Strength Training

What You Need To Know About Your Muscles

MUSCLES!

You have 642 of them, you use them every day, but what do you really know about them? Knowledge is power if every aspect of life and training is no different – read on!

Opposing Muscle Groups

When talking about muscles sometimes it is easiest to think of a really simple one for starters, so let’s begin with those biceps being shown off up above! When you bend your arm, your bicep contracts and your tricep does the opposite (elongates) in order to let your elbow bend.

These are called “opposing muscle groups”. Our workouts need to cover all aspects of muscle training from the composition of muscle to how they perform.

Muscle Fibers

Muscle fibers are long and cylindrical; only about the size of a strand of hair! These fibers determine how much weight you can lift and for how many reps (think a bunch of hairs tied in a ponytail make up what a muscle looks and acts like).

There are two types of muscle fibers:

Slow Twitch

Slow twitch fibers are used for aerobic exercise and are very resistant to fatigue and are good for things such as longer distance running. The downside is, they don’t move very quickly (like if you suddenly need to sprint to the finish line). You train slow twitch fibers with higher repetitions, at a slower tempo, and with short rest times.

Fast Twitch

Unlike slow twitch muscle fibers, fast twitch fire very quickly but also fatigue quickly. Fast twitch fibers are used for things like sprints and heavy lifting. You train fast twitch fibers with explosive movements like the push press, kettlebell swing, and box jumps. This type of POWER training needs more rest and recovery time.

Are We All The Same?

NO! Every person has a different percentage of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, which is why some people tend to be naturally better at running distances than sprinting, or better at longer sets than short ones. Even within each person different muscles may be various ratios of fast and slow. For instance maybe your hamstrings are 60% slow twitch, but your biceps only 30%.

So, Why Bother Training?

You are born with a certain number of muscle fibers so you can’t increase the number of them, but you CAN increase their overall mass and strength.

Remember when we said there were TWO muscle fiber types? Well…technically that’s correct, but within “Fast Twitch” there is the potential to train for more short bursts of power or more endurance. Muscles literally change based on your activity and these hybrids will shift more toward slow or fast depending on your training. Train for your goals!

TRAINING GOAL CHEAT SHEET

Determine if your workout is designed to gain muscle size (HYPERTROPHY), strength, or power.

Hypertrophy training aims to fatigue the muscle fiber, which after proper rest will cause the muscle to grow larger. 6-12 Reps and rest 30-90 seconds. The focus is more about the process vs the actual load.

Strength (vs muscle size or power) requires a slower speed and lower reps (like 6 or less) with heavier load/weight.

Power training is similar to strength training, but speed of contraction becomes a factor as we want to generate as much power in as short a time as possible.

As you have seen this week, to get a fully balanced program to build muscle strength, size, and power takes a fine balance and a deeper understanding of how the body works. At Ellipse, you see Tabata, Declining Hypertrophy, Eccentric Training, Pause Training, and so much more. All the different formats and styles are to achieve RESULTS! If you can step through that front door and work to YOUR best, we’ve got the rest covered 😊

It’s ALL About CORE! 6 Things You Need To Know!

What is the purpose of the core? Oh there are many, many essential functions!

Stabilization

Maybe the most common function of the core is to take excess load off the spine and to transfer force between the upper and lower body. When you throw a ball for instance, you have your core to thank! Back pain? Check in with your core muscles! Gastrointestinal problems? Your core even plays a role in your bowel movements!

Balance

Core muscles support your skeleton for balance (and for your ability to “Catch” yourself when falling). Try to really apply your core stability (hollow body hold tension) to your strength moves; squat, deadlifts, pushups, planks, and see the difference! Especially exercises standing on one leg. Just TRY to shut off your core muscles and you are probably going down!

Rotation

Core also helps with rotation and even more often, ANTI-rotation…Refer up to stabilizing in order to resist the movement. Core stabilizers include the pelvic floor, transversus abdominis (creates pressure and provides the most stability during dynamic movements), multifidus (small muscles in your back), erector spinae (think back extensions), obliques (moving side to side and rotation), AND the diaphragm.

