A plank is an isometric exercise that strengthens and tones the muscles of the abdominals and lower back. It requires no equipment and little space, making it one of the easiest ab exercises to squeeze into your day.
When performing a plank, you should feel the work in your abdominals, bottom, and fronts of the thighs, instead of the arms and lower back. All of these exercises are done in a plank position on your elbows and your toes. You can modify the exercise by raising yourself onto your hands or by dropping to your knees, similar to a modified push-up. Whichever version you choose, remember that your shoulders should be aligned and your body in a straight line without the pelvis too high or too low. The American Council on Exercise provides helpful instruction on how to perform a basic front plank .
Start by doing each of these plank exercises for 30 seconds. As you grow stronger, continue to add 15 seconds to your time. Once you work up to 1 minute, repeat each exercise to complete 2 to 3 sets.
Side Plank Rotation
From the elbow plank, come up onto your hands. Position each hand directly under your shoulder. Shift your weight to your right hand and rotate your left shoulder above your right shoulder. Raise your left hand into the air. Keep your body in a straight line from your ankles to your head. Rotate back to the starting position. Shift your weight to your left hand and rotate to hold the side plank on your left side. Continue alternating side planks throughout the exercise time.
Plank with an Arm Reach
From the elbow plank, shift your weight to your left arm. Extend your right arm out in front of you and tap the floor with your fingers. Return to the starting plank position and then tap the floor with your left hand. Continue to alternate the arm reach and finger tap. Concentrate on holding the core tight, and try to keep your hips from rocking back and forth with the movement.
Plank with a Leg Lift
Keep your hips level as you lift your right toe off the floor raising your leg about 6 inches. Return the right leg to the starting position and raise the left leg. Continue alternating leg lifts as you hold the elbow plank.
Plank with a Toe Tap
Shift your weight to your left foot, move your right leg out towards the right, and tap your toe to the floor about 6 inches from the starting position. Return your foot to its original spot. Move your left leg out to the left and tap your toe. Continue to alternate toe taps from side to side as you hold your core muscles tight.
Your workout is influenced by more than the time you spend at the gym. When you put in the effort to plan and prepare, you will feel more energized and motivated to challenge yourself and improve your fitness.
Make it more convenient.
While you may need to adjust your schedule and make a few sacrifices to fit in exercise, if it feels too inconvenient, your commitment to it won’t last long. If you work out at a gym, make sure it is easy to get to. Driving an hour because you want to try the latest exercise trend may be exciting for a while, but you’ll be more likely to go if you choose the gym that is on your drive home from work. You also don’t have to commute to exercise. There are plenty of effective workouts with and without equipment that you can do at home.
Find a good fit.
Group exercise instructors, personal trainers, and coaches have different training styles and personalities. Even a gym atmosphere can have a certain vibe and energy level. Not every person or place is going to be the perfect fit for you. Do some research and take advantage of trial periods until you find the right fit. Making exercise a habit is hard enough without forcing yourself to do it in a place that doesn’t get you excited for your workouts.
Wear the right gear.
You don’t need to invest in expensive gear to exercise, but a few essentials will make your workouts much more enjoyable and also keep you safe. An athletic shoe will make joints more comfortable. Cross-trainers work for most activities, but if the majority of exercise will be spent doing a specific activity, like running, choose a shoe that is designed for it. Inexpensive shirts and shorts made with moisture-wicking material can make a world of difference in your workout. This clothing is designed to keep you cool and dry, unlike cotton that can get wet and heavy and can cause you to overheat.
You can’t sustain a challenging workout without giving your body the fuel it needs to perform at its best. Eating a balanced diet with carbohydrates for energy and protein for recovery is only part of the equation. The timing of your meals and snacks is equally important. Experimenting with healthy foods at different times before or after your workouts may be necessary to determine a plan that keeps your energy up without upsetting your stomach.
Take a rest day.
Rest days are essential to an exercise program. They help you recover both mentally and physically so that you can safely keep up your exercise routine. Plan to take at least one rest day a week.
Make sleep a priority.
Exercise is the last thing you want to do when you feel sluggish and sleepy. Fatigue can make you decrease your intensity or cause you to skip the gym altogether. Getting the rest you need will ensure that your energy levels are high when you are ready to workout. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to perform their best.
Staying focused during your workout is a way to practice mindful exercise. Mindfulness allows you to concentrate by removing distractions that cause you to waste time. The result is a more effective and safe workout. If you struggle with staying on task at the gym, try these methods to increase your focus and improve your results.
