I love running because it’s a sport that doesn’t discriminate – it accommodates all shapes and sizes, ages and fitness levels. Everyone can run and that’s why I advocate for it so passionately at every opportunity. But the more I run, the more I’m made aware that a lot actually goes into running. Although not complicated, running is made up of several interconnected pieces. This article, for example, lists 31 tips for better running results highlighting the need for good running shoes, proper technique and form, a solid training plan and the right nutrition. Research also highlights the importance of strength training because it strengthens muscles and joints, fixes muscle imbalances and builds a stronger core, all of which help to improve your form and speed and prevent injury. Although strength training doesn’t take much time, I would always rather be doing something else. During the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve committed to improving my nutrition and I think it’s also an opportune time for me to focus on strength training.
In today’s post, I want to look at the benefits of one particular exercise – PLANKING! Last year, I challenged myself to a 40-Day Plank Challenge with the goal being to get to a 4 Minute Plank. What was initially a very daunting task turned out to be lots of fun. I planked in different locations often on a run and once even did it at a wedding in Botswana’s traditional gear.
Just shy of 40 days, I got to 4 minutes with my brother-in-law on hand to record it all! Check out the epic video, if you haven’t already!
Since then planking has formed a key component of my weekly workouts. I’ve seen first hand just how beneficial planking is for the body, and more specifically for running.
What Is A Plank?
The plank is a bodyweight exercise where you lie down on your stomach, then rise up using your elbows and toes to support your weight while keeping your back and body straight. For correct form, it’s also important to tighten your glutes, ensure your legs are extended straight out behind you and your abs are tucked in. Your head and neck should be in a neutral position. And what I often forgot at the beginning is to breathe which helps to keep you in position. The idea is to stay like this for as long as you can and at the start don’t be alarmed if this is only for a few seconds. With practice you’ll gradually become stronger and be able to stay up for longer. I started with 20 seconds and 40 days later, I managed 4 minutes. So it’s possible.
The Key Benefits of Planking
1/ It Strengthens Your Core: The main purpose of a plank is to strengthen your core. As you try to keep your body weight up, your midsection has to work really hard. At the same time your back and abdominal muscles have to stabilise you in that position. These core muscles are critically important when running as they help to keep you upright which is especially important towards the end of a long run when you start to get tired and lose form. Remember the core is what connects your lower body to your upper body, both of which play a role in most complex body movements, for example, golf swings, tennis and of course running.
2/ It’s A Full Body Workout: What I discovered from my 40-day planking challenge is that it tones both the upper and lower body. To stay in position, you have to tighten your butt so it stays in a straight line with your body and you’ll also feel your hamstrings working. Of course, to hold you up, your arms, shoulders and chest also have to work really hard.
3/ It Improves Your Posture: Good posture keeps your bones and joints correctly aligned which improves their health. It has been found that people who plank regularly experience fewer back pain issues and spine problems. For the runner, good posture is important because it helps improve running efficiency, prevent injury in your joints and muscles, and keeps your body relaxed which makes you more comfortable on the run for a more pleasant experience.
4/ It Helps With Balance: I’ve always struggled with balance and I don’t think I’m alone in this. But having a stronger core helps to improve your balance which becomes even more critical as we get older. Planks help you find your centre of gravity as you are forced to balance your body on your toes and elbows. When you vary the standard plank and do side planks, your balance is tested even more which ultimately improves endurance and flexibility too.
5/ It Improves Your Metabolism: It has also been found that when planking you burn more calories than sit-ups and regular crunches. Also, the muscles you strengthen by planking ensures that your body continues to burn energy even when you’re not moving. Quite amazingly, according to this article one minute of planks in the morning and evening is enough to enhance your metabolic rate and maintain this rate throughout the day.
6/ It Builds Mental Strength: When I did my 40-day challenge, there were some days I could not get beyond 30 seconds even though I’d managed 2 minutes the day before. What I quickly realised is that planking requires a lot of focus and mental strength. As soon as I lost that focus, I would collapse. So planking is definitely an effective way of building mental strength which can help you get through a tough section on a race or in one of your long runs.
Fellow runner blogger Kim from Running On The Fly loves her planking and believes that “all runners should be plankers”. Over the years, she has done several planking challenges and planking forms part of her daily workout routine. Planking takes practice, patience and perseverance but has such incredible benefits when you do them properly. Start with 10 seconds and then build from there. I tend to stick to the standard forearm plank but there are several variations, each engaging slightly different muscles. As you get stronger and more confident, you can start exploring these different variations. Well, I hope I’ve given you reason enough to start planking this lockdown and beyond! Have fun and enjoy the benefits!
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, Running on Happy, and Faux Runner! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners on the link-up. Such great inspirational posts from around the world.