Posture

Weakness in the CORE can change your posture – for the worse – therefore affecting the strength of your hips and ultimately knees and/or back. For example, in an abdominal exercise such as bicycles, your pelvis should NOT be moving. If it is, then you may not ready for that move and should take a step back to keeping the hips on the ground while just lifting the opposite knee/arm without speed or momentum.

Breathing

The diaphragm is an extremely important core muscle that contracts and extends toward the abdomen when we inhale and connects to the lower six ribs of our ribcage. When you inhale, your diaphragm flattens allowing the most air into your lungs. When it contracts it pushes everything else out of the way (and when your belly expands this is called belly breathing).

Try belly breathing – lie on the floor on your back. Legs bent or extended on the ground. Take a deep breath and inhale deeply allowing your belly to rise. As you exhale every last breath, let your belly draw in toward the ground. Practice this until it becomes automatic. When you apply it to your exercises, you’ll be surprised how much more stable and effective you are!

Now What? Put This In Action!

Not sure where to start?

Step 1: Learn spinal stability and breathing properly. Back or neck still hurt during movements? Start with pelvic tilts and increase the endurance/time of the hold.

Step 2: Once mastered, start adding complexity such as increased levers (hollow body hold), followed by slow movement (deadbugs) with levers.

Step 3: Add load/complexity (i.e. hold a plank and add alternating leg lifts).

Step 4: Add rotation (i.e. Soft Toss Medicine Ball shot put throw)

Step 5: Add dynamic movement (Step back lunge with sandbag t-spine rotation)

Ellipse Basic Movements 101

There are several foundational movements that our training program is centered around here at Ellipse Fitness, and we want to take a moment to break these things down for you. It is ALWAYS most important that we clean up our movement patterns and move functionally BEFORE we consider adding heavy loads.

STRENGTH TRAINING

Packing The Shoulders

Kickboxing, presses, pushes (whether it’s push ups or even while lying down for a chest press) are all better, more stable, and safer when the shoulders are packed.

Try this when standing: push your shoulders as far down and away from your ears as you can, tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Packing our shoulders is easiest to feel and perfect with a farmer’s carry. Roll them back and down as far as you can.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are a dynamic and explosive hip hinge. There are no arm-lifts or squats in a kettlebell swing. Keep the kb swinging through upper thighs; somewhere above the knees. As it drops toward the knees the back becomes at risk and there is more squatting involved. For single arm? We are not looking for rotation, but maintaining alignment with an offset load.

Shoulder Press

A Shoulder Press and Push Press are DIFFERENT! A push press is started by a “push” from the legs; creating momentum. The point of a push press is to push past a “sticking point”.

When a shoulder press is called for, do a shoulder press…maybe just that last rep that you can’t quite complete can be assisted with a push. Shoulder press, also called an overhead press, should be completed with core engagement.

Squats

Squats are best performed when thinking about the feet first and work up. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Grip the floor, putting pressure on the outside of the foot, but also driving through your big toe. Drop your torso between your hips. Come out of the squat by pushing through the outer heel, driving the knees out and tucking the tail (think pointing your belt buckle toward your chin) and breathing into your lower back.

Split Squat

Although there are similarities to a squat, a split squat requires more balance, stability, coordination, and single leg strength. Try this! Start is a kneeling position. Your legs will have two 90 degree angles. From there, stand! Come back down to just a hover or feather touch to the ground. Too intense? Stack a pad or two under your kneeling stance to reduce how deep you have to go.

Pushups

Love them or hate them, Push Ups strengthen our chest, shoulders, triceps, and core (when properly engaged). Not sure you are engaging your core during a pushup? Try a Hand-Release Push Up. Start your body on top of a stacked airex pad or two (or 3!). Hands on either side of the pad, elbows at 45 degrees.

