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How to be a Plank God or Goddess Wanna-Be

Posted Mar 20 2011 7:32pm

Before I get into the actual post, I just have to SHOUT about three things:

  1. My bro (read his blog on Coaching, Training and Motivation ) just ran at an indoor track meet last night in the Bronx. He came in 3rd in his 1-mile heat, running the mile in 4:56!!!!!!!!!!  (He told me that at the end of the 3rd lap, he expected the guys behind him to catch up. When they didn’t, he said to himself, “I’m going for it!”) SO PROUD OF HIM! We always call each other right after a race if we’ve done well. We’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders.
  2. All my working out is actually working out! I’ve stayed about the same weight (110) but it’s been turning into muscle (I hope) so on a lark, I tried on a size 0 pair of jeans, thinking I’d never get them above my thighs.  Imagine my surprise when I could, and even close and zip them up, and then like what I saw!! WOOHOO (Needless to say, I bought them, and what a bargain, they were on clearance at the Gap Outlet!! Yes, a store which I should never enter unsupervised.)
  3. I’m a total newborn to the climbing thing, but I already love it. Gonna keep working on it, especially now that I’ve bought my own gear!! Bought myself an REI membership, and already earned enough back in dividends that it pays for my lifetime membership fee of $20. YAYYYYYYYY (Went on my own today, met some new people, and some cool coworkers of mine who also climb.  Even got to work on my belaying skills!)

So, okay….

I would be remiss if I didn’t give props to @Jillwillrun of the Jill Will Run blog , for coming up with the idea for this post. She said it should be titled “how to be a plank goddess” but I think “wanna-be” is more fitting right now. :-)

As you may have realized if you follow me on Twitter, or have read through some of my recent blog posts, you’ll notice I do a lot of abdominal planks while at the gym. Not sure how it happened, I used to do them only once every few months, but I have now come to realize that they’re a regular part of my routine now, and can tell me how good or bad my workout may be that day. A kind of bellweather, if you may.

I like to do a few different types of abdominal planks:

  • the two-footed style, with weights on my back type
  • the one-footed style (albeit with feet changes every few minutes), sans weights type
  • the feet on workout bench, arms on big stability ball type
  • the left/ride side oblique planks, arms-on-hip type
  • the left/ride side oblique planks, arms-extended-in-the-air type
  • the dynamic, feet moving to elongate your body type
  • the arms in a triangle type
  • the arms straight type

Hey, you have to vary it up. Otherwise, like all other exercises, it can get boring and your improvement will eventually plateau.

Here are my records, time-wise:

  • One-footed style: 11 minutes
  • Two-footed style with 7.5 lbs of flat round weights on my back: 6:19
  • The two-feet on workout bench, arms on big stability ball style: 4:45

Some people joked with me on Twitter that I should try to go for the Guinness World Record.  Curious, I looked it up. It’s held by a guy in the UK, set in December 2010.  19 minutes, 58 seconds. Only thing is, on the web it doesn’t say whether it was one-footed, or two-footed?!

Anyway…here are my tips on how to do planks and fight the boredom that can set in. These are in addition to doing a lot of core work, and arm strength work, and leg strength work. (Are  you noticing a pattern? A lot of strength training can go a long way.)

  1. Cannot stress this enough – have rocking tunes on your iPod.  You’ve got to have it blaring in your ears, so it can be one thing you focus on, rather than a body part shaking.  What has worked for me recently (don’t judge): Blow by Ke$ha , Rocketeer by Far East Movement , Hold It Against Me by Britney Spears.
  2. Focus your mind on something pleasant. This can be a really good race you’ve recently run, a race you’re going to run, or an absolutely beautiful piece (or pieces) of scenery at your gym.  Same sex or opposite sex of you, whatever makes you happy. (Hey, I’m not gonna judge!)  If that scenery is close by and won’t move over the course of the next 5-10 minutes, so much the better. :-)   OR see #3 (which can be done in addition to #2 if you so choose.)
  3. Focus on something interesting, whether it be the person working with a trainer near you on a skill you don’t already have, or people doing pushups/arm lifts simultaneously with barbells (true story, saw it the other day.)
  4. Take off your watch and after you press start, turn the face away from you. Trust me, you do not want to see the seconds ticking away. They’ll go slower if you can see them, just like watching water boil
  5. Related to #1 above.  If you like to car-dance, then try to plank-dance. How, you ask?  Well, clearly all you can move is your head. You might get some stares, or look weird, as I do, since I have got no rhythm (or almost none) but you’ll enjoy your time few inches above the floor mat even more.
  6. Have a friend watch you. Or even better, have that friend time you, so you can’t lie to yourself about your true record.  Even better if the friend knows your time record. It’ll motivate you to try to break it often.
  7. Make sure your back is stretched out well before you attempt any of these, but most especially if you are using weights on your back. Be sure to have the weights equally weighted onto your lower back. (Your quads may feel sore afterward, but that’s because they are trying to help absorb the weight so all the stress is not on your lower back.)
  8. Don’t be afraid to occasionally change feet if you are doing the 1-footed style. Trust me, you don’t want your strength to get lopsided after a while! :-)
  9. Keep a towel near your head or underneath you. This is for the safety and hygiene of others around you, who really don’t want to fall and slip in your sweat afterward.
  10. Last, but certainly not least, I have found I can set more personal records for myself if I do my planks first before the rest of my workout. As to why, that should be obvious. I have more energy then!

Oh, and Dude in the UK, just know this, I’m coming for you…..  I’ve done 11 minutes on one foot, I’m coming for your (probably) 2 footed record!!

(That’s right, you gotta have a goal. And you may notice your confidence building in other areas too, as a result, as you get better and better at maintaining planks.)

If anyone tries any of these, please let me know how you do, and don’t be discouraged if you only last for 30 seconds to a minute the first time around. We all have to start somewhere – before you know it, you’ll be hitting 15 minutes! :-)

p.s. If anyone thinks that it’s too soon for me to be looking at “scenery” in the gym, as one of my good friends reminded me, I’m getting divorced, but I’m NOT DEAD! And no, I’m not considering the nunnery either. :-)   I’m working on getting my life to a level of normalcy where I’m happy as often as I can be.


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