Sunday, March 10, 2013

Planking & Push-ups & Pancakes (?), Oh MY!!!!


With the current Daily Plank & Push-up challenge happening on my Facebook page, Running on the Fly, I thought it might be time to bring in a few pointers and humor to recharge everyone.

First of all, why have a challenge to begin with?  A challenge is meant to be a temporary event, kind of like a mini contest.  It is meant solely to give the participants a chance to violate their comfort zones and try something they either have never done before, or do something even more grand than they normally would be comfortable doing.  What happens for most people, is they discover the challenge wasn't as bad as they feared. Quite often, they learn they have more power and discipline than they were aware of. Ideally, they will tap into this new found power and utilize it in future events, workouts or on a daily basis.

We have been challenged to do planks and push-ups.  Daily.  Guess what?  Most of us do not love them, myself included.  I do, however,  LOVE what they have done for my body. These are two exercises that will strengthen your core, which, in turn, will aid in your performance as a runner. (And they will help build arm muscles and tone up your abs.....and who doesn't want stronger arms and flatter tummies?).

Having a strong core will also improve your posture (which will also make you look slimmer).  A solid core gives you strength in running (as well as most other activities) because it helps with your balance and stability.  You use your arms to pump as you run, but your core also aids in this process as you slightly twist with each stride.  If you have a strong core, your arms don't have to do "as much" of the work on their own, thus, the entire "running effort" is made easier.  (As I have said in prior blog entries, I am not an exercise scientist, I am simply repeating information that I have seen).

So, how does one "plank?"  There are a couple different methods.  If you are a beginner, the easiest position is the hands/feet position.  Basically, this is the push-up stance, without doing the push-ups.  You are on your toes and hands (facing the floor)....and you hold that position as long as possible.  The more traditional position is similar, but you are on your elbows instead of your hands.  This is more challenging, but the reward is it will work your abs a little more effectively in less time.  There is also the side plank, where you are on you side, have your feet "locked together" (or the top foot resting on the bottom leg's calf).  They key to success with planks is to hold everything "in" as tight as you can for as long as possible....flex the thigh muscles, squeeze the buttocks and hold in the tummy.


Now, for the push-ups.   There are many ways to do push-ups.  You can have your hands directly below your shoulders, wider than shoulder-width, hands pointing forward or inward, hands under your rib cage, etc.  You can have your feet together or apart, or even stacked on top of each other.  And, you have the option of doing push-ups on your knees if you're intimidated by doing them on your toes.  The main thing is to just do them, and try to get as much range of motion as possible (going down as close to the ground as possible, but still being able to push yourself back up).

Planks and, especially, push-ups also utilize a lot of chest and shoulder strength.  Most likely, you will feel some tenderness in your chest and shoulders the next day, but that will go away as you improve on your form.  Also, try to keep your back as flat as possible....flat as a pancake!.  If you can feel your back starting to sway or bend, you've probably done too much. Practice makes perfect, so get down on the floor!

Do you have a love/hate relationship with planks and/or push-ups?

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