Step ONE: LIFT the hips/engage the core. Then and only then, push through the hands to your full pushup position. Reset each time to perfect your form.

Hollow Body Hold

The hollow body hold is a foundation movement patterns from kickboxing, to squatting, to slamming balls on the floor. Knowing how to properly hold the hollow body position will stabilize your core and not only improve your performance, but also keep you much safer (especially your back) along the way! TIP: When fully contracted, your upper torso will lift upward slightly, but it’s only from the flattening of your lower back. You do not crunch. Imagine a strong, engaged position hanging from the pull up bar.

Bicycles

Start with the contraction of a hollow body and THEN begin your bicycle movement. The shoulder blade will peel off the floor. The upper body movement comes from that “peeling”, NOT the reaching of an elbow. Keep the elbows wide and drawn back. Your bicycle legs should move more like stairs than a bike.

KICKBOXING

Boxing/Guarded Stance

Start your boxing strong with a proper guarded stance. You can test your strong stance by having someone giving you a little shove from each direction…you shouldn’t tip! Try it on your friends – with a warning! Your shoulders are packed in guarded position, and hands fisted by the cheek bones.

Pivots

Pivoting in boxing is crucial from a safety standpoint! Pivot your foot so your hips are squared to the bag. Your ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder will all be in alignment and you’ll be fully facing the bag. In the end, this not only keeps you safe, but you’ll also get the full power of your hip into your punch and engage more core muscles. Make sure to come back to the guarded stance after each punch and kick!

Round Kick

A round kick starts with the upper leg elevated and the lower leg parallel to the floor; the chambered position. The foot on the floor is turned out slightly. Aim with your shin, not your toe. It’s the snap the gives the most power to the kick. A repeating roundhouse kick will demonstrate the amount of balance and control needed for a well-developed kick. Chamber your leg and fire!

Boxing Punches

You hear the cues in almost every boxing class, but have your punches improved over time? Do they feel more stable, powerful, controlled? Go for an ALMOST full extension. Tighten your fist (pretend you are actually punching someone), turn the palm of your hand down toward the floor, and strive to connect with the pointer finger and index finger.

Visualization in boxing works wonders. If there was someone in front of you and you were punching, would it be with a loose hand? You can get as much or as little as you want out of a boxing workout based on what you put into it, and we don’t mean faster speed!

What You Need to Know: Plantar Fasciitis

Today’s blog post is courtesy of a special guest writer and expert on the topic of Plantar Fasciitis: Rachel Zimmerman DPT.

If you’ve ever experienced pain in the bottom of your foot, or in your heel, chances are it’s Plantar Fasciitis.

There is a common misconception that this is something you have to live with, but you don’t! The following advice will help alleviate your pain and get you back on your feet.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

To understand what this condition is, we need to break it down into parts: plantar fascia and -itis. The plantar fascia is a structure in the bottom of the foot. It is a thin, white tissue similar to a ligament that sits between the skin and the muscle and extends from the heel to the toes. It provides stability to the foot. The suffix “-itis” is a Greek term meaning inflammation. So plantar fasciitis is inflammation of this tissue in the bottom of the foot.

What are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis typically presents as pain in the heel, usually on the inside part of the foot. The pain can also spread along the arch and along the bottom of the foot. The pain is usually worst during the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning but can also occur after standing or walking for long periods of time.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis has multiple causes, but one of the most common is increasing your activity level too quickly! Also, having tight calf muscles, weak foot muscles, and/or wearing improper footwear.

What do I do if I believe I have plantar fasciitis?

Avoid aggravating activities: The most important thing you can do when you have an inflammatory condition is to avoid activities that increase your pain. Figure out which activities are aggravating it and modify them as you can. This does not mean to avoid activity altogether – just find activities you can do that don’t increase your pain level. This does not have to be long term, just while you are experiencing pain.

