Planking 101 – Short versus Long Plank Holds and More Tips

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Planks are pretty popular for “core training”, but are rarely done effectively. They can be great for improving your breathing and creating total body tension which is key to increasing your strength and power. Whatever type of plank you are practicing, try doing them in intervals of 10-20 sec versus holding for longer 60+ sec where you will usually end up hanging on stretched out muscles and do more harm than good.

Start with your elbows on the floor, forearms parallel, and focus on taking deep breaths while contracting your fists, abs, glutes and quads all at the same time. If you do this, a 15 sec plank will be wicked tough and crazy effective … your finisher for tomorrow is a 20 sec plank followed by a 10 sec rest x 8 rounds. Let me know how that treats you and check out the pictures and videos for more tips …

 

Check out these videos for a few plank variations to incorporate into your next workout:

Walking Plank (Up Up Down Down Planks) – 3 per side

Plank & Side Plank Goals

Side Plank with Hip Dips

Walk Out Planks

Plank Rotators

Split-Squat / Plank Superset

Try this quick workout next time you train:

Tabata Plank Interval:

Hold an Elbows & Toes Plank for 20 seconds

Rest 10 Seconds

Repeat this for 8 rounds. Really hold your plank tight, forearms parallel, glutes and quads tight and breath normally or more deeply than usual.

Pretty good habits lead to pretty good results.

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

When we want to get into shape, we really want to improve one of four things: to move, feel, look and/or play better. Think about your health and fitness goals. Those four things pretty much sum it up. No one goal is more important than the others, as long as they are in balance.

Setting short-term goals keeps us driven in the moment. The key though is to keep your goals in the front of your mind and your behaviors aligned with these goals. Most importantly, be honest with yourself about this alignment.

This discussion is always an interesting one, and, all too common. Follow along here and let me know when you catch on. This conversation just happened this morning:

“What’s up sister … so how are you feeling with everything … your workouts, our training ….?”

“I feel toned and definitely feel strong and all around better, but I guess I just can’t lose weight.”

“OK, so you are concerned then most right now about the way you look?”

“Well, I look OK, but honestly, I could lose more around my waist and arms. Well, really? I want to look GREAT next month for my trip to the beach.”

“OK, I get it. How is your food right now?”

“Well that’s the thing. I actually am eating pretty good. So I don’t get it.”

“So how do you want to look and feel at the beach?”

“Great. At least better than I would today.”

“OK, so how are you eating?”

“I just told you, I am pretty much on track. I am doing pretty good with my food.”

“OK, well first, you look better than “pretty good”, but again … how do you want to look and feel on the beach in your swimsuit?”

“Oh, I am being a knucklehead, aren’t I?”

“Ready to go workout?”

“Yes.”

No matter your goals, “pretty good” behaviors lead to “pretty good” results. And pretty good might really be awesome for most people, especially for a busy 39-year-old mother of 3 as this conversation was with, so don’t sell yourself short. If everyone ate pretty good and trained pretty good and slept pretty good, our country’s state of health and fitness would be so much better than it is today. Just be honest with yourself about your goals and your effort.

 

Pros and Problems with Performing Planks and Planking Challenges

Saturday, March 14th, 2015
Dave Reddy demonstrating a pressing strength pattern - the push up plank

Push Up Planks are great for building strength-endurance and serving as a prerequisite for more advanced core training.

For most people, planks are a pretty darned good exercise. Similar to food, there aren’t too many “bad” exercises, only bad habits and behaviors (aka exercise form) surrounding those exercises. Done correctly in moderation, planks can help you in two primary areas:

  1. Develop core muscle-endurance while helping you differentiate between your abdominal wall muscles and your breathing mechanisms. Meaning, you want to brace your core and abdominal muscles without necessarily holding your breath. Thus, make sure you can breathe deeply during a plank.
  2. Secondly, planks help develop total body, mostly upper body tension. Tension is key to strength. A strong tense grip for instance is associated with a strong shoulder girdle. Strength is our number one goal for both metabolic and functional improvements in the training arena. A properly performed plank helps us develop some wicked total body tension that can increase our core and postural strength which in turn helps reduce injury and improve everyday tasks and athletic endeavors.

(If you are a new mom, or will someday become a mom, and have children under the age of 5, check out this article and become familiar with core training systems like MuTu. Here is a in-depth article about planks and women: “If Planks Aren’t the Best Postpartum Exercise, Prove It!

