It's been a minute! Alexis here, founder of Lexi Miller. For those of you who might not know, I'm also a Pilates instructor and personal trainer. A little life backstory in case you might have missed it...
Ten-ish years ago, I was checking the fitness box. I went to the gym a few times a week, did my 30 minutes of cardio, some aimless other stuff. One day I took a mat pilates class with a pint sized, tough-as-nails instructor who had 17 Ironman triathlons under her belt. I suddenly felt a connection to my core, and I felt capable of doing more. I had unlocked my athletic potential by finding my core.
I signed up for a half marathon, discovered that I had a thing for endurance, ran the race, was ready for the full marathon 5 months later -- until I was sideIined by a back injury. My body was saying, please find something else to do. So I found cycling.
Pilates helped me get better, gave me the confidence to buy that first bike, and kept me strong enough to sustain my first 6 months as a cyclist which included 3 centuries, climbing tens of thousands of feet, and a 10-day cycling trip through Patagonia. Around the same time that I started Lexi Miller, I became a Pilates instructor, and later a personal trainer. I wanted to pay it all forward.
One of my very favorite things to teach is how to perfect your plank. I'm going to show you my 3 tips so that you can make planks something you love, not something you loathe! This move is great for everyone, but especially cyclists, since we spend hours in a static, forward flexed position.
1. Set up.
You've got to set your spine up first. The plank is all about isometrically contracting your core, meaning your muscles do not shorten as they contract. You want your muscles to stay in their neutral position i.e. not being overly stretched or shortened. To do this, you'll need to find a neutral, flat back. I like to do this by finding the extremes: round the spine as much as possible, extend as much as possible, and then settle right in between those two extremes.
2. Lift off.
Once you have found a flat back, keep the shape of the spine the same as you draw your abdominals up toward the ceiling and lift your knees an inch or two off the floor. Hang out here for a couple of breaths. Try to feel the abdominals working to keep the knees up. You will feel your quads start to talk back as well. Set the knees down.
Start with step 2. With the knees hovering above the floor, extend one leg back, then the other until you are in your plank. Focus on the shape of the spine staying the same, and the abdominals drawing up toward the ceiling. Often we say, draw your bellybutton toward the spine.
A couple of extra tips:
If the spine starts to arch or round, you'll no longer be engaging the abdominals. You want to think about making your low back curve disappear by tucking the tail. This will prevent your lumbar spine (low back) from taking all of the work.
Keep the arms straight and don't let the shoulder blades squeeze together or creep up toward the ears. Think about pressing the ground away from you.
Keep your legs straight and strong. Remember it is a full body exercise!
Hope this helps. Get plankin'!