I have been training with the same Pilates teacher now for eight years. He has pushed me, pulled me, inverted me and everything in between. He takes each muscle group on the related days and pushes them until I’m one big floppy noodle. However, one exercise he always comes back to is the ole Plank! He feels and I have to agree with him, that strengthening your core means strengthening your entire body. Core strengthening exercises will improve your balance and stability and help tone your stomach and lower back muscles. Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities. The “Plank” helps develop strength in the core, shoulders, arms and glutes. The funny thing is when you see someone in this weird pose you might shake your head and say “Is that exercise”? When he first asked me to perform this horizontal activity, I thought to myself, “your kidding me right”? Well let me tell you, that was 8 years ago and still there are some days that Mr Plank kicks me in the ole gluteus maximus, or dare I say butt?
The plank exercise is a hold. There is no movement occurring during the exercise, which makes it different than most other conventional exercises. During a Plank, isometric contractions occur (a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change). Isometric exercises are excellent at increasing the strength of muscles. This type of contraction elevates the heart rate and blood pressure higher than a normal exercise with movement (isotonic exercise). Always remember to consult your doctor prior to introducing new exercises to your workout.
My instructorâ€™s laughter stills resonates in my mind when I tried plank the first time. My body positioning was totally messed up. My whole body shook trying to stay up for 30 seconds and if that wasn’t bad enough, the sweat was running off my nose while trying to keep my body from collapsing. Remember, we all start from somewhere and for me it was 30 seconds of Plank. Now, when I incorporate the Plank in my workout, I can stay for 2 minutes on a bad day and 5 minutes on a terrific day. The best way to reach your potential and succeed with this exercise is to wear headphones or have a work out buddy to chat with. Remember, while increasing your time and strength, you will reach yet another GOAL. As I’ve said time and time again, reaching a goal in one area of your life will transfer to other areas of your life. So, I guess I need to thank my instructor for all those planks over the last 8 years.
The basic forward plank is a full body exercise that works the arms, butt and legs. Start on your knees and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Your arms should be straight but not locked out. Tighten your stomach muscles as you lean forward until your shoulders are directly over your wrists. You can stay in this position or challenge yourself further by extending your feet straight back with your toes curled and your weight on the balls of the feet. Try to keep your leg and buttocks muscles tight as you keep your body in a straight line through the shoulders, hips, and all the way to the heels. Do not let your lower back sag and keep the belly button pulled toward your spine throughout this exercise. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, release and repeat.
Side plank will challenge your body by creating an unstable environment. In side plank, you are supporting your entire body weight in a sideways position. This exercise will target your shoulder and core muscles. Lie on your side so that your hips, shoulders and feet are stacked. From this position, raise yourself up onto your elbow and raise your hips off the ground so that your body is in a straight line from the shoulders to the hips and to the heels. Your weight should be distributed between your elbow and outer edge of the bottom foot. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, release and repeat.
The reverse plank stretches the front of the body and strengthens the arms and legs. This is the only plank variation where you are facing upward. You should feel this exercise working your back, triceps, shoulders and quadriceps. Start from a seated position, with your legs out in front of you, and hands slightly behind and outside your hips. Keeping your stomach muscles tight, slowly straighten your arms as you lift your hips up until your body is in a straight line from heels to shoulders. If you feel any shoulder pain or discomfort, stop the exercise. Hold 30 to 60 seconds, and then repeat.
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