Common misconceptions about planks and what to do instead

Planks are one of the most popular forms of core exercise. We have learned a great deal about the body since the time planks were invented. There are several major misconception that have developed over the decades about why they are part of exercise programs and what they can do for you. Your time is valuable, your energy is even more valuable and your body is one of your most valuable resources you have. Let’s take a big step back and look at the what why and how of planks.

  1. What they do:
    • Planks are thought to strengthen the core muscles, to help treat and prevent back pain.
    • They strengthen the core muscles but that does not mean they improve the function of the core muscles to do their job in movements of daily life.
    • Isolating the core muscles teaches them to work alone, not with the rest of your body as they are designed to do.
    • The position of planks puts the spine in a position of strain by asking it to do something it is not designed to do. While your body can do the movement, its like asking a dog to walk on its hind legs – they can do it but its not how they are designed to move and over time it will cause greater wear and tear.
  2. Why they are popular:
    • Core exercises are often marketed as a way to slim and chisel your middle.
    • Your body does not burn belly fat when you do core exercises. Its just not the way your body works. Core exercises do not reduce fat around your middle.
    • They are hard to do, painful even, giving the impression they are ‘good’. Pain is inflammation and strain, slowing the process of growing stronger. Pain does not mean gain, it means something needs to change.
  3. How to get what you are trying to get from planks:
    • The whole purpose of exercise is to function better so you feel better as you move in daily life.
    • The way the body gets stronger is very specific to the exercise you do for strength
    • The way to a strong core is to use all the muscles there together (including your pelvic floor) to support the center of your body while you are doing movements that mimic daily life movements.
    • To reduce fat around your middle, science says reduce cortisol and other stress hormones, do cardiovascular exercise and raise your metabolism through strength training.
    • To use your core to prevent back pain:
      • Practice using your core muscles to support your spine when you move in daily life. Use your brain to turn on your core muscles with every movement you do, while allowing your breath to move freely. This takes practice but a much more practical use of your exercise time than planking. 🙂
      • When you are not moving, put your spine in a position it can hold you up with ease so those muscles are not working and can rest and recharge. Avoid holding in your stomach in when those muscles don’t need to work so they can recharge their strength for when you do need them.

Take this same approach with any exercise that has been around a while and look at it with a new, practical and functional perspective so you can keep moving, with less strain and more strength.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Leave a comment

by | September 21, 2021 · 8:46 pm

How to make next summer even better (starting right now!)

How was your summer? Now that we are on the tail end, you have a tremendous opportunity to make next summer even better.

If you went on vacation or just did activities that were not your usual, how did you feel? Did your body hold you back or were you able to do what you wanted to do? Did worry about your body hold you back or were you confident that you could say ‘yes’ to activities this summer?

It does not matter if those activities were sitting in a car for a long time or kayaking on a lake or biking on trails, if you wanted to do it, but your body just didn’t have the strength, stamina or mobility to handle it (or you worried it wouldn’t), now is the best time to start getting ready for saying ‘yes’ to more fun next summer!

If you had a summer filled with activities you weren’t able to do in a while because you have been doing things to feel more comfortable and confident in your body. Congratulations! That was your ‘fitness test’ telling you what you have been doing is worth keeping up!

Either way, now is the best time to decide what you want to tell your body you want more of or want to keep.

Why is now the time?

  • how you felt is still fresh in your mind. You can remember what you felt like as you did or didn’t do activities. How your body felt is a powerful brain changer. It is where habits are formed – from your body to your brain so capitalize on it!
  • your brain can think clearly now if winter blues typically derail your best intentions. While the weather is still nice, and the days are sort of still long, you can plan with more optimism and confidence
  • your body is a use it to keep it system. What you do today is setting the stage for your future capability. Today is your chance to tell your body through movement what you want to keep, and what you don’t need in the future.

Ask yourself three questions:

  • What activities did I enjoy that I was not able to do in prior years?
  • What activities did I say ‘no’ to because I was worried my body could not handle it?
  • What activities do I want to make sure are part of next summer?

Now, plan your fall and winter exercise time for these activities.

For example:

  • If it is the ability to be on a car ride with out back pain, start exploring how to add stretching breaks throughout your day so your body is less resistant to movement and you know how to help it recover from sitting for longer periods.
  • If it is to get in and out of a kayak with more ease, start practicing that movement, starting with knowing how to use your core to stabilize your body.
  • If it is to enjoy bike rides on our beautiful Rail Trails with family and friends, start riding an exercise bike a few times a week, gradually working up to 30 minutes at moderate to comfortable challenge, as your stamina and body allows.

This does not need to be some super complicated, time consuming, exhausting exercise plan. In fact, that lowers your chances of staying with it throughout the winter to get the results you want next summer.

It simply needs to stay connected to those activities that make your life better, be done in a consistent way, gradually increasing as your body allows, until you get to a level you feel confident will keep you saying ‘yes’ to what you want to do next summer.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

Leave a comment

by | September 7, 2021 · 2:50 pm

The difference between exercise for weight loss and maintenance

Before I tell you the answer to the difference between exercise for weight loss and maintenance, consider what you believe each of these approaches to exercise should look like? How do you exercise to lose weight? What are you expecting you will have to do to keep it off?

Okay, so the difference between what you have to do to lose weight and what you have to do to maintain weight is….

Nothing.

There is absolutely no difference. In fact, if you have a ‘go for the gold’ mindset during exercise for losing weight, you are less likely to stay motivated when you get to your goal weight.

The thing about goals, even if they are ‘smart goals’ is they do nothing to prepare you to keep going once you achieve that goal.

Same thing with habits when you think habits are formed over time, like 21 days or 30 days, depending on who you listen to.