But, because planks are relatively easy to attempt, assuming you have healthy shoulders AND big toes, everyone does them. And we assume that if we can only hold a 10 second plank with our first attempt, then 20 seconds is better, and 40 seconds is better and 4 minutes is like totally the best! Wrong. I have been there … I planked with 45 other people and can proudly say I won the “challenge” with about a 3.5 minute plank. I have never held one over 45 seconds since. I actually lead this particular group challenge and afterwards questioned whether I was doing the best thing for my training/client community. I was not.

Planks should absolutely be developed and practiced, but only up to performing a 45-60 second plank. After you can do a 45 second plank, it is time to make them more dynamic. Here are a few sample videos:

Push Ups & Negative Push Ups

Plank Rows

Walking Planks

BOSU Push Up Plank

Click here to open a PDF describing a few of my favorite core exercises – Weekend Warrior Rx Core Series.

So what is wrong with trying for a two minute plank?

I get that it is fun to occasionally go for a 90 second plank, but beyond a minute or so, we lose the upper body tension we are aiming for, and instead resort to “hanging on our meat” where we lose tension in areas of our body and we simply shift from our shoulder joints to our hip and lower back and begin sagging throughout. Or our hips (rear end) ever so slightly shift up meaning we have all but shut off our core muscles and are now relying on our hip flexors that in turn throws our hips and pelvis out of whack causing all sorts of issues in our knees, back and shoulders. Who wants that?

So if you are challenging yourself or others, do so by trying to hold a wicked strong, tense, strength improving plank position for up to a minute. Here are a few tips.

Tips for your groups Plank Challenge:

  • If your first plank attempt is under 20 seconds, your 3-5 week goal should be do double your time, with your goal being 45-60 seconds. (See the 3rd bullet on form.)
  • If you first attempt is 20-40 seconds, really focus on tensing your entire body throughout and double your plank time within 2-4 weeks. (See next bullet on form.)
  • If you can plank for 40-60 seconds on your first attempt, focus on quality over quantity. The key is tension – Begin on your forearms and toes, forearms parallel, fists tight, shoulders pulled away from your ears, and then this is key: simultaneously contract your quads, glutes and abs and continue checking in with each area to make sure everything is tight and contracted and TONED! You will not “tone” these areas if you cannot hold them tone for 40-60 seconds during a plank. Finally, breathe! Breathe and focus on exhaling a little bit more than you are inhaling. You should feel your abs get a tighter on your exhales.

To sum all of this up: you simply cannot hold a proper, effective and functional plank really well for over a minute unless you are Lance Armstrong and you blood dope. Then, well, maybe.

For a few of my favorite core exercises, check out the linked videos throughout this email and practice the moves on the attached PDF. Maybe I will develop a 6 Core Challenge after moving beyond planks.

Happy Planking People!

What is YOUR Definition of Fitness?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Picking Up a Child is one way to define Fitness with Dave Reddy

A “fit” mom may mean she has the ability to pick up her child easily. Focusing on this task may result in a tight core, strong back and proper squatting mechanics.

“Fitness is the ability to perform a task.”

Performing a given task may require specific skills or attributes including speed, endurance, flexibility, balance, accuracy, power and agility.

Who is more fit? The Olympic weight lifter, the professional basketball player or the marathon runner? Each “fit” athlete attempts to master a few different attributes specific to their task.

“I can’t tell you what fitness is until you tell me what you want.”

The point is that when you want to become fit, decide what fitness means for you … what task(s) do you want or need to perform during your work and play? (Check out the picture on the right.) Then figure out what attributes will help you do that task.

Train a few times per week at home or at the gym to improve those attributes while keeping these questions in mind:

  • what is the purpose of each exercise I am doing? (this is particularly important with the stretches we do, as the only reason we stretch is to improve the movements that lead to performing our desired task.)
  • which movement (task) or fitness attribute (endurance, balance, etc) are you specifically improving?
Kettlebell Goblet Squat with Fitness Teacher and Coach, Dave Reddy

A goblet squat builds total body, “every day” strength from head to toe while providing a sweet metabolic effect which in turn burns more calories.

Answer these two questions and then build motivation by doing these three things:

  1. set short-term goals (double your plank time, touch your toes, lose 2 lbs, increase your maximum number of push ups by one repetition),
  2. find cool people to join you in the effort (an exercise class, boot camp or online community),
  3. consider how much you need to enjoy the actual exercise versus enjoying just the results. Zumba may be fun and enjoyable today, but running sprints, jumping rope and doing kettlebell goblet squats  (pictured right) will deliver faster and longer lasting bang for your buck. One may not be better than the other, but you may stick to one exercise longer and that is most important (especially in the beginning.)