Intervals can be incorporated into any type of workout. During interval exercise, you push yourself hard for a set amount of time and then reduce the intensity for a recovery period. For example, on the stationary bike, warm up for 5 minutes and then increase your cadence for 2 minutes. Slow your cadence and recover for 1 minute. Continue to repeat these intervals for your entire workout. Instead of increasing the speed, you can also increase the resistance or do a combination of both. Concentrating on your intensity and the timing of each interval puts the focus on your exercise performance.
Supersets are exercise sets that are done one right after the other without taking a rest. Supersets can be used in a variety of ways, but one example is doing a set of one exercise and then moving on to an exercise for the opposing muscle group without taking a break. For example, performing a quadricep extension followed by a hamstring curl.
Supersets challenge your muscles, keep your focus on the exercise, and reduce time wasted resting between each exercise. Instead of taking a break after each set, your hamstrings can rest while you work your quadriceps and vice versa. You’ll spend less time standing around, and you’ll knock out your workout more quickly.
A workout partner can keep you motivated, but sometimes he or she also serves as a distraction. If you find that you spend more time chatting than exercising, or if you reduce your intensity so you can carry on a conversation, consider exercising alone at least once per week. Use these solo workouts to incorporate more challenging activities.
Exercise and nutrition both a play a role in improving fitness. The best exercise program won’t get you results if you ignore the fuel you put in your body. Not only will excess calories prevent you from losing weight, but an eating plan that lacks lean protein, vitamins, and minerals can make it more difficult to gain muscle and recover after tough workouts. In addition, filling up on foods that are high in refined carbohydrates can leave you feeling sluggish and hungry with little energy to exercise. Make your diet as much of a priority as your exercise, and choose a balanced eating plan that matchings your fitness goals.
Not allowing for breaks
Exercise is essential for improving fitness, but skipping breaks can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health. Rest days give you a chance to reflect on your progress, refresh your outlook, and find new motivation. Physically, it allows your body to recover and grow stronger and helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Give your body the rest it needs, and enjoy the benefits of taking a day off each week.
Focusing on the long term
It’s good to have long-term goals that may take several months or even a year to accomplish. But sometimes when goals are set too far out, it can fool you into thinking you have plenty of time to meet them causing you to put off the hard work. Keep the long-term goals, but create a series of short-term goals between now and then. For example, if your goal is to run a half marathon next year, compete in a 5K and a 10K prior to the big race.
Little rewards, like new exercise gear or a subscription to a fitness magazine, may seem unimportant at first, but these small celebrations of your accomplishments can be a significant source of motivation. Planning healthy rewards along the way will emphasize to yourself that these changes have value. Whether the reward is big or small, always recognize your hard work and new healthy habits.
Comparing yourself to others
No two journeys to fitness are exactly alike. It's easy to compare yourself to others and wonder why your mileage isn’t building as quickly, your weight isn’t coming off as fast, or your abs don't have the same definition. While it’s good to have role models and people you trust that can offer advice, comparing yourself to others will only discourage you. Take things at your own pace, and evaluate the progress you have made. Compare your new self to your old self and not to other people.
Balance is one of the four components of fitness along with cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Good balance is essential for all types of movement. Research shows that balance exercises can help reduce falls and fall-related injuries as we age. Studies also show that balance training may reduce ankle injuries.
Unlike cardio and strength training, there are no specific guidelines for balance training. The American Heart Association recommends that older adults that are at risk for falls perform balance training three or more days per week, but balance training is beneficial to all age groups and fitness levels. The American College of Sports Medicine classifies balance exercises under the term functional fitness training or neuromotor exercise and recommends incorporating the training two to three days per week.
Balance training doesn’t have to be an isolated form of exercise. Because it plays a role in other parts of your workout, you can easily incorporate it into your regular exercise routine. Try standing on one foot while you perform shoulder presses or arm curls. Single leg squats or squats that move to a leg lift will also put the focus on balance. Try to perform a quadriceps stretch without holding the wall or a chair. Additionally, Tai Chi and yoga are forms of mind-body exercise that target strength, flexibility, and balance.
Foam rollers, balance boards, and stability balls are examples of equipment that is often designed specifically for balance training. If these tools are of interest to you, consider consulting a trainer or an instructional guide to ensure you use them safely and effectively.
Improving your balance can also take place outside the gym. Standing on one leg while folding laundry or brushing your teeth are easy ways to squeeze in training. When out for a walk, try walking a beam, the curb, or even a line on the ground to challenge your balance.
Aim to incorporate some type of balance training into your workouts a few times each week. Additionally, stay mindful of balance throughout your daily activities. The more you focus on balance, the more aware you will become of how it influences movement and your progress as you work to improve it.