functional training

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

Let’s Get Physical!!!

I’ve been in the fitness business for 10 years and was an avid exercise nut for many years before I made health and wellness my professional and personal life choice.  I remember the leg warmers and sweatbands of the 1980’s (and have even dressed in my “aerobics” best for a recent Halloween party!), step, hi/low, freestyle, memorized choreography and doing my hair and makeup before I went to class… Viva Olivia

A Positive Evolution: It’s exciting and amazing to see how fitness programming and the industry have evolved.  We want better results in less time in a cost effective way.  A large part of the United States population continues to age while wanting to stay fit.  Kids are participating at a higher level and specializing in one sport at a young age.  How is the fitness industry answering the call for change?

Time Conscious Workouts: Shorter yet higher-intensity workouts will be more appealing to those with busy schedules because they can reap significant fitness rewards with relatively minimal time investment.  Boot camp and circuit training will continue to be popular.  Both are a great way to burn a large number of calories while improving your strength!

Functional Training: This is a trend toward using strength training to improve balance and ease of daily living.   Functional training workouts will increase in variety, including popular suspension training tools such as TRX.  The portability and time-efficiency of these workouts will appeal to people looking to stay fit at home, the office, the gym or while traveling.

Older Population: Programming for aging adults will remain a strong trend next year. This group recognizes the benefits they receive from regular exercise participation, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol to maintaining one’s functional independence and overall wellbeing.

Kids: Student athletes are incorporating training into their off-season in order to stay in top shape for their sport of choice.

I’m excited about the trends in the industry.  We are meeting the needs of a broad group of people, not just specializing in one target market.  Health and fitness is a lifestyle choice!