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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 November 12, 2020

      Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (and What to Do About It)

      Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (and What to Do About It)

      If you find that you’re feeling tired all the time, it’s important to understand that it’s a common problem for many. With all of the demands of daily life, being tired seems to be the new baseline. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

      If you’re tired of feeling exhausted, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

      In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re so tired and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

      What Happens When You’re Too Tired

      If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

      Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

      • Trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired.
      • Experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not.
      • Dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
      • Finding it more difficult to exercise.
      • Immune system may weaken, causing you to pick up infections more easily.
      • Overeating because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids, even when you’re not hungry.
      • Metabolism slows down, so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

      Why Are You Feeling Tired All the Time?

      Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

      Here’s a quick overview of each common cause of fatigue and feeling tired all of the time:

      1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep, restorative sleep.
      2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness, which could be triggered by numerous health problems, such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea, or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
      3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

      The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance, or emotional trauma. It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

      Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

      You can learn more about some causes of fatigue in this video:

      Feeling Tired Vs Being Fatigued

      If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

      Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

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      Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep. However, fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety, or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive[5].

      Symptoms of fatigue include:

      • Difficulty concentrating
      • Low stamina
      • Difficulty sleeping
      • Anxiety
      • Low motivation

      These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness, but they usually last longer and are more intense.

      Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. However, there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

      How Much Sleep Is Enough?

      The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation, which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

      Research suggests that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night[6]. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

      Get the right amount of sleep to stop feeling tired.

        The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

        Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

        Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[7]

        If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is the most likely reason you feel tired all the time. That is actually good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

        It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities, such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

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        4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

        Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

        1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
        2. Exercising regularly
        3. Using stressbusters
        4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

        After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

        I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

        Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

        • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy, including getting enough sleep.
        • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day, ideally for six days a week.
        • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
        • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

        The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight, and to achieve overall wellness.[8]

        Living Healthy

        Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested, and better overall.

        In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger. In fact, long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in Alzheimer’s later in life[9].

        As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

        Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

        1. Unplug

        Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. However, tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime. This won’t help you stop feeling tired all the time.

        Try to turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

        2. Unwind

        Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating, or taking an Epsom salt bath.

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        3. Get Comfortable

        Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

        Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep. Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

        Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed. If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[10]

        This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

        Exercise

        Many people know that exercise is good for them, but they just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

        That’s what happened in my case, but when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my sedentary lifestyle.

        I decided to start swimming because it was something I had always loved to do. Find an exercise you love and stick to it to stop feeling tired all the time. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training, and flexibility training during your daily 20-minute workout.

        If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try as it will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

        Attitude

        Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

        When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted, but there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued: Breathing.

        But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” (or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

        Here’s how you do Long-Exhale Breathing:

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        1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy.
        2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air).
        3. Hold your breath while you mentally count to 7 and enjoy the stillness.
        4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it).
        5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep breath.
        6. Repeat 3 times, ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system.

        This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

        When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[11]

        Nutrition

        Diet is vital for beating fatigue if you’re feeling tired all the time – after all, food is your main source of energy.

        If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels, which may lead to daytime sleepiness.

        Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming though. For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

        Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

        1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
        2. Add a healthy fat or protein to any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed.
        3. Fill up with fiber, especially green leafy vegetables.
        4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice, and corn.
        5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars, and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
        6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives.
        7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive, and nut oils.
        8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts.
        9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice.

        Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron, and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

        That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

        Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multivitamin or specific supplement.

        The Bottom Line

        If you are tired of feeling tired all the time, then there is tremendous hope.

        If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices. If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes discussed above.

        Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

        More Tips to Stop Feeling Tired All the Time

        Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
        [2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
        [3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
        [4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
        [5] Very Well Health: Differences Between Sleepiness and Fatigue
        [6] Advanced Sleep Medicine Services: NEW Guidelines: How much sleep do you need?
        [7] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
        [8] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
        [9] National Institute on Aging: Sleep loss encourages spread of toxic Alzheimer’s protein
        [10] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
        [11] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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