Stretch your calves: Tight calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles) can contribute to inflammation in the plantar fascia. Stretch your calves by sitting with your feet out in front of you with your knees straight, and place a towel around the ball of your foot. Pull back on the towel towards you until you feel a stretch in the calf. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat a few times. You should feel a stretch, but not pain.

Strengthen your foot muscles: There are specific muscles in your foot that help to support your arch and take stress off the plantar fascia.

   • Great toe extension: Lift big toe, leaving other 4 on the ground. Repeat for 3 sets of 10.

   • Small toe extension: Lift 4 smaller toes, leaving big toe down. Repeat for 3 sets of 10.

   • Doming: Raise the arch of your foot, keeping toes down. Repeat for 3 sets of 10.

Change your footwear: Avoid shoes that are flat as these do not support your arch and can contribute to stress on the plantar fascia. Look for shoes that have a buildup on the inside of the shoe where your arch would be. Most shoe stores will be able to help find footwear that is appropriate for your feet, whether you need a stability shoe (which has more arch support than normal) or a neutral shoe (which has arch support but not as much as a stability shoe).

Ice: You can freeze a plastic water bottle, and then roll your bare foot over the frozen water bottle. It provides massage and ice, which will decrease the inflammation and will numb the pain temporarily. Do this for a few minutes at a time at most.

Consider orthotics: There are orthotics, or inserts for your shoe, that provide more stability for your arch. You can try basic orthotics from a drugstore or consider custom orthotics. A physical therapist, podiatrist, or orthotist can help you with custom orthotics.

**If your pain does not get better, consult a physical therapist! There are many other factors that contribute to plantar fasciitis that your physical therapist may be able to assess and treat.

This blog was specially written by our friend and guest writer Rachel Zimmerman, DPT.

Rachel is clinic director at ATI Physical Therapy right here in Green Bay, WI. You can find out more about her clinic or find a location near you at ATIpt.com!

Holiday Travel Doesn’t Have to Destroy Your Fitness!

Vacations or business trips can throw our health and fitness goals for a loop, BUT they don’t have to!

Assess the situation: Is this a family trip with regular movement and activity as you explore? It could be best to let your body RELAX, REJUVENATE, and come back to your workouts stronger and ready to go.

However, we have numerous members and guest with heavy business travel schedules that can be harder to manage. This makes knowing how to stay fit on the road all the more important! It’s hard to build a routine and stick with it, so consider building a daily routine for no matter where you are.

It could be as simple as 15 minutes. If you have extra time in the day, fantastic! If not, you are firming up your routine and making strides toward consistent healthy habits.

Stuck in a Hotel?

First off, many hotels have fitness centers with free-weights, machines, etc for you to get a workout in, but even if they don’t that is no excuse to be lazy!

• Grab some paper plates from room service (even cardstock paper can do the job in a pinch). Use them as sliders to add intensity to your lower body mountain climbers, planks with hand or foot slides, slide back alternating lunges, squats.

• Grab a shower towel or belt and stabilize your lower leg lifts, or stretch the towel between two hands overhead and perform 10 get up sit up’s (lay flat with legs wide and straight, sit up with hands/arms extended over your head).

Access to a Pool?

Swim laps! Or if that’s not your thing, try to run laps/move through the water as fast as possible, or stand in athletic stance and move your arms forward and back (in a t-position) as fast as you can with water as resistance and similarly “flapping” arms up and down. The faster your move the more the water will resist you! Move slow for therapeutic range of motion, or bring some speed for high exertion strength training!

Have kids? They love to be tossed around in water and can be a great workout! But safety first!

No Equipment? No Problem!

Body weight can work great! Think pushups, lunges, split squats, dead bugs, plyometrics, and all kinds of other movements we already do at Ellipse! Add intensity by increasing repetitions, duration, or speed.

Keep it Simple: Choose 5 movements and perform 10 reps of each for as many rounds as possible for the time you have.

Or try out these body weight travel workouts we’ve already posted on the blog!
Workout 1
Workout 2

Stash Equipment in Your Luggage!

