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How Doing Planks Can Transform Your Body And Make You Ready for Summer

How Doing Planks Can Transform Your Body And Make You Ready for Summer

Winter is over, the temperatures are rising, summer is going to be here soon. That means 2 things: shedding layers of winter clothes and becoming much more active. Did your Netflix addiction get the better of you for the last 4-6 months? It’s okay, you’ve still got time to get your body ready.

Since we’re all short on time these days you’re going to want to focus on the best bang for your buck exercises, exercises that focus on using a multiple muscle groups and can help you reach both aesthetic and performance goals which is why planks are a great choice.

Planks are a great total body exercise that is efficient, effective, can be done anywhere, and progressed or regressed to fit any fitness level. Whether you’re looking to tighten up the midsection and stand a bit straighter to look great at the beach or improve your athleticism for summer sports, planks are a perfect exercise.

Planks are More Than an “Ab” Exercise:

Most people think of planks as an ab exercise, and while it’s true they are a great exercise for the abs, it’s selling them short.

Most trainers and physical therapists consider the “core” to be the area from your shoulders to your hips and every muscle in between. Doing planks works just about all of these muscles simultaneously. Muscles like the “6 pack abs” (rectus abdominus) deeper abs (transverse abdominus), obliques, spinal errectors, lats, rhomboids, traps, and glutes. Simply rising into a pushup plank will also incorporate the chest and triceps. Planks, when performed correctly, are all about creating tension through the whole body, activating all of the muscles of the “core”.

Compare that to a crunch or situp, where the abs and hip flexors are the only muscles really exerting and it’s easy to see how planks are so much more than just an “ab” exercise.

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Planks Work Your “Core” the Right Way:

Research from Dr. Stuart McGills’ lab has shown that the core is constructed to create a corset around the lumbar spine. This corset is built to keep the spine rigid during rotational and compressive forces. For most people, the best core training is that which limits or resists motion of the lower back (lumbar spine).

Planks do just this. More traditional ab exercises like situps and crunches flex the spine, and while that may be good for building a 6 pack, it’s probably not the best choice for your lumbar vertebrae and continued back health.

Planks Help Correct Your Crappy Posture:

Many people have what is referred to as desk jockey posture from sitting all day in front of a steering wheel, computer or TV. This posture leads to a rounded upper back, forward shoulders and posterior pelvic tilt. Basically, the length-tension relationships of the muscles have changed from being hunched over all day. Some muscles become overstretched, some shorten, others become overactive and others under-active. This tends to lead to what’s called “hanging off of the hard structures”. Instead of using the muscles to provide stability for a neutral spine, we slide into positions that allow us to use the bones for stability.

Planks are (usually) all about creating a neutral position. It stands to reason, that the muscles which are worked in a plank are also the ones that have an effect on your neutral posture. Muscles like the glutes, spinal errectors (low back), obliques and scapular stabilizers (upper / mid back muscles) help to pull you back into a more neutral position. While simply doing a few planks once or twice a week probably wont fix your posture completely, they’ll help activate and build endurance in the weak, under-active muscles. This will help improve your posture much more than traditional flexion-based “core” exercises like crunches.

You Might Look a Bit Thinner – or Correcting Posture Part 2:

Many women (and some guys) have too much of an arch in the lower back and as a result use the vertebrae of the lower back to create stability. In other words they “hang off the lower back”. Doing this can lead to an excessive lumbar mobility and anterior pelvic tilt. This can give the lower stomach the appearance of being pushed out, or the dreaded lower belly “pooch”.

Planks can help to correct this posture also. Specifically by strengthening the glutes, rectus abdominus and obliques.Remember, planks are a movement that reinforces a neutral hip and spine position, so almost any deviation from a neutral posture can be helped with planks.

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Baby Got Back:

We’re in the golden age of glutes. Let’s face it, butts are everywhere. While a nice core never goes out of style, glutes are the “it” muscle right now, in a big way… and for good reason. Not only does a nice set of glutes look great in a bikini or swim shorts, they are arguably the most important muscles in the body from a movement and performance perspective.

While planks are not thought of as a glute exercise, a good plank isn’t about time, it’s about tension. To stay in the correct technique you must squeeze your glutes and keep them contracted hard the whole time. For some of the more challenging plank variations, you’re not only using the glutes to stabilize the hips, they’re also creating motion which will increase the challenge overall.

