The last few weeks I’ve been sharing some of the small changes that I have been working on in order to get to a healthier lifestyle that I can function and live with…like a normal person.
Several people that follow The Journey are going right along with this free challenge…and some are even in the running for a prize at the end! (you are doing awesome btw!)
Are You Just Joining Us? The challenge works like this…work on each week in the order that works for you, do the homework and feel free to ask us any questions too! Who knows…there might be a chance for you to win a prize at the end as well. 😉
Small Changes Challenge Week 4:
We’ve talked about the mental stuff (week1), we have touched on the aspect of sugar (week 2) and last week we mentioned how water is an important part of this journey (week 3). Keep working on all these weeks…but now we are adding on another new change. This week…our focus is now on one specific exercise that will work a very important part of your body: the core.
What is “The Core?” I’ve learned throughout the last few years that not everyone starts at the same level of knowledge when it comes to fitness. I had no idea how important the core was to our bodies until I was at the point of crawling up our stairs since walking hurt so much (you can read more about my own journey and that process here). That was my reality and during all my pregnancies I was at the point where my hips and pelvis just weren’t strong enough for all the weight my body was carrying, my own and the kids’.
Since I’ve started teaching fitness classes, and even while I was just working out at the gym, I’ve been asked numerous times what different muscles are or why we would do a specific move and know that once in my life I had those same questions. So, we are starting with the basics because…we need to. You NEED to understand why you would do something. Find out WHY and WHAT it does and HOW to perform it. Educate yourselves so you understand what it is that you are expecting your body to do and what the benefits are from the exercise.
“Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability, whether on the playing field or in daily activities. In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles.” (mayoclinic.com)
When we think of “core” I know that the first and sometimes the only exercise some people think of is crunches or situps…that’s what I used to think the core was all about…but there is a whole world of activities you can do that will target all those areas of your body that were just mentioned. The pelvis and hips are my major issues. I’ve worked very hard to get those to a point where my hips would stay stabilized during the day and night and not pop out of place. Yes, it seriously popped out and it was as loud as can of pop opening. Every. Day.
Since my lovely hip issue days I have had a chance to strengthen other areas of my core. Now, I don’t have a six pack…and still have a lot of work to do…but I have learned that this area of my body is very important and I have to spend time on it. That right there is key…you have to spend the time on it. It doesn’t just magically happen. I try to do at least some sort of core type of strengthening at least 3 times a week. Sometimes that is with my regular workouts. Sometimes that is me just doing a core workout for a little bit at home. By focusing on my core and actually doing the work to make it stronger…my back no longer has pain, my posture is taller and my hips don’t hurt as much.
This week we will be sharing a few of my favorite core exercises on our Facebook page and we will share a few special links so you can educate yourself a bit more. Now let’s get to what the challenge is for this week.
The challenge: PLANKS! Honestly…planks and I have a love/hate relationship. I hate to do them but I love what they do for me. I’ve recently been working on my own sortof challenge (more about this in January) and I have to say that doing planks regularly has changed my stomach area a bit. I’ve gone down about a pants size in my waist since the start of December and I know if I continue I will keep having positive results from doing these exercises on a continuos basis. I haven’t really changed anything that I eat…just have been adding this exercise in to my daily routine.
The benefits of doing planks far outweigh the small bit of time that it takes to work on this exercise. Here is some technical info about the benefits of planks from livestrong.com:
- Strength: helps strengthen midsection, upper-body and lower-body muscles along the front of your body. Planks also strengthen inner core muscles that support your joints. The rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis that form your outer and inner abdominal muscles, respectively, are primary supporters during plank exercises. The abdominal obliques also stabilize the plank position isometrically. Upper-body stabilizers include the pectoral and serratus muscles. Lower-body stabilizers include the quadriceps, sartorius and tensor fasciae latae.
- Flexibility: Plank exercises help increase flexibility in posterior muscle groups throughout your body. Your shoulder girdle expands and stretches various muscles around your shoulders, collarbone and shoulder blades. Pressing the front of your thighs upward and lengthening your legs as much as possible stretches the hamstrings that form the back of your thighs. Plank exercises also stretch the arches of your feet as your toes hyperextend to support your weight.
- Aesthetic: Plank exercises have aesthetic benefits that can enhance your appearance by improving posture. Planks activate core muscles, including the transverse abdominis and iliopsoas, which stabilize your spine and hips. Plank exercises help prevent or reverse postural deficiencies, including lordosis and posterior pelvic tilt. Lordosis, or swayback, results from abdominal weaknesses that overextend your back; it tends to make your buttocks stick out. Posterior pelvic tilt, or flat back, results from hip flexor weaknesses and flattens the normal curvature of your spine.
