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Add planking to your fitness routine for a host of benefits

When you hear the word "plank," you might be reminded of a piece of wood, or maybe you recall the expression "walking the plank." In the world of fitness, plank means something quite different. A plank is a full-body isometric exercise that provides strength benefits to many muscle groups simultaneously. If you've never tried a plank, your first one may be a challenge, as holding the position correctly takes core strength and endurance. But don't give up; there is a modification for every fitness level. If you are expecting to knock off some of that abdominal flab, remember that no abdominal exercise will do that for you. Fat loss comes in another package, one that combines healthy eating and "whole body" exercise (cardiovascular and resistance training).

WHY PLANK?

• It works the upper and lower body, plus the core.

• There are many variations and progressions of plank exercises to keep your workouts interesting.

• It increases flexibility; tight and stiff muscle groups become fully stretched out.

• Strengthening the core helps prevent or reduce lower back discomfort.

• It improves balance; side planks and planks on a stability ball are particularly helpful for developing better balance.

• It improves posture and stability.

• In a front plank you will strengthen the trapezius muscles in your neck by keeping your neck in alignment with your shoulders instead of looking down.

• Shoulder and chest muscles become strengthened.

• Biceps strengthen when they help you lift and sustain your body weight off the floor.

• It strengthens the hips, pelvic floor and thighs; glutes and calf muscles also receive strength benefits.

PERFECTING A PLANK

Proper form is very important. Here's a look at what you shouldn't do:

• Do not let your lower back sag.

• Do not arch your back, with your hips up in the air.

• Do not let your head drop down.

• Do not forget to breathe.

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers. Reach her at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

BASIC FRONT PLANK: Lying on your stomach, place your forearms on the floor, elbows directly under shoulders, palms facing down. Contracting your abdominals and with legs straight and toes turned under, lift your torso and thighs off the floor. Your back should be in a straight line from head to heels. (Picture an image of a broom lying flat on your back.) Hold the plank 20 to 30 seconds, building to a minute. Modify this by placing your knees on the floor. Advanced movement: Alternate lifting straight legs, no higher than hip level, toes pointed.

REVERSE PLANK: In a seated position, stretch your legs out, toes pointed down, hands behind you, with your palms facing down and your fingertips pointed forward. If your wrists bother you, you may rest on your forearms. Contracting your abdominals, lift your hips off the floor. You should be in a straight line, shoulders to heels. Your head may tilt back slightly. Hold 15 to 30 seconds, repeating several times.

SIDE PLANK ON EXERCISE BALL: Begin by resting on your knees beside the ball. Placing your upper body over the ball, lower your arm to touch the floor or rest on the ball. With legs stretched out, lift your hips until your body is in alignment (shoulders, hips, legs). If you need more stability, move your bottom foot a little farther to the back. With your abdominals contracted, hold the pose eight to 10 seconds, repeating the exercise several times and building to eight to 10 repetitions; repeat on opposite side. For an advanced version, lift your upper leg off the floor and repeat the pattern.

Add planking to your fitness routine for a host of benefits 02/23/15 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2015 7:22pm]
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