Finally, please remember, form follows function. Focusing on functional, purposeful exercise first will not only  improve your health, fitness and longevity potential, but will help you build towards all of the form/vanity/superficial/”holy cow it’s Memorial Day weekend and I have to wear a t-shirt” goals you may have.

Training with an Injury – Take Advantage of This Time (with Video)

Monday, March 31st, 2014
Training in my boot - this is me spotting (now) NHL New York Islander Scott Mayfield with a suspended TRX Row.

Training in my boot – this is me spotting (now) NHL New York Islander Scott Mayfield with a suspended TRX Row.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden, Basketball Hall of Famer.

Great advice from a legendary coach for training when injured – “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden, Basketball Hall of Famer.

I find too many people hurt their shoulder and shut down their entire routine when their legs are perfectly healthy. I coached someone today with a pretty ugly rotator tear, but while she arrived with her spirits down feeling like she can’t get a great workout in, we went ahead and hit the following:

  • squatting floor touches
  • kettlebell dead lifts with light to moderate weight
  • walking agility (heels, toes, side shuffle, grapevine, high knee march)
  • reverse lunges
  • single arm cable rows standing on 2 feet and on 1 foot with her unaffected arm
  • forward lunges
  • single arm lying dumbbell presses (research shows strength training the healthy arm can have strength improving benefits on the injured arm)
  • side lunges & 12″ box step cross over step backs

Needless to say, she was sweating, her entire body (and spirit) felt better and she felt her legs for 2 days after the workout.

Personally a few years ago, my upper body strength soared through the roof after my foot surgeries because with one tire down, I was forced to focus on my upper body training. See the video below. (more…)

Plank Technique for a Stronger Core with Several Variations (with videos)

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
Dave Reddy Military Fitness Consultingdoinng side planks

“I love the smell of 60 side planking soldiers in the morning.” This is a side plank – push up set we did with Army reservists at Jefferson Barracks. Check out the video below of me demonstrating this move.

Simplicity usually = awesome. Therefore, let’s just say planks = good. Abdominal crunches = bad. Your abdominal muscles, rather your core (think of your “core” as everything from your upper thighs and pelvis to your lower rib cage and waist) functions to BRACE your mid section.

When you squat down to pick something up for example, ideally, your “corset” of muscles (AKA your core) act as a web of muscle tissue running in every direction between your pelvis, your rib cage and spine. When they contract together, you will have a strong torso, protected back, and the ability to maintain strong, durable posture whether standing, bending over or squatting down.

“Chuck Norris doesn’t sleep … he merely planks for 8 hours a night.”

Needless to say, Chuck is awesome, but the point of this quote is to make the point that we live as we exercise. So while Chuck Norris can plank for 8 hours every night, doing just a few minutes (10 seconds at a time working up to 45-60 seconds max) will help you find, activate and strengthen your deep core muscles.

So again, we live as we train. If we do not exercise at all, your daily movement (walking to work, typing all day long, picking up your kids, walking the stairs) suffers. If you train with poor posture (and God knows we see it every day in the fitness center), you will stand around with bad posture telling your friends how much you “workout.” Don’t be that guy (or gal;)

So while your intention may be like totally fantabulous when it comes to strengthening you core and tightening your waist, using the cues in the first video below will make sure your planks (among other abdominal exercises) are doing what you want them to do, which includes:

  • integrate your entire chain of muscles together from hands to toes
  • train you to breathe (somewhat) regularly while holding your abdominal wall tight
  • train the important muscles just peripheral to your core, that is your rib cage and shoulder blades, spinal (think posture) muscles, and all the muscles that stabilize and mobilize your pelvis during movement
  • several other really cool benefits that allow you to walk, run and play more often.

Begin with either a elbows and knees or elbows and toes position for 10-60 seconds at a time. This first video is of me working with April on her Push Up Plank while discussing her shoulder and elbow position to maximize tension in her muscles and not her neck and joints. The following videos after that show a few variations …

Becky demonstrating a BOSU Plank – after you can hold this for 30 seconds, increase the intensity by lifting one foot at a time a few inches off of the floor for 5-10 seconds at a time

Dave doing a Plank Up Down – perform one per side, then two per side and so on up to about 5 per side equaling one set – keep your hips as square to the floor as possible. (more…)

3 Cues to Engage Your Glutes to Build Strength and Fat Burning Potential (while protecting your knees – with short video)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
Becky Wibbenmeyer doing a perfect bench squat

Becky squatting with good form, using her arms to counter balance her hips to allow her to squat safely to a low bench. This is a great place to start with this move.

