This week I discovered I have an exercise nemesis – and its name is the Plank. Those of you with naturally flat stomachs may not have experienced this muscle-led instrument of torture, but basically, it involves balancing horizontally on the floor held up on your elbows and toes while pulling your tummy in (there’s a handy pic below if I’m not descriptive enough).
Apparently, it is one of THE best exercises for toning tummies as it works the deep abdominal muscles harder than say sit-ups do and it doesn’t put as much pressure on your lower back.
Now I am currently feeling a somewhat poochy of stomach (this is positive speaking code for ‘I look bigger than the average pregnant woman’) and it needs toning.
So I decided to Plank.
Eight seconds later I’m lying flat on the floor demoralised. You should be able to hold a plank for at least 30 seconds, Rhianna does hers for three whole minutes.
I spent less time in position that it takes to lace up my trainers.
Not being defeated I decide to practise. I take my abs off to the gym thinking the sight of a few men with large arms might entice me to stay put longer. I am not scared of the gym. I’m there in the weights room with said men doing my lat pulldowns and leg presses with the best of them.
When it comes to the Plank however my confidence leaves the building. Not least because every time, I head to the mat there seems to be another woman there who is not only holding her plank for minutes rather than seconds, they’re doing them on balls, on Bosu balls or with one leg or arm in the air, one woman was even doing a side plank like this one below which I couldn’t manage with a harness and pullies. NB; she can also touch her shoulder with her leg; I suspect she is alien.
Realising however that I won’t get better if I don’t practice I send out an appeal for help to a heap of trainers.
My question was…how do I make the plank easy enough to sustain without cheating? What helps you hold a plank for longer?
The answers came in thick and fast….. but here are the ones that really helped…..
5 Top Tips to Make The Plank Easier
Do it a few days after squats and lunges: came the reply from pilates teacher Sarah Vrancken. ‘Strong legs make a plank easier to hold.’ Normally do my planks first thing in the morning while the kettle boils, and squats and lunges don’t enter my exercise routine, but I did find that doing them later in the day, or after a run, when I’d worked my legs did make them a bit easier to hold.
Push Your Heels Back: Put your hands in prayer pose and push your heels back said Jane Williams another pilates bod. The heels helped but the hand thing seemed to make my lower backache.
Break it up: If your back also hurts when you plank, try this tip from spine specialist Professor Stuart McGill from the University of Waterloo in Canada.
He says to hold the plank for 10 seconds. Rest for 5. Then repeat, as many times as you like to get an abs tone without pressure on your back.
Now, why didn’t I think of that! We get so hung up on the fact that we must hold this mythical exercise for ages that we kind of forget that it’s total time that counts.
Wear Shoes: This tip came from trainer Andy McTaggart from Fitness First when he was testing my body age.
I failed on my planking skills and he suggested one reason was that I normally do planks in bare feet at home. Andy said this could lead to me slipping slightly which is why my back hurts and I have to stop.
Engage your butt: Then I got a mail from StreTch Rayner. Now ignore the fact that he has a random capitalised T in his name. This man is a GENIUS. His tip was this. ‘Most people only think about their abdominal muscles when doing a plank but it should be about creating as much midline stability as possible – so engage your butt. Imagine you have a tail, squeeze your butt and think about tucking your tail between your legs.’
I tried it and voila, 40 seconds of plank achieved. Although I did spend much of it wondering whether Alien Side Plank woman really did have a tail and the fact that she was actually tucking it in was the secret to her mega core strength…..And this is why I’m not allowed to write fiction. Let me know if it helps you……