The biggest, the highest, the loudest, the weirdest… World records amaze, repulse, stagger the imagination and more often than not make a person say, “Why would you even want to do such a thing??”
Fun ones are fine, such as an English bulldog named Otto who coasted through a tunnel of 30 people to secure the “longest human tunnel skateboarded by a dog record,” but fitness feats are more likely to fall into the why would you even? category.
For example, what possesses a person want to walk on a treadmill for a 48 straight hours (252 miles)? Or hula hoop for 74 hours and 54 minutes?
Yet, people did both those things.
Then there’s the plank, arguably the gold standard for core strength.
Think it’s tough enough sustaining a proper plank (no hiked up hips or saggy center) for 60 seconds? Imagine holding the position for 4 hours and 26 minutes, a feat credited to Mao Weidong in 2014.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to break a world record — or even come close — to get fit.
In fact, when it comes to planks, longer doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Besides, I can think of about 8,000 things I’d rather do for four hours than prop myself up on my forearms and hold my body in a painful position for a one-line mention in a book that will be outdated by the time it’s published.
As a isometric exercise (the joint angle and muscle length does not change during the exercise), you reach a point of diminishing returns after a minute or so. Been there, done that, let’s move on to something a little more productive, shall we?
Aside from the danger of dying from boredom, you’re better off mixing up your core routine for the sake of results as well as variety. It’s also better for your muscles to hit them in different ways by alternating angles and tactics.
Keep ’em guessing. Surprise! This will hurt but you’ll be happy when it’s over.
So if you’ve been caught up in the “let’s see if I can hold this plank from breakfast until lunchtime…” I ask you to stop and smell the alternatives.
Instead of extending the time of your planks, try the following ways to get more results, expand your core exercise repertoire and work your core in new and exciting ways…
First, keep in mind you need to consciously engage your core while you perform these exercises.
It won’t happen by accident (I’m looking at you, office chair fitness ball). The easiest way: Imagine you’re about to be tickled by your grandchild and pay attention to the muscles you tighten. Think of pulling in your belly button towards your spine and contracting your pelvic floor (a.k.a. Kegels), which is also part of your core musculature. (Who knew, right?)
Contracting these core muscles protects your back muscles, which kick in if you’re not paying enough attention to your core muscles. It’s why you may feel ab exercises in your low back if your core isn’t strong.
Do each of the following to fatigue. This refers to the point of no return where your form goes south. Take a break and try another set if you’re up for it.
Lastly, only do core exercises AFTER the rest of your workout. The reason? You use your core muscles for performing other exercises, so if you’re exhausting them beforehand you’re less stable and put yourself at a greater risk of injury.
Now for the specific exercises…
1. Bust a move
Instead of staying parked in a plank position, hold your plank for your usual 30 to 60 seconds and then challenge yourself a bit more by raising one leg up a couple inches and holding it for several seconds; lower back down and repeat with the other side.
You will feel the shift in muscles you’re using. Be sure to keep your back straight and move ONLY your leg; avoid twisting your pelvis or otherwise cheating to accomplish the movement.
2. Go sideways
Arguably harder than straight on planks, adding a side plank works more of your obliques, the side muscles responsible for rotating your trunk. Strive for 30 seconds on each side, then mix it up with front planks. (Note: This is part of a workout I created for the Ageless Army, so if you’re part of my membership you’ll find the complete video under “Abs and Core”)
3. Get on a roll
I do these more than any other type of plank because they combine both the plank and movement, making it harder than the sum of its parts. Rest your forearms on top of a fitness ball and, keeping your legs straight or on your knees, contract your abdominals and roll the ball slowly away from you and back, all the while keeping your core engaged.
Spoiler alert: These are tough
4. Go for the gold
Want a real deal challenge? Turn your planks into plankups, where you start out in a plank and “walk” up into a semi-pushup position. See video for the deets.
–> WHAT’S YOUR FAVE CORE EXERCISE? Will you try one of these variations this week? Let me know in the comments section below. And please share this with your besties!
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