Nice Abs!

First of all, a bit of a disclaimer: those are not my abs! It's a picture I saved from the internet a couple of years ago to inspire myself to workout and to open up when I needed some motivation to not eat more than my share of the cookies in the office kitchen!

For those of you aspiring to get in better shape during 2009, have I got a plan for you! Planks are the most effective abdominal exercise. Not only do they work the surface abs (those ripples that you want to see), but planks also develop underlying abdominal and back muscles which are useful for improving posture. Additionally, if you do planks correctly, many more areas of your body, like shoulders, thighs and buns, will firm up quite a bit!

Here is a plank sequence for beginners. I do it during commercials in the evening...I don't even realize I am getting a workout.

Learn the plank stretch position before you start. It's the position known as "child's pose" in yoga. Lie on your stomach, and then push back your gluteus (that's your butt) to your heels.

Hands and arms are stretched straight above your head, so that elbows are near your temples. Palms lie flat on the floor. Forehead is touching the floor, chin somewhat tucked toward your chest. While in child's pose, round your lower back. Feel the spinal vertebrae separate and round, really stretch through your back, particularly lower back.

Stay in prone position (that means with face to floor, back to ceiling). Walk your hands and chest out until you are resting solely on your elbows, forearms, and sides of palms. Your head should be straight out from your spine. At this point, only the following body parts are touching the floor: elbows, forearms, sides of palms, and toes.

Your back & buttocks must be straight and even. Do not let you buttocks lift – hips should be level with rib cage – not any higher. Make sure your back, buttocks, and legs are on the same even plane. This is the basic plank position.

In the plank position, contract your lower back. Contract your abdominals, pulling the belly button up to your spine. Contract your gluteus. Hold these contractions the entire time you are in the plank position – through all the plank moves. Start by just holding the position with lower back, abs, and buttocks contracted. Hold for 16 counts, and then slouch back into child's pose. Do as you are able. Then work on holding for longer periods of time, always going back into child's pose between planks.

Let me know how you like these and I'll post the next sequence sometime next week.