I’m a sucker for productivity tips, they give me hope. I think it’s a hangover from school days when each September you would see me equipped with a new set of notebooks and pencils, just dazzled by the promise of a fresh new start on success. Reading productivity blog posts is the virtual version of indulging my office products habit and closely related to my secret guilty pleasure — “Organizing Porn” — but that’s the subject of another post.
More things, more quickly
I am not a pilot, brain-surgeon or rocket scientist. Nor am I planning the invasion of a small country, yet you could be forgiven for thinking so judging by my ruthless obsession with increasing efficiency and my compulsive habit of systematically breaking down everything I do into incremental, sequential (or parallel) steps. I have de-cluttered and re-prioritized, systematized and categorized.
I am doing more things, more quickly than I even thought possible. I have a full-time job, a part-time job, a small business and a private practice. I am communicating with more people, faster and better than before. I am LinkingIn, Facebooking, Tweeting and Blogging. I am OmniFocused and Evernoted, I have mind maps and action plans, to do lists and tickler files, 43 folders and a 5 year plan.
Even as I am dizzied by my own super-human levels of productivity, I’ve started to feel that I am surviving more than thriving. At the gym yesterday, as I dutifully clocked up my treadmill miles, I couldn’t help noticing that a large part of my life now closely resembles that of a plucky little hamster, sprinting gamely on its wheel. Last week, I spent my Thursday afternoon at the bedside of a patient who was dying. I met this man in the last months of his life, when he was suffering from end stage Alzheimer’s disease. He wasn’t the man he once was. Although he could no longer express himself, he communicated so much to me about who he was that truly inspired me.
“Have you eaten?”
When I would visit him in the nursing home at meal-times he didn’t recognize or remember me, yet without fail, as I sat down beside him he would pat my hand and say, “Have you eaten?” and offer me the food from his own plate. When I would get up to leave, he would look with concern out the window, checking on the weather and to see if it was dark, telling me to be careful as I bid him goodbye.
On the last day we were alone together for several hours. The stillness in the room descended like a heavy blanket of snow, pierced only by the sound of the oxygen machine and his breathing. Time slowed down at last and I felt a shift in my perspective and perceptions about what had been so important and urgent before I sat down beside him. I was holding his hand as he took his last breath and his heart beat its last. Accompanying someone to the end of their life is an experience that never fails to humble you but something about this experience has really changed me.
A glorious legacy
On Sunday, I was invited to a gathering of his family and friends. The house was full of people, eating and laughing, celebrating a life well-lived. Looking around, his daughter told me he would have loved this day. I sat down to look at a photo-album, eager to see glimpses of the man he had been. In this portrait of a life, I saw what was dear to him. As I turned the pages, looking at the photos of him playing with a grand-child or laughing at the helm of his boat in the Summer ocean, I saw confirmation of what I had felt intuitively; that this was a man who loved to spend time with his friends and family. A man brimming with generosity, fun, kindness and love. A man who brightened the lives of all those around him. A man who cared for, comforted and cherished those he loved. I remembered that I knew what he had done for a living and yet what struck me most was this. His glorious legacy was who he had been and not what he had done.
What I offer you from this experience is a reminder to stop and smell the roses and in order to do that, you may well need to employ some productivity techniques to clear yourself some space. Order is the antidote to overwhelm and I am certainly not going to be abandoning all the tips and tricks for productivity I know but I may just be adapting them. The real key is, I think, is to remember that productivity is a tool and that the ultimate goal is quality of life.
When you look back at your life, will you agree with current definitions of what is urgent and important?
Bodyweight exercises are gaining ground in the fitness world due to the practicality and simplicity of getting in shape using your own body weight. Planks are one form of bodyweight exercises that will never go out of fashion. Planks are one of the most effective exercises you can do. Why? Because they require a small time investment on your part, and offer the chance to achieve substantial results in a relatively short span of time.
Why is it important to train up our core strength?
There are numerous sites and blogs which detail ways to build your core muscles or core strength. Often though, these sites neglect to explain what your core muscles actually are, and why building them is important.
This is quite surprising, as core muscles are quite easy to explain. Your core muscles are a series of muscles in your midsection, and are used in most forms of movement. Though they aren’t housed in your arms or legs, your core muscles can help transfer force from one limb to another, or are used in addition to muscles in your arms or legs to increase their effectiveness. As such a strong core will make a big improvement on your ability to move and exercise further.
Also they are great for helping other muscles in your midsection such as your abdominal muscles. Your abdominal muscles are important for supporting your back and spinal column, and as such are important aids in preventing injuries. However for them to be most effective you need to spend a lot of time developing your core muscles.
In short, planking exercises can make a huge improvement in your muscles down your whole body. Making them a hugely effective exercise to perform.
One Exercise, multiple benefits
There are few forms of exercise as effective at building your core as planking exercises. However, planking exercises benefit far more than just your core strength.
By holding yourself in the position for a planking exercise, you’ll notice that your biceps, neck, and shoulder muscles are also being tested and strained. This this encouraging their buildup and development. This is great news if you like to do press ups, developed shoulder muscles will have a big impact on your press up performance.
