Minute 1: I feel the first signs of discomfort before the first minute is up. Crap. I’d been banking on a longer grace period.
Minute 2: The burning in my shoulders begins. I remind myself to squeeze the glutes, tuck in my stomach and not think about the four and a half minutes left to go. Sadly, the clock is all I can think of.
Minute 3: My body starts shaking. And I’m not even halfway there.
Minute 5: Every part of my body screams in a pain that only continues to intensify, but it’s my brain that’s working the hardest and that fuels me through those final ninety seconds.
Six minutes and thirty seconds arrive and I collapse to the ground, my arms jello, my tummy sore, my brain fried.
I smile in satisfaction. I did it. And then I remember that I have to more than double that time in 3 weeks.
Planks Here, There and Everywhere
The plank is a static (as in the body stays in one position the entire time) exercise that works the core, shoulders, arms and glute muscles. It’s great for core and upper body strength, posture, stability, and it has the power to make your abs look all sorts of amazing.
How does one plank then? Let us count the ways.
You can plank on your hands…
You can plank on your forearms…
You can plank lifting a leg in the air perhaps…
You can plank on your side or suspended in straps…
You can plank doing both, any combination will do…
There are endless ways to plank, just find what works for you.
You can plank with your hands or your feet on a ball
You can plank with a chair or a bench or a wall
You can plank on your knees, you can plank eating cheese
You can plank in a box, you can plank with a fox
You can plank in a house, you can plank with a mouse
You can plank and eat green eggs and ham
You can plank anywhere, Sam-I-am
I should note that there are lots of wrong ways to plank, and form and posture are critically important.
For starters, it is not wise to plank with a cheese eating mouse on your back, or a fox on a chair waiting to attack, and you’ll make yourself crazy if you pass the time making up stupid Dr. Seuss rhymes (That was the last one, I promise).
In all seriousness, it’s easy to fall into some very common traps that shift the weight of your body away from the core and into the upper body. They include raising your hips or sagging them too much, letting your head drop or keeping your hands or forearms too wide or too far in front of your shoulders.
To plank properly, the spine must be aligned in a neutral position, with your glute muscles squeezed, core tight, shoulders and forearms parallel to each other, and palms facing down. In other words, if you’re doing it right, every part of your body is working, and every part of your body is hurting.
Maintaining good form is going to be my biggest challenge, especially as I continue to plank for longer periods of time. Because as the muscles fatigue, the tendency to make any of the above posture mistakes increases and with it, the added the risk of injury. And I’d really like to make it through the month uninjured.
The Training Program
My training program is simple. To get to a 15 minute plank, I have to do a lot of planks.
You can see the program that I’m following here, which includes plank variations mixed with lower abdominal exercises. The program has me training for three days and resting on the fourth. I hold my longest planks following my rest day.
The longest training plank I will hold is 11 minutes, which means that final four minutes will come down to my training and the stuff happening between my ears which, in my opinion, is a far greater challenge.
15 minutes is a long time to spend on your forearms and toes. I’ll have to spend an equal amount of time training myself mentally over the next few weeks.
Click here for my post on how the best athletes develop mental toughness, and how I am training my mind to hold a fifteen minute plank. The field of brain training and mental preparation in athletes is a fascinating one, and I hope you’ll stick around of it.