Let me start this post off by saying that I am not a fitness buff, an exercise guru nor anyone remotely qualified to give fitness advice If you are pregnant or just had a baby, please don’t try this until your doctor has said it is safe for you. The best I can do is to share with you my own experience with the body I walk around in. I have had three full-term pregnancies, three c-sections and even before motherhood, I had chronic back pain. I don’t know why. It’s just how it is and in fact, I’ve seen pictures of myself as a five year old in ballet class back in 1979 and guess what? I couldn’t do a backbend (they call them “bridges” these days) even then. I was the only little girl in the class whose back wasn’t flexible simply because I was young.
While surfing the web few months ago, I came across an article called “The 10 Worst Exercises.” I was surprised that “crunches” were on the list. The author suggested trying the plank instead and to work up to holding the position for one minute. I immediately got onto the floor an planked, using the stopwatch app on my phone to time myself. I was shaking after about 45 seconds but I held the position for a full two minutes. (I attribute this almost entirely to stubbornness rather than core strength).
The concept of planking makes sense to me. The muscles surrounding the core and spine are being strengthened in a straight position. Crunches cause the spine to bend at an unnatural angle and over-strengthen the ab muscles on the front of the body but not the muscles on the back, like the erector spinae. Weaker muscles on the back side of the body and stronger muscles on the front side are going to affect posture negatively by pulling the spine forward. It makes sense to strengthen both sides of the core at once, in the position you want them to be strongest, straight. (Did I mention that I was a massage therapist for a few years in my past life?)
After about four weeks of doing the plank nightly for between one to two minutes per night (sometimes with the weight of a toddler or small dog added by chance) I noticed my lower back felt better and that I could sit on the floor with my legs straight out in front me and keep my back straight at the same time. I have never, ever been able to do this before. I could also sit cross-legged on the floor and keep my back straight which has always been uncomfortable for me. Being able to sit up straight without feeling like I am constantly fighting gravity and my unfortunate tendency to slouch, has made sitting on the floor much more pleasant!
The picture posted is me…doing Low Plank. There are plenty of variations that you can find online—such as lifting a leg for 12 repetitions, then lifting the other leg for 12 repetitions. You can try lifting one arm, then the other, then one leg and one arm at the same time. You can try the upper plank, lower plank and even a brutal five or eight minute workout which involves all kinds of different leg and arm movements and planking for an entire five (or eight minutes). I can’t do the entire five minute workout all at once yet…I turn into a quivering, panting, grunting mess about halfway through and then collapse on the floor. Doesn’t that sound fun? It’s a good goal to work towards, easy to do at home and I really did see improvement in how my body feels. I don’t have six-pack abs and I never will. The plank isn’t about getting them either—at least not for me.
Try the plank and time yourself every day for a week and see how much progress you make—and then share it here. Parents need strong backs with the bending, lifting, hoisting, lugging, pushing, pulling, and cradling that we do.
P.S. Just after I discovered The Plank, I had the serendipitous pleasure of meeting Gabi Ury on the top of Eldora Mountain while snowboarding this past winter. She is the 16 year old who just blew away the world record for planking by a woman.