Last month, we celebrated “Planksgiving” with cardio planks, side planks, plank jacks, and every other variation in between. You’ve pushed your limits planking until you drop and seen yourself grow stronger, holding your plank a little longer each time. We’ve finished up our emphasis on planks, but you can bet that you’ll see this pose throughout all Fit4Mom classes. Plank helps us to get stronger, allowing us to have more control in our exercises and throughout life.
In October, I had the opportunity to attend a class in Severn where FIT4MOM founder Lisa Druxman taught. I had a really fun workout, but was also listening as a teacher. I wanted to hear her cues for exercising, know how she encouraged others to keep going, and listen to the way that she provided support to moms. Lisa said several times as we were running and pushing our strollers that we should live our lives in plank. Why? Here are a few of the many benefits:
Strengthens wrists and arms- How many times a day are we lifting our little ones? Whether we’re lifting our children in and out of the stroller, car seat, or high chair, we’re taxing our wrist joints and using the muscles in our arms. Plank is a weight bearing exercise that works not only the muscles, but our bones as well. “Just like muscle, bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger,” says David Forstein, DO, an osteopathic physician from Greenville, South Carolina. “Bone mass typically peaks during the third decade of life. After that time, a person begins to lose bone mass, thereby increasing his or her risk of developing osteoporosis and sustaining fractures from falls.” (Osteopathic.org) By performing plank, we’re decreasing our chance of osteoporosis and making our bones stronger for the rest of our lives!
Works the core- Ok Mamas, this felt like the most important thing for me after I gave birth to my two babies. What was once a strong core had been stretched out in the awesome act of becoming a Mom. While I’m so proud of my kiddos and my body’s ability to grow a human, I also wanted to be able to sit up again without asking for help. A proper plank works the innermost muscles in our core called the transverse abdominis. “The transverse abdominis function is to maintain tone of the abdominal organs; when one side works it bends and rotates the body to the side. And whenever we employ deep breathing, for sports or what have you, the transverse abdominis muscle gets involved.” (Core walking.com) These muscles are like a girdle that hold our inner organs in, provide balance, and work with the rest of our core muscles including our erector spinae (back muscles) to maintain correct posture.
Creates a lightness and grace in the body- When in a proper plank, we lengthen the spine creating a beautiful line in the body from the crown of the head to the feet. We don’t want to dump our weight totally in the shoulders, arms, and wrists. To create a lightness in the body, we tighten our muscles from the inside out. If you do a kegel (How to do kegels) and squeeze your core muscles, then plank becomes a lot more enjoyable. Think of a ballerina being lifted in the air by another dancer, she tightens her body to provide a lightness. Now, think of the dead weight of your sleeping child as you carry him or her to bed. You get the picture!
Builds willpower and determination- I used to think of plank as a transitional pose, especially in yoga classes. For me, this meant that I would hold the position for a few moments as I was moving into another pose, not really paying close attention to my alignment. However, when you begin to experiment with plank and hold it for an extended period of time, it starts to test you. By being still in the pose, then you have to acknowledge that your body is shaking. When I time myself and see progress, then I start to believe in myself and in my body. This is hands down my favorite benefit of plank and the reason that I sometimes find myself smiling after holding one.
To find your perfect plank, explore your body. Take your hands directly underneath your shoulders and knees beneath your hips. Spread your fingers out wide and maybe even try to grip your mat slightly. Start to round your back, fully separating your shoulder blades apart as much as you can, taking your chin to your chest. This position is an exaggerated example of how most of us usually sit at a computer or while driving. How does that feel?
Now, let your chest sag as much as you can pulling the shoulder blades together. Notice where your neck wants to go and how you feel in this pose. Do you feel any tightness at the front of your chest? During pregnancy, our body prefers this position to counterbalance the weight of the growing baby. If you are newly postpartum, you might find that this position feels familiar.
Finally, find the balance. Extend one leg at a time so that you are balancing on your hands and toes. Try to make one long line from the crown of your head all the way along your spine, down your legs, and to your toes. Pull your belly button towards your spine to activate your core. Lift your thighs toward the ceiling without moving your hips. Do a kegel and see if you feel any lighter. Keep breathing, Mama! Become aware of any shakiness in your muscles. Feel your body growing stronger. You are amazing! Smile because you know it!