- Mental: Plank exercises might provide mental benefits that improve your mood. Plank exercises stretch muscles that commonly stiffen throughout the day and contribute to stress. Sitting at your desk might tighten muscles along the back of your thighs when your legs remain bent for several hours. Tension also develops in the shoulder girdle, if your shoulders tend to slump forward. The website Yoga Journal recommends plank exercises for stress reduction, because planks can help calm your brain. Plank exercises might also help to suppress anxiety. Symptoms of depression may improve if you perform plank exercises.
How to do a plank: this exercise is where you hold your body up off of the ground for a number of seconds. You keep your butt down so your body makes a straight line with your shoulders and legs and hold steady resting on your palms and toes or on your forearms and toes. To find out more about form…check out this site from Greatist.com: How to do the perfect plank
What about the mistakes…the WHAT NOT TO DO? Greatist.com has provided some helpful info on this topic too! Check it out below:
The Mistake: Collapsing the lower back.
The Fix: Instead of compromising the lower back by dipping the bum, engage the core by imagining your belly button drawing in toward the spine. This will help keep the torso flat, and in turn, the spine safe. If you want to get super technical, have a friend gently place a broomstick or yardstick on your back — the top of the stick should make contact with the head, and the bottom of the stick should rest between the buttocks. The stick should also make contact right between the shoulder blades for proper alignment.
The Mistake: Reaching the butt to the sky.
The Fix: Planks aren’t supposed to look like a downward dog. To really get the core working the way it should in he plank position, keep the back flat enough so the abs feel engaged from top (right below the sternum) to bottom (directly below the belt). But of course, don’t dip the tush too far toward the ground.
The Mistake: Letting the Head Drop
The Fix: While the focus may be on keeping the hips, butt, and back in the proper position, form isn’t all about the core and the lower body in this move. It’s important to think of the head and neck as an extension of the back. Keep eyes on the floor about a foot in front of the hands to neutralize the neck.
The Mistake: Forgetting to breathe.
The Fix: It’s human nature to hold your breath when in a strenuous position for a period of time. But breathing is especially important because holding it for too long can bring on dizziness or nausea, which is especially dangerous for those with blood pressure issues.
The Mistake: Focusing too much on the stopwatch.
The Fix: Quality trumps a ticking stopwatch when it comes to the plank. When your form begins to suffer, it’s time to call it quits. If the back begins to bow or the shoulders start to sink in, take a break.
- Beginner: You first need to figure out where you are at and how strong your core is. Lay on the floor and do a plank as long as possible and keep in mind the mistakes that are up above. As a beginner you will probably notice your lower back being more uncomfortable than with someone who is a little bit more advanced. A lot of this is due to the shift in how our body is holding its bodyweight and some is most likely due to a weaker lower back. As you get stronger and work on this exercise though this uncomfortableness does go away. If you need to moderate the exercise a bit you can start by doing a plan on your knees instead of using your toes as the point of connection with the floor (you can read more about this on the Greatist.com article mentioned above). Beginners…your goal this week is to increase the time that you can plank from day 1 to day 7 by 15 seconds! Example…if on day 1 you can plank a total of 10 seconds, by day 7 you should challenge yourself to plank at least 25 seconds.
- Intermediate: You are at this level if you can successfully do a plank on your toes and palms or toes and forearms for at least 30 seconds. Keep in mind the mistakes above too…these are all pretty common at any level. Intermediates…your goal this week is to increase the time that you can plank from day 1 to day 7 by 30 seconds! Example…if on day 1 you can plank a total of 30 seconds, by day 7 you should challenge yourself to plank at least 1 minute.
Homework…Using the recommendations above for the different fitness levels, follow this schedule for the plank exercises. Remember…this is just a few seconds of your day...really. We all have a few seconds each day to do something good for our body. You can even read Facebook statuses and an article on The Journey in a few seconds! If you can be on social media during the day…you can take the time to do a plank. Just sayin’ As you ponder that ;0 here are the instructions for the week:
- Day 1 = find out how long you can plank and what fitness level you are at. Write it down in the tracker form.
- Day 2 = Plank the same amount of time as day 1.
- Day 3 = Plank 5 to 10 seconds more than day 1.
- Day 4 = rest. NO planks today.
- Day 5 = Beginners…Plank 10 seconds more than day 1. Intermediates…plank 10 to 15 seconds more than day 1.
- Day 6 = Beginners…Plank 10 to 15 seconds more than day 1. Intermediates…plank 20 seconds more than day 1.
- Day 7 = Beginners…Plank 15 seconds more than day 1! Intermediates…plank 30 seconds more than day 1!
E-mail your plank time that you did on day 1 and your plank time on day 7 to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t make it to the goal…just keep working on it! You will get there if you keep trying. If you need a little bit of a boost, go back to our week 1 and your quotes that motivate you and put those in your mind during this challenge.
Thanks for being part of The Journey! I’m excited to be part of this challenge with you!
Jessica is a mom of three kids, wife to one and has an energetic puppy. Jessica has had her own journey of getting healthy using small changes…and you can read about her own journey here.