Get a resistance tube!

• These can easily be tossed in luggage. Resistance tubes usually come with door jambs allowing you to perform most exercises in the convenience of any room! With an anchored tube in a door you can perform tons of exercises including a chest press, row, pallof press, lat pulldown, shoulder press, tricep pressdown, and more. Using your own body as an anchor you can perform resisted squats, lunges, tricep extensions, shoulder press, and more!

• Ask your trainer for demos as needed. Create a workout by choosing a push, pull, lunge, hip hinge, and single leg exercise and perform 10 reps each. Repeat for time.

Get a mini band!

• You can add sumo/monster walks, hip bridge with abduction/adduction, resisted bicycles, standing foot taps, the options are endless!

• Find more band exercises by following these links!

Check out this video for some great suggestions, or this “Perform Better” article for tips on how to blast your glutes!

10*20*30 Workout

This workout is ideal for summer travels. Choose any single circuit and repeat AMRAP for an exhilarating vacation workout! 8 Min AMRAP Circuits.

10 Burpees
20 Body Weight Squats
30 Jacks
*repeat AMRAP for 8 minutes

10 Pull Ups or Pull Downs
20 TRX Triceps Extensions
30 Reverse Fly w/Tube
*repeat AMRAP for 8 minutes

10 Pushups or Plank w/Hip Tap
20 Bicep Curls
30 Sprinter Starts (no TRX)
*repeat AMRAP for 8 minutes

10/10 Split Squats or Plyo Lunges
20 Shoulder Press
30 In & Out Squats
*repeat AMRAP for 8 minutes

Don’t have access to any equipment? Try repeating the first section 5 rounds for time!

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Why on Earth Do We Keep Lifting These Heavy Things??

It is frequently thought, pondered, and questioned, but often this question is not directly asked. Recently a former member inquired:

Why does we push heavy lifting here at Ellipse Fitness?

We can start with the 7 basics that most fitness professionals, weight loss experts, and physical therapist agree with.

7 Basic Reasons to Strength training and Lift Heavy

1. Builds confidence.
2. Burns more fat.
3. Strengthen bones.
4. Builds and strengthens muscles.
5. Prevents injury.
6. Improves endurance.
7. Defines the shape of a human body.

Enough said. Let’s just lift heavy, right? If only it were that simple…

The 4 Problems with Heavy Lifting

1. The term heavy is subjective. For so many of us, our body weight is heavy enough until we can move through the entire range of motion for any prescribed movement pattern. (That is semi-fancy trainer talk for perform an exercise, like a squat, correctly and without a load)

2. Adding a load and knowing when to increase it is confusing. Start small and increase minimally overtime. Increasing weights 2.5% each week or two can deliver amazing results overtime. The key is consistency. One heavy session is more likely to cause soreness, pain or injury as opposed to a progressive training program. Earning each pound added to any movement is required. Try adding load in small increments over the course of 4 weeks.

3. Fear of bulking up is something women tend to worry about more often than men. Some trainers respond with a line about women not having enough testosterone to bulk up, but the problem with this statement is not that it is entirely untrue – which is is. The problem is that the statement doesn’t even address the concerns of the client! Some women do build muscle fast and feel like they are bulking up. Many factors can be considered in this situation. Consuming too many calories, lifting too heavy too soon, etc. Accepting myths about women that change your perception like the “long, lean Pilates look.” That’s not real! We can’t lengthen muscles! These muscles are as long as they are going to be for adults. What we can do is tone and strengthen and maybe most importantly improve your health and quality of life.

4. Lifting as heavy as possible is not recommended every day. Discuss with your trainer how often you should lift heavy, max out, or PR (Personal Record). Muscles need recovery time to avoid injury. Limited recovery time is one of the most prominent issues we see. We are impressed by those who want to give 110% all the time. Inspiring? Of course. Smart? Maybe not always. Proper nutrition, sleep, stretching and foam rolling, and rest is the realm in which our bodies get stronger. Think about it. Lifting heavy causes fatigue and muscle soreness. We cannot, and should not, lift as heavy as possible again until we are fully recovered.