Weight loss is not like going for a gold medal. What you do to get there is exactly what you need to do to stay there.

The word exercise means “to practice”. What are you practicing when you are exercising for weight loss?

  • Ignoring your body’s pain and hunger signals or listening to and trusting your body?
  • One type of movement, like cardio, or a balance of strength, stamina and mobility?
  • Putting life on hold until you reach a goal or making self-care a part of your lifestyle?

Whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, take a moment to check in on what you are practicing. If its not what you want for your future, start today by making adjustments so each day you are practicing what you want for your body, your health and your wellbeing.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Leave a comment

by | August 3, 2021 · 8:27 pm

What the Olympics tell us about why we struggle with exercise motivation

Despite all the controversy around the Olympics, it is one of the most incredible, and awe inspiring spectacles of human motivation and potential!

A patient pointed out this week that Americans have many more athletes than the majority of countries. The 613 athletes from the USA tell us something about why we struggle with exercising regularly.

She was always an athlete and had never considered that she would struggle with motivating to exercise when she got older. Exercise was a huge part of her young adult life. She recalled our previous conversation about the difference between exercising for athletics and exercising for health. This was something she never considered. By shifting her mindset from athletics to health, she was free from the confusion about why she was so stuck at this point in her mid adult life.

Typical Olympic athletes train for 8 hours a day. They have a team of coaches telling them what to do. Tom Daley, Olympic gold medalist for diving said the gold medal was the first thing he thought about when he woke up and the last thing he though about when he went to bed every night for the past four years.

Even if you are not going for gold, being an athlete takes a lot of time and energy. To excel you need to put in many hours of practice and have coaches who push you beyond your limits. The average age of Olympic athletes this year is 26 for women and 27 for men, which means you need to do this from a very young age. Your whole life is dedicated to your sport.

The fact that the USA has the most Olympic athletes, as this patient pointed out, reflects how much our culture values competing and winning. We love our sports. We love the competition. We love winning. This is why most of the funding for exercise research goes to studying how to improve athletic performance, not health. This is why the athletic model of exercise has infiltrated our exercise trends, equipment, and expectations, creating a huge amount of confusion about what it takes to exercise to be healthy.

This is just not realistic for the vast majority of us want to be healthy.

We don’t have eight hours a day to exercise, even finding 30 minutes is a challenge. We don’t have coaches telling us what to do. Even if you have a trainer, affording one for your whole exercise ‘career’ is not so feasible. For most of us, the first thing we think about in the morning and last thing at night is not exercise; it’s our family, our home, our work, and all the other parts of life we value. Those are the reasons we want to be healthy well beyond our mid twenties! Being healthy does not have a retirement date!

For athletes, their life centers around their training during the two or three decades they are competing. When you want to be healthy, its the other way around, exercise needs to fit into your life.

We can watch the Olympics with a great appreciation for all the hard work and dedication each athlete put in so we could be entertained by their amazing skills and enthralled by the level of competition.

But as you watch, know that is not exercising for health. To be healthy you only need to invest less than three hours a week, do the right balance of exercise for strength stamina and mobility, so your body can do a wide range of activities with more ease and less strain. Exercising for health means you become your own best coach by cheering yourself on each day.

Enjoy watching athletes go for the gold, and enjoy knowing you don’t have to work that hard to enjoy your golden years with lots of pep in your step from being a lifelong exerciser for health.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Leave a comment

by | July 27, 2021 · 9:00 pm

Turn your steps into better stamina

You may have noticed the difference this past year had on your stamina. When you were no longer walking from your car to the office or walking around a grocery store, your body ‘forgot’ how to use the equipment it has to keep you moving.

Your activity monitor is a great tool for staying aware of how active or inactive you are throughout the day. The bells and buzzes are great reminders to get up and move. In our new world where you may be moving even less than you were before the pandemic, a step goal can be very useful.

Since most of our daily activities, like shopping, cleaning, yardwork, working are stop and go, our aerobic system does not get much practice for producing lasting energy.

Stamina is the ability to move for extended time without getting tired and needing to stop. It is more than your heart strength, its about your whole cardiovascular system’s ability to produce energy aerobically.

Short term activities where you move continuously for less than two minutes use the anaerobic energy system. This system is designed to get you started, like a match and kindling starting a campfire.

But for you to sustain that energy, your aerobic system needs enough equipment to use oxygen to turn glucose and fat into fuel for cells. That means your heart, lungs, blood vessels, blood cells and muscle cells all need to be reminded to keep the necessary equipment to keep that fire going once the short term system runs out.

Yes your heart needs to be a strong pump, your blood needs to be able to carry the oxygen, and your muscle cells need the equipment to use the oxygen.

When you don’t move for an extended period of time very often, this equipment starts to fade.

The good news is, you can get it back, and fairly quickly too. Here is how:

  • Start stringing those steps together so your body rebuilds the equipment to do more than short bouts of movement. Even if it is brief five-minute bouts to start, that is enough to get your aerobic system working again.
  • go at the pace that keeps your breathing at light to moderate to start. If you go to fast and get out of breath, you are now using the anaerobic system again. Moderate intensity breathing ensures you are telling your aerobic system to get stronger.
  • Repeat often, especially if you can only do short bouts to start. Listen to your body to know when it is ready to increase minutes.

Keep in mind, your body can adapt to only about a 10% increase per week. That means if you are doing a 10 minute walk, increase by 1 minute the following week! Gradually build up to 30 minutes three times a week as your body is ready.

No need to push to high intensity or through pain because this actually slows your progress to greater and sustainable stamina. Working with your body means it will take less time to turn those steps into more lasting energy for everyday life and the fun things you are looking forward to doing again.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Leave a comment

by | July 13, 2021 · 9:38 pm