Strengthen your body, while broadening your mind
You all have seen it at least once. The stupid tele commercial promising a ripped six pack, while watching TV, or reading a book on the couch. I'II be honest with you. I can't promise you any of that. Yet, in a way, if you follow my advice, you can develop a routine that can strengthen your body and mind. Especially now, when moving outside is difficult.
Planks are a simple, but an incredibly effective exercise. Get on all fours, as if for doing a push up, but rather, use your forearms, instead of your hands. Got it? Now, don't move and simply lock your body in this position, for as long as you can.
That's really it! If you were expecting a page-long explanation of how to do a plank, I am sorry to disappoint you. Keeping your posture straight (like the lady on the photo above) is the most important bit. This part cannot be explained in any other way than trying it right away. You may pause your reading, try a simple plank, but stop at the slightest sign of pressure. Even if that's just a few seconds, don't worry too much about it. You'll be able to ramp it up, as days move on. You don't want to get injured right at the start.
I started doing planks back in December last year. It was more or less out of necessity. Due to an issue with my wrist, I had to cut my push-up routine. I had heard about planks before, but never taken them seriously. Staying locked in one place for minutes without moving seemed pointless. Yet, I had no choice. I needed some sort of an alternative to push-ups, and being able to use my forearms instead was crucial. I am so grateful I did. I learned two very important things:
First and foremost, sustaining a plank is much harder than it looks. The first time I tried, I crashed on the floor after merely 40s. I decided to not discourage myself after the first attempt, but set a long-term goal - say, be able to lock my body for 10 minutes. Like training for a marathon, I wouldn't go for the 42km directly, but use my first attempt as a base and gradually increase until I reach my milestone. I have been doing planks almost every day since, increasing my time with 5s on every next attempt, until I reached 5 minutes without a break. I have been plateauing consistently between 5 and 6 mins for the past month, preparing my mind and body for conquering the 10-minute mark.
The second thing came, once I were able to lock my body in a plank position for more than two minutes regularly. The obvious effects on my upper and lower back, glutes, and abs were hard to ignore. I've been practicing distance running non-stop since 2016, but only after a few 2-min morning planks, did I notice the positive change in my running stride. I felt, as if the pressure that usually hit straight in my knees, now spread across a whole new group of muscles, which had largely been un-utilized.
What's more though, similar to a distance run, sustaining a plank for a long time is just as much an exercise for the body, as it is for the mind. Success in each is largely the result of either getting your mind distracted from the task at hand, or learning how to quiet it down. Taming the mind is extremely difficult, and I am still in my early days of learning how to do it. Keeping the mind distracted, however is not that hard. I found that the best way to not think about the pain and pressure during a plank was reading a book.
Fixating my mind on the pages, I would often not notice how a few minutes have passed. What's even cooler, since humans are essentially a slightly more advanced version of Pavlov's Dog, one can associate and turn one behavior into a habit, with the drive for another. Thus, the drive to read a few more pages will push you to sustain the plank a little longer. The opposite is also true. The strive to get better at the exercise would crave some more distraction and focusing the mind somewhere else, e.g at a few more pages.
Try it and you won't be sorry.