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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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      Published on November 14, 2018

      Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

      Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

      With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

      For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

      In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

      Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

      Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

      It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

      For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

      Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

      Symptoms of Fatigue

      Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

      • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
      • mental blocks
      • lack of motivation
      • headache
      • dizziness
      • muscle weakness
      • slowed reflexes and responses
      • impaired decision-making and judgement
      • moodiness, such as irritability
      • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
      • reduced immune system function
      • blurry vision
      • short-term memory problems
      • poor concentration
      • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

      Causes of Fatigue

      The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

      • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
      • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
      • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
      • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

      Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

      Medical Causes of Fatigue

      If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

      Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

      Anemia

      Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

      Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

      There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

      Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

      Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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      This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

      Diabetes

      Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

      Sleep Apnea

      Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

      Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

      Thyroid disease

      An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

      Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

      • Lack of sleep
      • Too much sleep 
      • Alcohol and drugs 
      • Sleep disturbances 
      • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
      • Poor diet 

      Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

      • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
      • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
      • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
      • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

      Psychological Causes of Fatigue

      Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

      • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
      • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
      • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

      How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

      Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

      1. Tell The Truth

      Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

      To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

      Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

      The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

      One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

      • How you feel
      • What time of day it is
      • What may have contributed to your fatigue
      • How your mind and body reacts

      This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

      2. Reduce Your Commitments

      When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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      If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

      When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

      Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

      3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

      If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

      Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

      If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

      Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

      Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

      4. Express More Gratitude

      Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

      It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

      Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

      5. Focus On Yourself

      Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

      There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

      But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

      We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

      6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

      Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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      Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

      The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

      Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

      7. Take a Power Nap

      When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

      Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

      This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

      8. Take More Exercise

      The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

      Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

      The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

      You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

      9. Get More Quality Sleep

      To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

      Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

      My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

      10. Improve Your Diet

      Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

      Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

      On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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      To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

      Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

      Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

      11. Manage Your Stress Levels

      Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

      When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

      Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

      My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

      12. Get Hydrated

      Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

      Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

      If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

      The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

      The Bottom Line

      These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

      If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

      Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
      [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
      [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
      [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
      [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
      [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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