When planking, you are holding yourself up through your arms and biceps and so by holding a planking position, your arm muscles are being toned and developed. Making planking a great alternative exercise to other forms of bicep developing exercises.
Moving down your midsection, successful plank exercises actually develop the muscles in your butt! These muscles tend to be ignored by a lot of exercises, so this is another great benefit of plank exercises.
In much the same way as you develop your biceps and arm muscles, holding the planking position helps develop the muscles in your thighs too.
What is even better is that planking exercises don’t take much time at all. In fact you should probably only spend about ten minutes max per day in the planking exercise.
What will happen when you start doing planks every day
1. You’ll improve core definition and performance:
Planks are an ideal exercise for the abdominal muscles exactly because they engage all major core muscle groups including the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, the external oblique muscle, and the glutes. The importance of strengthening each muscle group cannot be underestimated either, for all of these groups serve their own purpose. If you strengthen these muscle groups you will notice:
Rectus adbominis: improved sports performance, particularly with jumping. This muscle group is also responsible for giving you the renowned six pack look.
Oblique muscles: improved capacity for stable side-bending and waist-twisting
Glutes: a supported back and a strong, shapely booty.
2. You’ll decrease your risk of injury in the back and spinal column
Doing planks is a type of exercise that allow you to build muscle while also making sure that you are not putting too much pressure on your spine or hips. According to the American Council on Exercise, doing planks regularly not only significantly reduces back pain but it also strengthens your muscles and ensures a strong support for your entire back, especially in the areas around your upper back.
Check out this article if you would like to find out about how doing planks on different surfaces can impact the effectiveness of this exercise in strengthening your core.
3. You’ll experience an increased boost to your overall metabolism
Planking is an excellent way of challenging your entire body because doing them every day will burn more calories than other traditional abdominal exercises, such as crunches or sit-ups. The muscles you strengthen by doing this exercise on a day-to-day basis will ensure that you burn more energy even when sedentary. This is especially important if you are spending the majority of your day sitting in front of a computer. Also, making it a daily 10- to 1 minute home exercise before or after work will not only provide an enhanced metabolic rate but it will also ensure that that metabolic rate remains high all day long, (yes, even while you are asleep).
4. You’ll significantly improve your posture
Planking exercises have a great impact and improvement on your posture. This is great news as a strong posture brings with it a huge number of fantastic benefits .
A good posture keeps your bones and joins in the correct alignment which means both your bones and joints will be better maintained and more healthy, but also means the overall effectiveness of your muscles will be improved.
A good posture will ensure your back or spine is in the correct position and so you will suffer less back pain.
On top of everything, someone with good posture looks better, healthier, and more confident.
5. You’ll improve overall balance
Have you ever felt that when you tried standing on one leg, you couldn’t stand up straight for more than a couple of seconds? It’s not because you were drunk- unless you happened to be at the time!- but rather, it’s because your abdominal muscles weren’t strong enough to give you the balance you needed. Through improving your balance by doing side planks and planks with extensions you will boost your performance in every kind of sporting activity.
6. You’ll become more flexible than ever before
Flexibility is a key benefit of doing planks regularly, for this form of exercise expands and stretches all your posterior muscle groups – shoulders, shoulder blades, and collarbone – while also stretching your hamstrings, arches of your feet, and toes. With a side plank added in to the mix, you can also work on your oblique muscles. This will provide you with further benefits when it comes to hyper-extending your toes, a movement that is crucial for supporting your body’s weight.
7. You’ll witness mental benefits
Plank exercises have a particular effect on our nerves, making them an excellent means of improving overall mood. How? Well, they stretch out muscle groups that contribute to stress and tension in the body. Just think about it: you are sitting in your chair, at home or at work, all day long; your thigh muscles get tight, your legs get heavy due to being bent for several hours; and tension develops in your shoulders due to being forced to slump forward all day. These are all circumstances that put too stress on the muscles and nerves. The good news is that planks not only calm your brain, but they can also treat anxiety and symptoms of depression– but only if you make it part of your daily routine.
How to hold a plank position
Get into pushup position on the floor.
Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms.
Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
Hold the position for as long as you can.
Remember to breathe. Inhale and exhale slowly and steadily.
When your form begins to suffer, pull the plug. You’re only benefiting from the plank by actually doing the plank.
Watch the video if you have any doubt!
Here is a great infographic that shows the best plank variation exercises to evenly target all abdominal muscle groups:
How to improve your plank time gradually
Start with the easier variation if needed. You can start with a bent-knee plank if you can’t perform a regular plank yet. If you can hold a plank for more than two minutes with ease, you can move on to these tougher variations.
Practise every day. Space your planking exercise throughout the day and do 3-4 times every day. Try to hold the position 10 seconds longer each time.
Perform other body-weight exercises at the same time. Push-up and squat will improve your core strength too.
Are you ready to devote 5-10 minutes of your day, every day, to stay fit, healthy and, most importantly, strong as a bull? Then jump in and make doing plank exercises a part of your life.
Who Should Be Cautious Doing The Plank?
You need to be cautious doing Planking exercises if any of these risks apply to you:
After prolapse surgery
Pelvic pain conditions
Weak or poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles
Choose an alternative pelvic floor abdominal exercise or consult your doctor before performing plank regularly.