The Big Idea
We all know how important exercise can be to wake us up, look after our pressure and improve our concentration and body’s ability to deal with stress.
The last few years has seen an explosion in HIIT (high intensity interval training) as the answer to keeping fit at home. BUT how difficult do you still find it to do regularly? We find having to get sports kit on, do the exercise and then wash after, we are taking up way more time than 10 or 15 minutes the adverts promise us is all we need to commit to. Also HIIT training requires a bit of space and doing it ‘cold’ can lead to some serious injuries. This means we are easily put off making HIIT one of our positive habits.
Cue strength training!
Strength training can give you many of the daily wellbeing and stress protective benefits without all the sweat – literally! So this week we will be talking about a tip that can truly help you get your quick daily exercise hit, with the benefits, with way less of the faff. The plank!
What exercises only require as much space as your body takes up? Well there are sit-ups, push-ups and then the plank. Sure these can be part of yoga and pilates if you want to get picky but at the core, we are talking about exercises that are termed strength conditioners.
Now the first one, sit-ups, can have some down sides especially as we get older as we are increasingly prone to causing stress on our back’s discs and doing these from cold can lead to muscle strain and back pain – not good! It is also advisable to use a weight (a person) or bar to hold your legs whilst doing sit-ups – so even if we were to do these – they may need equipment or a willing person to hand…
The second, push-ups, are more doable without equipment or a friend but can be hard to get into and especially to build up to if you are a complete novice. Also, not everyone wants to build up their arm strength AND push-ups can lead to some serious sweating!
So this leaves us with the plank. Now stay with us on this! You don’t have to be ‘bench’ to do the plank – honest!
The most common plank is the forearm plank which is held in a push-up like position with the body’s weight borne on forearms, elbows, and toes.
There are variations of this standard front plank, such as the side plank and the reverse plank, which are positions used in yoga, pilates and boxing, martial arts and other training sports – but as our tip we are going to just focus on this first front plank version.
According to Runners World’s experts Noam Tamir owner of TS Fitness in New York City and Stuart McGill Ph.D., author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance this is what we need to do to do a good front plank: “ensure your elbows on the ground directly underneath your shoulders with your feet hip-width apart. Make sure your back is flat and your head and neck are in a neutral position [that’s your head not overly looking up or down – imagine having a broom stick that can sit on your head down your back]. Drive your elbows into the floor, and squeeze your quads, glutes and core (stomach muscles). Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth – don’t hold your breath.”
“Research shows that for most people, holding a plank for one minute at a time creates a resilient torso but if you have a history of back pain, hold for 10 second increments to reduce your risk of back pain triggers.” Certainly long planks are neither good for you and defeat the object of having a quick tip. So just build it up, starting with smaller time targets that are still challenging for you.
Got it… What’s the Science?!
OK so how does it work?! Well there are lots of things that contribute to this being a top tip start to your day:
Core strength & flexibility: now there is lots of misunderstandings and arguments as to what the core is BUT suffice to say they are the muscles that are needed to hold our stature, posture and your internal organs from dropping out. So good core strength helps us to have and keep good posture during the day. We know from Cathy Hart in #Tip5, that this is important to how we breath and breathing is a seriously underrated ‘skill’ for our body and brain’s wellbeing and function. Also, building core strength especially when sat down or relatively sedatory, helps you prevent injurying yourself when you do get active.
Muscle Tone: now believe it or not this is a little different. By holding the plank you are also stretching your muscles which stimulate nerves in these muscles and your body which stimulate your brain and release endorphins that both promote a sense of wellbeing. Stretching out muscle groups that contribute to stress and tension in the body, especially those that get tense when sat a computer screen or in a car all day. When we achieve this as a task we strongly suspect that there are dopaminergic (from achieving a task) and serotonergic (from planning and executing plans) boosts too.
Increased Metabolic Rate: it is suggested that doing a quick plank at the start and end or the day encourages your body to use energy and use it more efficiently over the course of the day – even when you are sleeping!
Put together when you use the plank to build your strength you feel stronger, you feel fitter, more flexible and more confident in your own skin, which is also far more likely to put you in a confident mindset and contribute to confident body postures that raises testosterone (the confidence hormone) and lowers cortisol (a stress hormone) [watch Amy Cuddy] – which means you project more positivity internally and externally. And guess what?! We know when we feel and look more confident we are, other people see this and tend to react more positively to us and our ideas – which makes us feel even more confident still!
Watch our #Tip6 on the Instagram Live Recording….
Learn More and Share
In today’s Instagram Live we spoke about ‘habit stacking’ that is mentioned in James Clear’s book called ‘Atomic Habits’ which some of you have been telling us all about. Habit stacking is when you combine habits, like cold showers (#Tip1) with say getting morning sunshine (when you can) (#Tip4) and / or doing this top tip – the plank – as well as extending and diversifying these by adding on extra levels of challenge.
Our verdict is this top tip packs in so much for such a simple and quick exercise. Just remember to look after your back and to adapt it if it overly hurts to do OR you meet any of the warning conditions below.
#the52tips are a collection of new and existing ideas – some of which are widely publicised online. Some of the tips may not be good for you if you have an underlying health condition. If you are at all unsure, please check with your doctor before trying anything we suggest.
You should definitely avoid, or proceed with extreme caution, the plank if you suffer or have suffered from any of these conditions:
- After prolapse surgery
- Pelvic pain conditions
- Weak or poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles
- Acute or chronic back pain
- Recent childbirth
- Very overweight
If this is you please choose an alternative pelvic floor abdominal exercise or consult your doctor before performing plank regularly.