Friday, December 12, 2014

The 19 minute plank

If you were out at our dryland training this fall, I talked a lot about the importance of core strength and stability to cross-country skiing.  We worked on a basic, but very useful exercise -- the plank.  In February, we will see who enters the DN Plank Hall of Fame -- that is, who can do a proper 2.5 minute plank.

While a 2.5 minute plank will be very, very impressive, it doesn't quite break the record for a Downtown Nordic plank ...

Back sometime around 2008, I was driving out to an event with Kevin Miller when he mentioned that his wife was working on her core-strength with a club.  He casually mentioned that she could do a 2 minute plus plank with relative ease.

For some reason, that 2 minute plank comment stuck with me.  I'm not sure I had even attempted a plank at that time.  When I later timed myself for a plank, anything longer than about 30 seconds seemed extremely hard.  Over a period of time I added some planks to my regular strength workouts, but could rarely reach more than about 50 seconds.

The following year, in 2009, I set a goal of achieving a 2 minute plank.  I figured if I was more specific in my progressions, I could achieve a plank of this duration. So I started doing 30 second planks 3 times a week and then added 10 seconds to the plank each week.

Progressing gradually seemed to work well for a while.  By being consistent (3 times a week), the slight increase in the duration of the plank seemed more manageable.  I soon got up to over a minute.

However, I eventually stalled at about 90 seconds.  It was extremely hard to accomplish this and often I gave in before going the full 90 seconds.  Was this my plank limit??

By chance, I happened to do a couple of fitness classes one week and near the end of the class, they did some plank exercises including plank jumping jacks (being in a plank position for about a minute doing jumping jack movements with your legs).   They were a bit painful, but I pushed through.

The following week, I did a 90 second plank no problem!  The next time in the gym, I almost did a full two minutes!!   The modest variation of adding plank jumping jacks helped push me through the plateau I was hitting at 90 seconds.

I kept up the fitness classes and/or adding plank jumping jacks to my routine and also the regular increase in plank duration.

By late 2009, I accomplished a 3 minute plank!  For about a year and a half, Kevin's comment of doing a 2 minute+ plank had driven me to push myself.  Once I achieved the 3 minute milestone, I went back to somewhat shorter planks in my strength routine.

One thing that became apparent in late 2009, was how well I could manage my skate-ski technique going up steep or off-camber uphills.  I used to flail pretty badly when the going got tough, but now I could stabilize myself and control and coordinate my limbs much better.

As I was building for the next ski season in the fall of 2010, I wanted to see how long of a plank I could achieve.   I knew one way to force me to push myself was to challenge myself to a competition.

So - I challenged a female co-worker at the time to to plank competition 4 months hence in late 2010.  I figured I had an advantage as I knew I could accomplish a long plank with a combination of consistency, gradual progression, and some variation over time to keep my body from plateauing.

Well, over those 4 months, I managed to work up to an 11 minute plank!!  That was about 5 days before the competition date.  Wow -- I knew I had this competition in the bag.  I was sure 11 minutes would blow away my competition.

On the day of the competition, I felt great and was thinking of my "victory" speech.

Well, I didn't win.  And I even went well past 11 minutes.  I did 19 minutes before collapsing in absolute agony.  My competitor dropped to the floor shortly after me and that was all that was needed to win.

There are a couple morals to this story:

The first moral is that with consistent, gradual progression, and with some reasonable variation thrown in, your body can accomplish amazing things.  Things that you never thought possible

The second moral is that even though I pushed my body to accomplish amazing things, I still finished last.

(If you want some proof of the 19 minute plank, check out the FULL video below)

The world's most boring sport from Steve Scoles on Vimeo.