I think most people suffer from three types of amnesia:

  1. Gluteal
  2. Abdominal
  3. Right Brain

I say “amnesia” because in each of these cases, we are born with the ability to use each: as children we are able to squat deeply, breath correctly, brace our core and are naturally creative. Slowly but surely, our 21st Century lifestyle strips us of each of these … and this makes me very sad.

But never fear … this post is all about waking up your glutes while standing, sitting and squatting by performing the following three cues any time during the day:

  1. simply work on consciously squeezing your glutes “on command” – when you stand up from your chair after reading this post, push “through your heels” to use your hips instead of your knee muscles – the more we are putting our weight on our toes and balls of our feet, the more we are potentially stressing  our knees
  2. imagine your feet are on dinner plates and while keeping your feet two feet apart and toes pointed straight ahead, drive your feet into the  floor and imagine rotating those plates away from one another. Your feet won’t actually move, but you are engaging the rotational function of your glutes (see video below)
  3. drive your knees out to the sides as you stand up to engage the side leg lifting function of your glute and hip muscles.

The result will be more power coming from your core and hips, which means less stress on your knees and lower back. Finally, speaking of our 21st century lives, if you cannot get this feeling in your shoes, do these stand ups as often as you can bare footed. Our shoes these days, especially heeled shoes, are ruining our feet, knees and lower backs. I have had many clients take their heels off (even 1-2″ heels) to squat in socks and immediately feel all knee pain vanish.

And that is awesome!

Whether your goal is to dunk a basketball, drive a golf ball further or stand up from your toilet unassisted for another 5-45 years, these cues are crazy important for you to master:

Dave Reddy doing a genie squat to demo flat back and upright postureThank you to Barb for doing this exercise with me, as after practicing it a few times, I pulled my phone out and ran through it one last time.

OK, I thought I would throw one more picture into this post to illustrate what can happen if you use your glutes, hips and core correctly during a squat. By engaging my hips and core, I am able to lower myself doing a “genie squat” to either a lower chair or to pick something up safely without bending over at all. Look how flat and upright my spine is. That allows me to squat deeply without hurting my knees or back. Begin this movement to a bench or chair and continue working on going deeper and deeper, always avoiding any sort of pain.

We will cover flexibility in the hips and ankles in future posts as they are just as important to get to this squatting position.

If you are interested in getting my Weekly Recap Email and Workout Starter Kit with all of these exercises, click on the REDDY Health Weekly link above to join our community.

Thanks and as always, please let me know what you think here or on Facebook.

Awesome Ab Dolly Roll-Out by 87 Year Old Paul Cahn – Never Too Old to Get Strong (short video)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Dave Reddy and Paul Cahn performing a ab dolly roll out

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? – Satchel Paige

I can’t help but pull out my camera to catch Paul rockin’ out pretty much any part of his weekly workout with me … from jumping rope, to 20 lb dumbbell presses to this sah-weet Ab Dolly Roll Out.

This is part of our finishing routine when we head out to the “mats area” at the Richmond Heights Community Center and hit some core and flexibility.

“I’ll have you know I left a pretty important meeting today to come over and workout.”

He will tell me this on occasion when we train, just to remind me of his dedication, though he will be the first person to tell you he doesn’t like working out much, but completely understands the importance for keeping him healthy in both mind and body.

Paul has had no major orthopedic surgeries or injuries, just a few aches and pains we have managed through the years.

He trains with me two times per week for about 45 minutes, then swims another 4 days per week for 20-25 minutes in addition to walking the hilly four mile loop at Innsbrook in Wright City, MO most Sunday mornings. He is still active Co-Owner of Elan Polo shoes and works 40+ hours per week (with some international business trips thrown in every couple of months). I have worked with Paul for about 10 years and do not believe he has ever neglected his workout through his entire career.

I would like to submit to you this is pure awesomeness!

Paul has great flexibility and strength as you can see below in getting full extension on each roll out. I recommend doing this exercise (or a similar fit ball roll out) only after you can do a elbows and  toes plank for 45 or more seconds.

Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.  ~Author Unknown

For more Health and Fitness Programming and Services for all ages, please visit me at www.reddyhp.com.

Strong, Tone AND Healthy Shoulders with These Two Moves and Cues (with short video)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

20130112_123450Unlike most joints in the body, our shoulder is where we (in the Sports Medicine world) say we:

“sacrifice stability for mobility.”

