The Holidays are a wonderful time to spend quality time with friends and family. They are also associated with overindulgence, and you sort of take it for granted that you’ll pile on the pounds.
Does it always have to be that way? Some might argue that a 2 month set back in an entire year isn’t a bad deal. If you have a regular exercise and healthy eating plan that you’ve been following, then I’m with you.
Now what if your decision to get back in shape was made closer to the holidays? Do you need to give it all up?
Don’t get me wrong, the emphasis here is not on weight gain/loss. It’s the result of a breaking a health and fitness regime you had going (irrespective of what stage it was in) that I’m getting at. I’m all about doing as little as possible to stay healthy. The key is doing something every day…even if it’s for 5 minutes.
In this article, I want to share with you one exercise that you can do daily till the festivities come to an end. It will only take 5 minutes of your day and keep you on track so you can jump right back into your pre-Holiday routine without any setbacks.
Have I sparked your interest yet?
Say hello to the Plank. If you’ve been practicing with me you’ll be familiar with this and the funky variations it comes with. All in all it is, in my opinion, THE most effective bodyweight exercise. Here’s why:
- It is a FULL body exercise. You use your arms, upper back, core (abs and lower back), thighs, buttocks, and even your feet to keep you in this position. You’re looking at a stronger core (say good bye to lower back aches), firm buttocks, toned arms and lengthened calves.
- It is an effective way to strengthen the wrists. I see a lot of students with weak wrists and I can’t stress how important it is to strengthen this area. Opening doors, driving, cooking (and associated prep work), carrying groceries, playing an instrument, pushing a stroller, typing – tasks we perform every day that require hands. In fact one of the causes of Carpal Tunnel is wrist weakness. Not convinced? How about wrist strength and upper body strength go hand in hand? Strengthen one and you strengthen the other.
- It strengthens and maintains the flexibility in your toes and feet. Your feet are the only connection between your physical body and the earth. These are what “ground” and stabilise you – your foundation. If these are weak, other muscles have to work extra to compensate leading to a host of other issues due to the imbalance created.
- It is a mental exercise. Very rarely in a class are you asked to hold a plank for more than 10 seconds. Most likely, you will move into several variations. In my experience, one of the most challenging aspects to holding a plank is keeping still. It’s a work in progress for me and depends on the state of my mind at that moment. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself getting fidgety and cursing 😉 practice will help immensely and you’ll find it paying off in your Yoga class and in other aspects of your day-to-day lives.
How to perform a plank
I’ve chosen a high plank in this article to ensure you get maximum benefit in a short time.
- Start in a table top pose (hands and knees/all 4s) with your knees perpendicular to your hips and hips distance apart. Wrists are under your shoulders and shoulder width apart.
- Head and neck:
- Keep the neck long and drawing away from the shoulders. One way to ensure this is by finding a point slightly ahead of you to gaze at.
- Hands and Arms:
- Spread your fingers out as wide as possible and engage the muscles of the arm by pressing the base of the knuckles into the mat/floor.
- Your middle finger points in the direction of your gaze.
- The weight is not in the heel of your hand, but rather distributed evenly throughout the entire surface area of the palm.
- Don’t lock the elbows out. Keep them soft.
- Keep the collar bones wide (Imagine your chest expanding)
- Upper back:
- Keep the shoulder blades on your back, don’t let them wing out like they would if you rounded your back.
- Keep your shoulders away from your ears.
- As you exhale, feel the muscles of your abdominals moving towards your spine, and the sides of your waist drawing in. These are the muscles you want to keep strong and engaged throughout to protect your lower back.
- The challenge comes with keeping this activation and not restricting your breath and the movement of your diaphragm.
- Legs and feet:
- Extend one leg out behind you so it’s resting on the ball of your foot, and then extend the other.
- Activate the heels by attempting to press them back (you will feel your calves here).
- Squeeze the inner thighs together.
- Squeeze the buttock muscles.
- Activate the front of the thighs (quadriceps) by drawing the knee caps up.
- Don’t lock the knees. Like the elbows, keep them soft.
- Keep the hips in line with your shoulders (it helps to first do this with the help pf a mirror). You should be able to see your feet if you look under, and you will see a straight line from your head to your heels if you looked in a mirror.
- Sagging hips are a lower back injury waiting to happen. You will feel the strain in your back and your feet will have disappeared!
Now every part of your body is working. Keep imagining the crown of your head and tailbone moving away from each other, lengthening the spine.
Observe your inhales and exhales, keep breathing and remember that each exhale helps you reconnect with your power house, associated with confidence and will power, the core.
Exiting is just as important as entry. Gently lower one knee and then the other. Shift your hips back and sit on your heels. Never exit hastily from a pose to avoid injuries.
Release your wrists with slow, conscious circular movements – clockwise and anticlockwise.
Modifications if the version above is too intense
- Once you extend both legs out, keep everything working and gently lower your knees down to the floor/mat. You know you’ve done it right if you lift your knees off and are in a full plank without changing anything. (in other words, the angle your body makes between the knees and the mat/floor is about 45 degrees).
- If you have separation of the abdominal muscles (Diastasis Recti) of more than 2 fingers’ width, it is safer to plank using a chair or coffee table that’s sturdy. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and that the entire palm of your hand is on the surface of the chair or table.
Getting your plank on
- Week 1: Start with 2 sets/rounds of 10 seconds each. If you feel that didn’t challenge you, then by all means go for 30 seconds or even a minute. Doing it twice is the key.
- Week 2: Add another 20 to 30 seconds. Do it twice every day.
- Week 3 and so on…keep adding 20 – 30s until you’ve reached 5 minutes.
Practice holding a plank for 5 minutes for a week and on busy days. Observe any changes (physical and mental) this has brought about.
Remember, the idea here is staying consistent. This will without a doubt keep you in shape and not regressing if you’ve been making progress. You’ll emerge on the other side of the “Holiday High” stronger and ready to take on the New Year!