Program design plays a pivotal role in increasing muscle strength and endurance, changing the shape of our bodies, and fat loss. Ellipse Fitness provides many opportunities, on various days of the week, to lift heavy. When scheduling your sessions or selecting your weights on any given day, decide which day is best for you to lift heavy based on what physical activities you’ve planned for the rest of the week, whether you have time to eat a high quality meal near your workout, whether or not you expect to get a full night of sleep, etc. Discuss with your coach/trainer. Goal setting sessions are always available to our members.

Small group sessions allow our members to make strength training a priority. These sessions are available several days a week to ensure that we can get and stay strong. Custom programing is available for our members who have specific goals or limitations.

How heavy is heavy?

I don’t want to be a body builder. Do I really need to bench press my weight?

I don’t like Turkish Get Ups. Why do we do them?

I heard a loaded carry should be 75% of my body weight for 100 yards. Is this true?

We will find many landmarks for activities such as these. It is important to train the body to maintain strength. Once we stop challenging ourselves or even just visiting our perceived limitations, we begin to lose strength and definition. Our work capacity lowers. Our ability to get up and down off the floor weakens. We lose strength. We fall. We break bones. We gain fat. We lose confidence.

WHY should we lift heavy?

Because we can, and because it will ensure that we can into the future.

Six Trainer Tips for Maximizing Your Program

You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

~ Stephen King

Your trainer can do a lot for you, and well they should – that is what you pay them for after all! But there are some things that YOU must do in order to maximize the benefits from the work you putting in, before you can display any dissatisfaction with your program or lack of results.

Six Things You Must Do To Get The Most Out Of Your Program!

#1 – Foam Roll!

Before. After. At home while you watch TV. On the weekends. Foam rolling is maybe your best tool for preventing injury during workouts, improving your mobility so you can ingrain new functional movement patterns that will last, and improving recovery after workouts! Roll muscle bellies, avoid ligaments, tendons, bony processes and soft areas.

#2 – Do Your Homework!

The buck does not stop with foam rolling before sessions, consider adding mobility work into your daily routine to help open up your problem areas and allow you better movement. Your trainer should already know your tighter, less mobile areas so just ask for some suggestions. Froggers/Quad Rocks for tight hips; Inchworms for hamstrings; Lat Activation for shoulder mobility, etc.

#3 – Acknowledge Your Limitations!

There is ALWAYS a way to regress a movement pattern so that you can be more successful at it. It’s one thing to challenge yourself – and of course you should; it is another to force yourself into an injurious position you are not ready for! To push yourself beyond your limits will reduce and not expand them, working within the edge of your ability is how we get stronger without setbacks, complications and extreme hardship! It has to feel like work, but it doesn’t have to feel like suffering.

#4 – Ask for Progressions!

If you find yourself complacently meandering through a movement wondering why you are wasting your time, point it out to your trainer! We know sometimes people don’t want to be spotlighted or viewed as a show-off, but more than likely if it’s THAT easy you are probably missing a key point of the exercise. Help us help you by keeping open communication about what you’re feeling. Which brings us to our next tip…

#5 – Give Us Feedback!

Let us know what you like or don’t like, and WHY – If you don’t like it because it just feels too hard, maybe it’s time to talk about regressions so you can feel successful. If it hurts your back, knees, neck etc most likely something has gone awry with your movement pattern or a latent injury is rearing its head – both of which your trainer may be able to figure out ways to work around and ultimately help you overcome!

#6 – Do Your Part In The Kitchen!

All the training in the world won’t compensate for poor diet, and we have numerous blog posts that can help steer you in the right direction there. Whether you want to lose weight, bulk up, improve your athletic performance or just reduce your risk of developing the major diseases (CVD, Atherosclerosis, Diabetes, etc.) a major component of reaching your goals is going to be what you put into your body when you are not with your trainer.

slap

We can’t push you to be your best if you are dehydrated or if you are dizzy due to low blood sugar or sluggish due to a belly full because you ate 20 minutes before your session. Get to know your body, try different things and see what works best for you! Below are some resources for more information on nutrition!

