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It seems that for a while now there is a great deal of buzz on the Interwebs about “planks”.  I recently read a Tweet or FB post from Ryan Hall commenting on how long he could hold a plank.  Even I got onto the plank bandwagon a month or two ago as just something extra to add to my Winter routine.  However, in my own opinion, I think I will stick with the old standby of push ups.

First, I will describe a plank.  It is similar to a push up.  You are prone on the floor, then you raise yourself on your elbows, straighten your body and hold it rigid (while breathing) for as long as possible.  This is not as easy as it looks.  After doing them for a week (four planks in all), I timed my next one and discovered I could not quite hold the plank for a full minute.

The planks benefits are in strengthening one’s core, which includes shoulders, chest, back, glutes, and quads.  Yes, I am sure a real anatomy aficionado would get more detailed, but that is what I saw from one illustration.  Runners and cyclists both need strong core muscles.  The core is what helps hold us firm in the saddle and on the road.

So, I am not against planks to improve one’s core.  The plank is an effective method, I think, for strengthening the core.  My difficulty just came from the length of the plank versus the level of improvement.  I know that I spend a longer length of time doing as many push ups as I can than when doing a plank alone.  Probably, if I had stuck with planks longer, I would have seen the same results as I have with push ups, it just would have taken longer.

Push ups, are just what your junior high or high school phys ed instructor or that ornery drill instructor from the military taught you.  Same prone position at the start, however, you use your upper body strength (your arms and shoulders) to lift your whole body off the floor.

To do push ups correctly, one should maintain that same rigidity of the whole body as you do during a plank.  Second, one is also supposed to go all the way down and all the way up.  If you looked at your arms in the down position, they would be close to a 90 degree bend at the elbow.  When you are all the way up, your back should be straight and not curved and your arms are straight.  This isn’t a yoga move.

After doing planks for about three weeks, I switched to push ups.  At first, I couldn’t do more than about 20 and not even all 20 at one time.  But, I stuck with it and over the next several weeks, I improved to my current 60 or so each day.  I got to a higher level for a week or so, but it’s gone back down since I took more time doing them correctly.  I still can’t do the whole 60 at one time, but I have improved to 30 on the first set.

I noticed the improvement a couple of weeks ago on a long run of about 8 miles.  Often, as I run longer, I just seem to get tired and really have to work at holding myself in the correct posture for running.  However, this particular Saturday, I didn’t.  I noticed a definite lack of effort in keeping my upper body straight and correct, even near the end of the run. That was a good feeling.

That good feeling has continued.  I believe that planks gave me a nice start, but I improved my core strength much quicker after the switch to push ups.  I only did planks for about three weeks and have been doing pushups for over a month, so I don’t really think the planks were the improvement.  I still hold with the push ups as the major reason my core improved.

Regardless of whether one does planks or pushups, I recommend core work for runners and cyclists.  I am a believer in core work after seeing the improvement in my running just from this short time of working my core.  I expect to see even more improvement over the Spring as I can get out for longer runs and rides. So, I’ll say that push ups are better than planks for core work, if you wish to improve a little quicker than planks alone would accomplish. Additionally, I think that push ups give the upper body more work than doing planks.  Happy running!

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