight back and forth. In fact, the plank lateral drag is far more about pushing than pulling because that is how we create stability in the plank to resist the rotation that we are going to challenge our body with in the movement.
On the left you see how we want to grip the ground and this creates stability all the way up the chain of our upper body even into our shoulders, lats, and core. However, most just place their hands on the ground like on the right and this gives a poor platform to move from where people overuse their shoulders, upper traps, and get issues like those in the wrists. Actively grabbing and pushing into the ground is a HUGE key in setting up success in the plank lateral drag.
Surprisingly, most people also don’t set-up in good plank positions either. You see above I am grabbing with my hands and pressing through the balls of my feet to have a strong plank but also this causes my glutes to get tight and my pelvis to “lock” me in place.
You can see Jessica is showing where many people go wrong in their plank set-up. Her hands are out in front of her shoulders and she is actually in hip flexion. While she is showing a “flat back” she is using her hip flexors for stability rather than her overall core. When you get into this position you can’t get the stability from muscles like the glutes to help keep us in good position.
Positioning The Plank Drag
Because most people don’t really understand the intent of our plank lateral drags, they miss HUGE cues like where we place the weight. More times than not, I see the Ultimate Sandbag placed more by the hands than by the bellybutton. This changes the outcome greatly of the movement because we start to use more of our shoulder than our lats. The plank lateral drag is NOT a shoulder exercise, but far more about how we build stability in the shoulder by using the core, lats, and hands. In order to do so, the weight has to be in the correct position as you see below.
You can see above Jessica as the Ultimate Sandbag far away from her stomach/bellybutton area and much closer to her stance hand. This causes her to bend her elbow placing most of the stress into her shoulder and getting very little connection to her core.
When done correctly you can see how the weight lines up differently under my body allowing me to keep my arm straight connecting my lat to the movement and therefore using my core much more than the shoulders.
You can see there should be a VERY clear gap from the stance hand to the Ultimate Sandbag
Too Much Too Soon
Sadly, the idea of progression isn’t something that is really taught in fitness. Sure, people mention it but then the actual progressions are huge leaps or poorly correlated to the drill we are trying to learn. In DVRT we try to make as small of leaps in our progression to more advanced training (which plank lateral drags are) as possible. That is why we don’t use plank lateral drags right out of the gates. Instead, we use a series of movements that really help us build the core stability and movement skills we need to be proficient.
An exercise that typically gets easily overlooked in our DVRT system because it doesn’t look like much is our ISO pulls. The name refers to isometrically creating tension on our outside handles. This is done before we move the weight to ensure that we have the foundational strength to resist the forces that the drag will create. While this is a challenging movement it is actually EASIER than chest to hand touch types of movements. People often miss the fact that the Ultimate Sandbag is creating tension which is helping us develop stability where as if I just use my bodyweight to do a chest to hand touch I have to already possess good reactive stability.
Above Jessica explains how to do ISO pulls correctly and a better body position to begin most people with these drills. The Ultimate Sandbag also presents itself as the best tool for such drills because we can take slack out of the handle to create that important pre-tension in the lats, we can’t really do that with any other tool.
The Right Speed and Body Progression
Most people also miss that we have layers in our dragging of the Ultimate Sandbag. We can go from holding ISO pulls for 3-5 seconds to very slow drags as you see me perform in the video, but we can also add a pause at the end of the movement where we are still holding that connection of the weight and ground, but doing so in a more challenging position. Moving to the bird dog makes the exercise more challenging as well from our quadruped position that Jessica was showing.
Friction Is Key
With all these subtleties of the plank that are overlooked in many programs, it is no surprise that people miss that the friction we create with the Ultimate Sandbag is where SO much of the benefit of the exercise is derived from in the first place. While you can drag anything, tools like kettlebell and dumbbells, for example, have a very small surface area and don’t allow actually a lot of friction to be created. Instead, people often try to move the weight with the shoulders because the friction on the ground is so low.
The unique fact that the Ultimate Sandbag has dimension is what allows us to create such effective dragging stress that allows us to both learn how to resist rotation, but stabilize at the same time. How do we put it all together? DVRT Master, Cory Cripe has a great break down below!