What to Eat, When to Eat and What it Means for Your Workouts.

Junk Food Disguised as Health Food

Clean Eating With Convenience

Water and Weight Loss

Valentine’s Workout for Two!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We’ve got a holiday workout to share, just because we like you!
Here’s what you’ll need:
• Friend
• Pair of dumbbells
• Heart!

Great things come in twos!

Not a member and want more workouts, just like this?
Get started at Ellipse today for just $49!
Or experience everything we can do for you in 21-Days for $99.
Email support@ellipsefitness.com now for more information!


Celebrating Lent? Considering making a sacrifice for the next 40 days? Instead of depriving yourself, indulge your muscles and mind with movement. 21 Days of great workouts like this with professional coaching for just $99. Think Spring!

Deconstructing the Plank

This week we are going to completely break down another one of our most basic moves – the plank! Most people are aware of the planks most central component: a strong core. This week you will discover that there is MUCH more to it than that alone, but let’s start here.

We define the core as any and all muscles that attach to and/or stabilize the spine, which technically probably includes a near majority of the muscles in your body! Your core connects your lower body to your upper body. Most of our daily movement either emanates from the core or moves through it. Being able to actively “turn on” your core is vital for obtaining good posture, is key in balance and stability, maintaining a healthy back, and in everyday activities. Being able to quickly activate or “turn on” your core muscles is often the difference between sustaining injury or not when lifting and/or moving some everyday object or having to react quickly like catching yourself during a trip and near fall.

Now as we talk more about what goes into a quality plank it may help to imagine a soldier – standing at attention.

Their back is tall, ears aligned over their shoulders, legs straight. They are standing at a-TENSION! “Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.” Flip them down on the ground with arms forward and you have a beautiful plank! The next time you plank, think to yourself, “if I were flipped up onto my feet, would I be standing tall and straight?” PUSH through your heels in your plank to create tension. Pretend a cat is climbing up your leg, digging in its claws (we know, ouch!). Instinctively your muscles would tighten, pulling the knee cap “up” on the thigh – the front of your leg is now “engaged”.

Next, pretend your pelvic bone is a bowl. Slightly tip the bowl backward like you are trying to pour water out of your back side (gross image, but bare with us). This engages, or creates tension in the external obliques, rectus abdominis, glutes, and hamstrings. Check out this great article to get more in-depth with pelvic tilt!

Hopefully by this point in the article, you have gathered that planking includes alignment and tension throughout the body! This continues into the upper body. Be sure your elbows are securely under your shoulders. Turn your palms down, and spread your fingers for the most sensory input (no prayer hands!). Push your body up into your upper back, or in other words lift yourself through the shoulders – don’t allow them to collapse together on your back. Your head should be aligned with spine – think about giving yourself a double chin. If there were a pole on your back it should make contact at the back of your head, shoulders, and tailbone.

Now that you’ve found all this tension in your body it is time to find a little movement! A strong plank is in part created by proper breathing, meaning breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. When you breathe deeply, you should feel your entire rib cage and belly expand to its fullest extent. When exhaling all the way you activate your deep core muscles, which is exactly what want to be calling upon during planks! So many of us are chronic “mouth breathers” which can lead to a whole host of issues like exercise induced asthma, sleep apnea, chronic hyperventilation and even increased allergy symptoms. Now, take a DEEP breath…or MANY deep breaths!

So that’s it. Nothing to it, just: TENSION (stand tall), feet dorsiflexed, quads/front of legs engaged (cat claws!), slightly tip the pelvis (belly button to spine and close to nose) for core activation, elbows under shoulders, chest into upper back, head alignment, BREATHE!

Go forth…and plank