Mobility is almost always a good thing, especially in the shoulder joint allowing us to move our arm in pretty much every direction, including raising, lowering and rotating them, running like Phoebe in Central Park and throwing a baseball to our kids.

It is the lack of stability (read strength) that causes potential issues. Therefore, when we are doing exercises to functionally strengthen and tone our shoulders, we want to keep a few things in mind.

Ideally, you should be able to lift your arms up overhead with your arms nearly touching your ears and your elbows remaining straight. If you cannot do this, lying on your back in this position is a great (and pretty effortless exercise) you can do for 3-10 minutes a day, as long as you are not feeling pain and your fingers do not go numb and cold too quickly;) But I digress …

Here are a few more exercises in our current program and ways to cue these exercises to get maximal benefit:

In this video, Mimi is doing her Single Arm Dumbbell Press (second exercise in the Metabolic Circuit #1 in the Pressing Workout) and working with a 8 lb dumbbell, she is working on NOT shrugging her shoulders with the upward press. If we shrug our shoulders too much when we press overhead, we put all of this extra stress and tension in our neck and upper back, and that is not awesome. Then, the second goal or cue is to tuck your rib cage down against your side while you are pressing up overhead. You do not need a dumbbell to do this at home. Try it now … reach up overhead, keep your elbow straight, and feel your rib cage lift up and out to the side. Now keeping your arm straight up, attempt to tuck your ribs down and tight, which activates some of your stabilizing (that is a good thing) core muscles.

The other move we are dong is the Standing Cable Face Pull (or rubber band (with handles) hooked to a door knob for at home workouts) as Becky is doing in this video. This is a great exercise to integrate your upper back muscles and rotator cuff muscles together. *This video is actually part of the Pressing Workout (in your starter kit) Superset of the Standing Face Pull x 12 reps followed by the  Side Plank for 20-30 seconds.

To get your own FREE and Awesome Workout Starter Kit our community is doing right now and  join my REDDY Health Weekly email list where I high light these posts, please visit here … Sign Me Up & Send Me My FREE Program.

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions … thanks, Dave

Push Up Form and Elbow Position for Strong Arms and Core (with short video)

Monday, January 28th, 2013

outside_7So the push up is pretty darned awesome because when you can do a perfect push up with good (enough) form, you will:

  • build arm (particularly the back of the arm) and upper back strength (think posture and postural muscle strength)
  • develop functional core strength that “braces” your mid-section thereby tightening your waist and protecting your spine
  • develop stronger, durable shoulders to reduce chances of rotator cuff injuries
  • offer you a nice little party trick to show off to your book club friends

Here are a few tips for performing a push up negative (video below):

  •  Begin in a Push Plank Position with your hands nearly below and maybe a bit outside of your shoulders – press your index finder knuckle into the floor
  • “Brace” your abdominal section (we will cover this in another video) and begin bending your elbows
  • Do not let your hips drop first as they may want to
  • Attempt to lower your body (maintaining your plank position) under control so your chest, stomach and thighs all contact the floor at the same time
  • Ideally, from the top point of view looking down on your body (see video), your elbows are at about a 45 degree or less angle from your shoulders (or closer to your sides than sticking straight out to the sides)
  • Injury Note: your shoulders may feel stronger and stable when they are sticking directly out to the side, that is why we default to this position when we attempt a push up, but over the long haul we are setting ourselves up for shoulder impingement, biceps tendon issues and rotator cuff problems – basically all bad, non-awesome stuff
  • Finally, you want to keep your forearms as parallel to the floor as you can keep them during the movement
  • Repeat the movement by getting up to the starting position any way you can, and lower yourself again
  • Work on these 6-10 minutes 2-3 times per week
  • This position may be more difficult at once, but it will INCREASE your strength capacity while DECREASING your change for injury

In this video, Kim is rockin’ out these (negative) push ups while working on her elbow position and total body strength. We are not doing modified push ups on your knees, by the way, because it changes the angle of your press which can bother your shoulders if done long-term and may also develop strength at a different angle that may not carry over to a “real” push up. And we want REAL push ups baby. Check it out:

If you cannot do this move at all, begin practicing on your counter top, pool table or back of your couch (or on bleachers as we are doing in the picture above-right during one of our Fitness Challenges.) For a modified version at the gym, watch Becky doing this Smith Machine push up in this video below:

Please let me know what you think … even if you are doing chest presses, triceps press downs, etc, you cannot neglect the push up. The more muscles we work at once during a move, the more beneficial the exercise and the push up shows this perfectly.

Let me know if you have any other questions, I am pretty good at replying with videos to your questions, FYI.