Why Cyclists, Runners, and Triathletes Need to be Planking in December

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December is Feats of Strength Month at CTS! Each December, my coaches, employees, and I have a friendly competition around a particular strength training exercise. This year we’re having a plank contest, and we want you to participate as well!

The rules are simple: accumulate as much time in the plank position as you can during the month of December. For the official contest in our training centers, we are doing a Forearm Plank (sometimes called a Low Plank), and taking the cumulative plank time for each center and dividing by the number of people in that center to calculate each center’s plank time per capita. The training center that wins is the Feats of Strength Champion until December 2018!

December Feats of Strength originated because I was looking for an inclusive way to motivate my entire staff to stay fit and active during a season when activity level typically drops because of weather, holiday parties, and overeating. Outside the exercise component, these company-wide activities enhance esprit de corps, which can be challenging when you have a relatively small staff spread across four training centers nationwide. Whether you work for a small business or a giant corporation, inclusive physical activities can be a great way to help a team come together, support one another, and celebrate their non work-related accomplishments.

WHY FOREARM PLANKS? 

As the Chairman of the Feats of Strength Competition Committee, I chose the Forearm Plank for this year’s contest because it is an exercise everyone can perform, everyone can benefit from, and everyone can get better at within one month.

HOW TO DO A FOREARM PLANK 

  1. Get into a prone position on the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders, forearms flat on the ground extended straight forward, and palms down.
  2. Push your body upward until you achieve a straight line from your shoulders through your heels.
  3. Raise your back to create a level surface from shoulder to shoulder across your upper back, as opposed to there being a V between your shoulders.
  4. To maintain this position, imagine pulling your belly button toward your spine as you brace your abdominal muscles to keep your spin in a straight line. Activate your gluteal muscles, hamstring, and quadriceps to keep your hips from dropping.
  5. Keep your neck in line with your body, rather than craning your neck to look far forward.
  6. Breathe normally (don’t hold your breath) and hold this position as long as you can. Initially, aim for 30 seconds, and gradually increase the duration as possible.

WHAT PLANKS DO TO YOUR BODY 

A forearm plank is an isometric exercise that engages muscles from your neck to your toes. Even though they are far less exciting and dynamic than more explosive movements like burpees, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of the simple and understated plank. Here are just some of the benefits you’ll see from doing planks regularly:

Upper Back

Most people focus on the core strength benefits of planking, but they are also great for addressing some hard-to-train muscles in your upper back. The rhomboids, serratus anterior and teres major all work together to stabilize your shoulder blades, which in turn helps stabilize your shoulder. Cyclists, in particular, can improve their posture on the bike by developing these muscles because they help maintain a flat surface across your upper back, instead of letting your chest sink forward as your shoulder blades move toward your spine.

As you hold a plank position, think of your upper arms as bridge supports. Your goal should be to keep your shoulder blades flat and separated, as opposed to either dipped in toward your spine or arched away from your spine.

Abdominal Muscles

Planks will not give you a six-pack, but they are one of the most effective exercises for developing the deeper musculature that is so important for stability and power transfer. Rather than over-emphasizing development of rectus abdominus (visible as a six-pack) with crunches, plank exercises simultaneously develop rectus abdominus, transverse obdominus (kind of an anatomical corset), internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum (back of the abdominal wall), and erector spinae (a group of extensor muscles along your spine). Your abdomen is essentially a tube with a bony support at the back – your spine. To keep your spine from hyperextending you activate all your abdominal muscles to keep the sides of the tube rigid.

Hips and Lower Back

In order to keep your pelvis from dropping toward the floor you have to engage your gluteal muscles, as well as your hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Of these, you’re most likely to feel the greatest burn in your gluteal muscles on the backside and the hip flexors on the front side. Keep in mind, some of the most muscles for core strength and spinal stability are attached to your pelvis, and all are activated during a plank. This is one of the reasons planking can be a key exercise for alleviating lower back pain – as long as your form is correct.

YOUR DECEMBER FEATS OF STRENGTH

I’m looking forward to seeing how many total minutes the CTS Coaches and staff can accumulate during the month of December and, of course, I’m confident my Colorado Springs team will emerge victorious as the CTS Feats of Strength Champions! I encourage you to join us. Just start planking and recording your total plank time daily. Take photos and post them to social media with the tag: #CTSFeatsofStrength. Along the way I’ll post some of my statistics so you can see if you’re keeping up with me. Let’s do this!

Chris Carmichael
CEO and Head Coach of CTS


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Comments 20

  1. Chris,

    Core is key indeed! I run throughout the year and I also snowshoe and cross country ski in the winter.
    Each of those activities require a strong core.
    I’m glad that I work on my core. Its the driving force that makes my sporting activities more enjoyable.

  2. Good to see you guys are wearing your helmets while planking. Safety first!

    Seriously though, great advice and a very useful training exercise.

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  4. If you can do one for longer than a minute, maybe two or three minutes max, then you’re unknowingly cheating with bad form. It’s better to do a few proper ones for :30 or :45 as part of a core circuit routine than one long one with bad form.

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  7. I still think cycling is the fountain of youth and taking care of the core has improved my back issues on 50 mile + rides. The planks have also so helped my mid muscles feel so supportive of the rest of me. I only do the planks two days a week and I look forward to bump that up during Dec. to increase my weekly plank time. I will be 59 tomorrow and am getting younger. My hat is off to the my older peers for showing that it only gets better.

  8. I can do a plank for 30 sec. Pretty good for an 82 year old woman. I also race in the Senior Games and hold three records in the Nationals and nine records in the State Games.

  9. Planks are great – I did them last winter in prep for outdoor riding. However, I found much more effective than one lengthy plank was doing as you would weight lifting – in reps. Perhaps starting with 3 sets of 30secs with 60secs rest if you are new to them. I worked up to 6sets of 1:30 with 60sec rest (15mins total time). A bit advanced, I then modified the 1:30plank to include one leg only (e.g. start off 10 secs 2 legs; then 10 seconds left leg only, 10secs right leg, etc). When you start this more advanced approach, you transition from left leg to right leg (or vice versa) by putting down the raised leg and then raising the other. As you progress, you transition for one leg to the other dynamically so that you never have both legs touching the mat. Regardless of how advanced you become, planks are a great part of your core exercise routine.

  10. Why not extended arm planks? I’m 67 and do those plus 100 push ups each day. Mixing the two is a great work out I will begin to time my planks.

  11. Chris, can you comment on the value of a spider plank compared to a forearm plank? In the spider plank, the arms and legs are extended at an approx. 45 degree angle from the torso. The arms & legs are straight; weight on the palms and tiptoes. I’ve found the spider plank not only works the muscles you described, but also the deltoids and trapezius. Thoughts?

  12. JUST 5 min!?! That’s amazing – I’m pleased when I manage 2min…like the idea of this challenge – I’ll try and do 2min a day (instead of normally just once a week!)

  13. Try this plank. Usual plank, then lift one leg and arm on one side, grab the foot with the hand with both in extension, hold and meditate. Bob

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