Planks are Great for Treating and Preventing Low Back Pain:

Nobody wants to get up and head out to catch some waves at 6am on a Saturday and paddle back in after one ride, or be in the clubhouse after 9 holes, all because their lower back is killing them. Back pain affects 31 million Americans at any given time according to the American Chiropractic Association. Don’t be a statistic. Low back pain sufferers have some common traits including tightness in the thoracic spine and hips, weak glutes and the tendency to use the low back to create movement.

Remember, planks are about tightness, creating a stable corset around the spine. Training this corset by planking not only helps to strengthen the muscles but also teaches your body what it feels like to be in a tight, braced, position.

How to Plank, It’s Not What You Think and How Not Waste Your Time:

Too often planks are done for ridiculously long timed holds and with a big arch in the lower back. This needs to be fixed. The purpose of the plank is to create tension through the body and resist movement. Your plank should reflect this, so flatten out that back and get as tight as possible.

Front Plank Checklist:

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  • Abs turned on and braced.
  • Hip in neutral or very slightly rotated forward (belt buckle to chin) to help the abs fire.
  • Glutes squeezed hard.
  • Shoulders in the joint, scapula (shoulder blades) down the ribcage.
  • Upper and lower back flat.

plank

    Side Plank Checklist:

    • Elbow directly under the shoulder.
    • Top leg towards the front of the body.
    • Ribcage in neutral, usually this means pulled down slightly and rotated up slightly.
    • Hips in neutral, glutes squeezed hard.

    Side-Plank-Marching_edited

      Moving Planks, the Planks You Never Thought of:

      Too often planks are thought of as a stationary exercise, but that’s not always true.

      Exercises like:

      • Ab wheel rollouts
      • Bird Dog
      • Stir the pot
      • Suspension rows
      • Fallouts
      • Pushups
      • Farmers walks
      • Suitcase carries

      Are nothing more than moving planks.

      Think about it. To do these exercises correctly you must begin in and maintain a stable, core braced, plank position. The core is resisting the hoop, shear and extension forces that are being placed on the spine, no different than any other plank. The key here however is that the exercises must be performed correctly. The core cannot buckle it must stay braced, with no movement whatsoever through the spine.

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      The 10 Second Plank From Hell: The RKC Plank

      This is the plank that separates the men from the boys, the RKC plank. This plank isn’t just about maintaining tension, it’s about creating tension, literally, trying to crush yourself.

      RKC Checklist:

      • Hips posteriorly upper back slightly rounded to create a psuedo crunch effect.
      • Squeeze the glutes as hard as possible.
      • Drive the elbows back under you.
      • Drive the toes towards the elbows.
      • Squeeze everything in between as hard as possible and try to crush yourself in the process.

      There’s Really no Excuse Not to Be Ready When Summer Gets Here:

      Planks cost nothing, you need no special equipment and they can be done anywhere. They’re super easy to incorporate into a workout or even your daily routine. You don’t even need to program them into a special place in your routine often. If you’re lifting weights, interval training or even running laps, you can add planks to your workouts by simply using them as active rest in between sets, intervals or laps.

      They’re so simple you can do planks on your living room floor during commercials or work breaks. Just remember build slowly and don’t focus as much on the length of time you can hold a plank as much as how much muscular tension you can create while in the plank position.

      Don’t wait, the count down is on, start now and you’ll be surprised at the effect planks can have on your physique, posture and athleticism by the time summer rolls around.

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      Last Updated on July 8, 2020

      18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

      18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

      The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

      1. Understand Yourself Better

      Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

      Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

      2. Keep Track of Small Changes

      I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

      Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

      3. Become Aware of What Matters

      As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

      You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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      4. Boost Creativity

      The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

      When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

      You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

      5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

      A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

      Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

      6. Process Life Experiences

      When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

      Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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      7. Stress Relief

      In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

      Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

      8. Provide Direction

      Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

      One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

      9. Solve Problems

      Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

      Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

      When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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      10. Find Relief From Fighting

      Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

      Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

      11. Find Meaning in Life

      Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

      12. Allow Yourself to Focus

      Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

      13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

      When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

      14. Let the Past Go

      I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

      15. Allow Freedom

      Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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      16. Enhance Your Career

      Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

      Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

      17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

      All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

      18. Catalog Your Life for Others

      No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

      We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

      Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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