So in case you haven’t heard, planking is the the new sit-up. Stretching your body out into a straight board and holding this position (in a variety of different ways) not only develops core strength, but eliminates the pressure on the neck and the back that is associated with the traditional sit-up.
The physical challenge in the plank is not just in the core area, but also in your arms that are supporting much of the weight of your body (along with your feet, except in in a handstand). So with planking, you are getting a happy four-for-one benefit of developing your back, chest and arms while you have a go at your core.
That’s the good news. The other area of the internal challenge is in your mind. Much of planking (though not all) is a mental struggle, a waiting game. You know that there are seconds on the clock to peel away slowly one by one, you can count them if you like, but trust me that is when you realize that Einstein’s theory of relativity aptly applies to activities like timing the seconds of your own plank.
I advise wholeheartedly to focus your mind on something else. It’s like waiting in line for anything: if I don’t have something to entertain myself, I am conscious of every minute while I wait. So if I need to get through a 1- 1 1/2 minute plank, (and I know that this sounds ridiculous), I sing the Happy Birthday song to different people (like a sort of namaste to people I like in jingle format). About six songs covers a minute and an half and alleviates my struggle. The other option is Bertina’s combo planks (read below) where physical variations in the planking exercise keep my mind on the fun challenge of the task at hand.
I actually started planking in yoga class with Ronn back in May 2017, but I almost want to call it gentle planking. This is not to say that it was easy or that it didn’t include massive mental resistance and trembling triceps. As simple as the exercise was (I believe it was two sets of planking on the forearms for 45 seconds), it was totally challenging for me. I was concentrating on each second, getting through the exercise, feeling pain in my lower back and just thinking, Oh God, let this be over already.
Then I started strength training with Bertina and Chris which opened up a whole new world of planking. Now I realize that there is probably no limit to the variations that you can create to get the most out of planking and entertain yourself in the meantime. Planking on the forearms and even with arms straight in a push-up position are excellent challenges, but just the tip of the iceberg. You can also do those same positions with your feet or forearms on a medicine ball: when the ball shifts this demands a correcting counter movement in your core to come back into alignment.
Other positions like raising a leg up or shifting over to one side create new balancing challenges, too. My favorite is getting feet up in a wall (either walking them up or down or jumping them up, or going into a classic handstand. These are all plank alternatives that increase the pressure on the upper body for a better arm workout.
Bertina is an expert at throwing planks into complicated combination moves that help me to forget about the struggle. Sometimes she has us do a push-up plank with mountain climber exercises that bring alternating knees toward the chest. It’s even more fun doing mountain climbers up on a wall (Granada can be great for this).
Or Bertina will have us in plank on our forearms facing each other and slapping each other’s hands like doing the patty-cake. This is a great distraction from the slowly ticking clock because you have to concentrate on finding your partner’s hand every 2-3 seconds.
You can try an awesome cardio plank by getting into a push-up position and then walking across the room in sideways crab crawl. Or, why not alternate bringing your right hand down to your left foot, then the left hand down to the right foot in a push-up plank…? Or how about, alternating leg lifts with a knee while in a push-up plank…?
As you can gather there are lots of fun options and they all achieve really amazing results. I am shocked how much stronger I feel in my core area without adding sit-ups into my workout. And really this is one those exercises that doesn’t require any equipment to do. You can plank at home, in the gym or on the road. If you knock out a 5 minute minute plank routine everyday you are definitively going to see and feel a difference right where you want it: chest, arms, back, and core all in one.
And that is why, I learned to love the plank.