The Plank

I’m talking about the the exercise move, not the lying in unexpected places. The Plank, wherein you prop yourself up on your forearms, toes on the floor, and hold yourself straight. For as long as you can.

The Plank position, as illustrated by Alex Hughes Cartoons (nibster / Flickr)
The Plank position, as illustrated by Alex Hughes Cartoons

For fans of exercise, this is an astonishingly effective way to workout and develop your abs and core. For everyone else it’s a horrible, torturous form of self-flagellation by way of penance for beer and Tunnocks Tea Cakes. That last bit might be just me.

There’s a thing going around on Facebook – The Plank Challenge – which sets a gradually increasing duration each day for a month, but I don’t have that kind of time. Within the artificial constraints of this 52 resolutions in a year challenge thing, I’m going to compress it into a week.

It needs to be significantly challenging, but also plausible for a man of my natural *ahem* strength. I had a go and figured out roughly at what point it hurt. That can be my starting point. So here’s the plan:

  • Day 1: Plank for 30s
  • Day 2: 2 repetitions of 35s
  • Day 3: 3 reps of 40s
  • Day 4: 4 reps of 45s
  • Day 5: 5 reps of 50s
  • Day 6: 6 reps of 55s
  • Day 7: 7 reps of 60s

Look at me, saying “reps” like a personal trainer.

Anyway, those 7 reps could be spread out however worked. Plenty of time to recover. Let’s do this.

Let’s not do this. Planking is bloody horrible. Much harder than it sounds. Seriously, go try it now and meet me back here in a minute.

See what I mean? Ugh. And you only managed 37 seconds.

Day 1 was uncomfortable, because I’m weak, but it’s only 30 seconds. Easy enough to get through. By day 3 I was feeling it though, and on day 4 I was seriously asking myself whether I’d been too ambitious with the 5 second daily increases AND the increasing reps. 5 seconds seems like such a short space of time, but it feels like an eternity when your abdominal muscles are twerking uncontrollably like a Kanye West back-up dancer having an epileptic fit.

Day 5 was a disgraceful show of grunting because I forgot about the whole thing, and had to do the last three repetitions in quick succession right before bed, which almost caused me to give up. I discovered that it helped if I stared at something distracting, instead of the clock, and settled on Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth by The Oatmeal. By day 6 I was using Lamaze breathing from the child-birth classes I had thought were a waste of time.

I highly recommend taking a birthing class before doing plank exercises, by the way, with or without imminent parenthood.

Day 7 was … well, awful, but actually manageable. I spaced them out well, and the end was in sight. So I did it.

I’d post a photo of my abs, but there’s no noticeable effect and no-one needs to see my pale belly. Still though, it feels good in the way that makes you feel like it’s working. It takes almost no time, and I’m pretty sure it’s a highly efficient workout for those specific muscle groups. I think I’m going to keep this in my daily routine. Perhaps one 60s plank a day. Perhaps.

  • Difficulty: hard
  • Worthwhiliness: high

Quit drinking

First up in this ill-thought out series of 52 weekly mini-resolutions, I’m going to join with tradition and do what millions have done before me by quitting drinking. I’m sure I’m joined by many with ears still ringing from the fireworks, and nursing hangovers from ringing in the New Year with a few too many shots.  The phrase “never drinking again” is generally adapted to “one won’t hurt” after a few days, but I’ll stick it out for a week at least.

These days I have a toddler and a second baby on the way, so it’s hard to party like it’s 1999. One of the advantages of living in California though is that you have the pick of timezones to celebrate with.  London is 4pm, so I can watch the fireworks in the late-afternoon sun. New York City is 9pm. Many a New Year’s Eve is ruined, based on the experience of my admittedly unsexy youth, by being an hour or two too long. Everyone’s a bit drunk and knackered by the time the bass drops. Or big, sparkly ball thing drops, if you’re in NYC.

This year we went to a party with friends and totally nailed New Year’s Eve by not really paying much attention to the timing. I highly recommend it. Eat, drink, hang out with interesting people, rescue your toddler from poking toys into an open fireplace, then celebrate the New Year along with, presumably, some seals on an obscure Atlantic island, before going home to sleep. This is my life now, and I’m quite happy with it.

Still, I did manage to sink a decent amount of premium dark rum (a phrase I’m using to make Bacardi sound cool). And prevented by a restless toddler from getting the necessary sleep to flush the alcohol and dead braincells, I was feeling it in the morning.

The morning, by the way, is unacceptably early when you have a small child. Ours tends to wake around 6am, and though he can usually be persuaded to lie down again for a bit, that persuasion must be done in person and therefore requires daddy to climb out of bed, pull on some of yesterday’s clothes, and employ quite sophisticated negotiation techniques. With the end result that when daddy talks him off the ledge, removes yesterday’s clothes and slides back under the duvet, he then gets to spend the next precious and hard-earned minutes lying reluctantly awake, pondering his life choices.

To the point. I quit drinking for a week. It was pretty easy, because I’m not a raging alcoholic, though I was quite excited when I realized it was day 8 and I could finally try the Winter Ale that had been staring at me from the fridge. Everyone should go without alcohol ever so often. It’s a nice way to clear your head, sleep better, and give yourself a little breather. Though you do need to be cautious. If like me you habitually head to the fridge (or liquor cabinet) in the evening, you need to be careful that you don’t simply replace the booze with another habit. My new vice is herbal tea. My weed of choice is chamomile. Adulthood not working out to be any sexier than youth, then.

Difficulty: easy
Rating: recommended

We all want to change the world

I’ve always been snarky about New Year’s Resolutions, which apparently half of us fail. But faced with a bit of a belly, a growing family and an recently-confirmed genetic disposition towards certain health problems, I started entertaining the idea.

But I lack willpower and get bored easily, so rather than trying to do something big for a year, and surely failing, I’m setting myself 52 mini-resolutions, one per week, for the entire year.

Some healthy, some faddish, some easy, some genuinely difficult and probably one or two that are fairly stupid ideas but will make for interesting experiments. It’ll hopefully keep me engaged in the whole thing.

I’m going to try and do some of the most common resolutions, though I don’t smoke, so that’s out. I drink, in moderation. I drink to excess (usually by accident) once or twice a year, so I’m even immoderate in moderation. Don’t really have any other major vices to speak of, which seems now to be unbearably dull. Might aim to develop one or two during the year so that I can have a resolution to quit them.

Anyway, I’ve got the first ten or so resolutions mapped out. Beyond that, I’m open to your suggestions.

Goals. Those are important, right? Well, lose a bit of weight, prompt some positive lifestyle changes, see what it’s like to be vegan. That kind of thing. I’m pretty sure that’s specific enough and definitely won’t come back to bite me later. Tick.

Why publish this self-indulgent nonsense online? Well, partly for accountability. So that if I’m a miserable failure people can see I’m a miserable failure, and therefore to shame-threaten myself into positive action. Partly because I like the idea that this will be a kind of database of 52 health and lifestyle experiments, and my experience of undertaking them. And partly because of side-resolution A: write more. Here I am, writing. Good then. Tick. This is going well so far.

Here’s a picture of some storm-troopers working out.

Lego storm-trooper working out
Some storm-trooper working out. Attribution: lucidtech