It’s Time for the Plank, Matey!

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When I was a kid, the word “plank” had one meaning: a piece of wood. And not just any piece of wood: In my mind, that plank was something to be walked on…then walked off of…followed by a big “splash.”

Probably had a little bit to do with my trips to see The Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. That, and my voracious appetite for reading.

Nowadays, plank has a new meaning that’s been gaining steadily in popularity. It’s still a noun, but instead of just being a piece of lumber, it’s also now an exercise.

An exercise that resembles a piece of lumber.

As exciting as that sounds (not), the plank is actually one of my favorite exercises for increasing core stability and strength, and for toning the abdominal muscles. And when you’re finally able to do it — and hold it for a millenium…er, minute…that’s really something to brag about.

I first learned to do a plank by following Holly Perkins’ Pink Ribbon Workouts. You’ll find it in Strength Training for Runners and Walkers, a workout I would recommend to anyone and everyone, whether they’re into walking and running or not. (It’s often on Exercise TV OnDemand; keep an eye out for it. Otherwise, check the Exercise TV site.

The plank Holly teaches in the video is a side plank, and as she says, you may find while doing it that you are stronger on one side than the other. (It’s a great diagnostic “tool” to discover which side of your body needs a little more strength training and toning.)

To do a side plank, lay on your side, your top foot stacked evenly on your bottom foot (see the picture, above). Resting on your forearm (keep your elbow under your shoulder, not at an angle), push your body up so all that’s touching the floor is your forearm and foot. Keep your body straight and don’t let your hips sag. Hold for 30 seconds for beginners; longer if you’re more in shape, and release. Try to do it a couple more times. If you lose balance or feel shaky on one side, you’ll know that’s the side you need to focus on strengthening more.

See Holly’s Strength Training for Runners and Walkers to see how she adds to this exercise to really tone your core.

The traditional plank is one you may have already seen or heard of — or done yourself — and is really very simple. For beginners, lie on your stomach on the floor. Push up onto your toes and forearms (bent at the elbow, just under your shoulders). Keep your body straight, not letting your lower back sway or your hips arch. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. If you’re more advanced, do the exercise straight armed so your hands are supporting your weight instead of your forearms (I actually find this to be more comfortable, anyway), and hold for longer.

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Combine both versions of the plank with your other favorite abdominal exercises, and you’ll be beach-ready in no time, mama.

Just stay away from the pirate ships.


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Sally Dinius is writer-in-chief here at, a blog created to inspire and motivate busy mamas everywhere to feel healthy, fit, and in control of their lives. Follow her on Twitter at, and come join the CrazyBusy Mama Facebook page by clicking here.

4 Ways to Continue Exercising Following a Knee Injury

It was a dark and cloudy night….

Well, actually…it was a cloudy and rainy morning last June (Father’s Day, to be exact), and I had just dropped off my daughter at her Sunday school class at our church. The class is in an outside portable, and between the portable and a covered walkway were a couple of outdoor rugs. One of my feet caught on the rugs (actually, it felt like both feet, since I couldn’t move either to try to right myself), and down I went like a rock.

You know how, when you’re going through something that’s even just mildly traumatic, it seems to happen in slow motion? That’s how it happened for me, and I remember every detail: a) My feet caught, b) I tried to right myself but couldn’t, then c) I made some very hard contact with the ground. My right knee took the brunt of it, followed by my right hip, right elbow, right shoulder, then both hands. The only good thing was that my head didn’t hit the pavement, too.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my knees, dealing with cartilage issues and various pains, and had been working over the last year to strengthen the muscles that support them, so that made this fall especially disappointing. Because of the fall, I’ve had a constant ache where my knee hit the ground. I’ve been taking it easy and giving it time to heal, but think I may be headed for an MRI, as my doctor suggested. Ugh….

The big bummer is, thanks to my knee injury, my aspirations of running in a 5K (and on up) have had to be put on hold. I haven’t even tried running again — I’m scared to, to be honest. But I can walk (though I haven’t tried very long distances yet), and I can do other things to stay in shape. If you’re dealing with a knee injury, follow the tips below for staying in shape in spite of it. (Assuming, of course, that you’ve gotten your doctor’s approval to do so, as I have.)

1. Try walking. If you can do that without pain, or at least with only minimal pain, you may be able to try other gentle forms of exercise. Walk only short distances first, gradually increasing that as time goes on.

2. Try Pilates. If you want a gentle yet effective workout, Pilates is the way to go. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I’m a huge fan of Exercise TV. I find it on my local cable network (check your listings to see if you do, too), and do the workouts when I want to. I recommend the Pilates workouts by Nicole Stewart or Tandy Gutierrez.

3. Modify Your Favorite Workouts. I love Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shredworkout, but until my knee is completely healed, I’m laying off the lunges. Depending on your pain level, either forgo the lunges or just don’t lunge as far. This applies to squats, as well. Only go as low as is comfortable for your knee.

4. Swim. I’m not a swimmer, but if you are, go for it. Swimming is a great way to get in a low-impact workout. Water aerobics is another option — check with your local hospital, swimming pool, or YMCA for details.

Finally, it’s probably a good idea to get off of your knee (as soon as you can) for a while post-workout. Put it up, and use ice if it’s bothering you. Remember not to overdo your workouts! Baby that knee and it’ll take you far (yeah…pun intended). ;-)

©2010 Sally Dinius
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Sally Dinius is writer-in-chief here at, a blog created to inspire and motivate busy mamas everywhere to feel healthy, fit, and in control of their lives. Follow her on Twitter at, and come join the CrazyBusy Mama Facebook page by clicking here.

Video: Learning to Love the Treadmill

As the mom of a three year-old, I would really love to have a treadmill. It would be much easier than trying to find someone to watch her when I want to go for a walk or run outside. My wish for this coming year is to get a gym membership so I’ll have access not only to a treadmill, but other equipment, too. And if I have to bring the munchkin along, she can hang out with the other kiddos in the play area.

If you think you’d like to start using a treadmill for some of your walks and runs, watch the following video for some good tips. They’ll get you started on the right foot (sorry, I know that was bad…)!

Video: Improve Your Running by Keeping a Log

A great way to monitor your progress for any workout routine, but especially running, is to keep a log. It will also serve as encouragement later when you look back and see how far you’ve come, and to spur yourself on to do more. This video from New Balance will show you just how to do this.

(And check out my favorite New Balance shoe, the WX778.)

ExerciseTV Wants to Give You an iPod Touch!

ExerciseTV is giving away an iPod Touch every other day from August 13 – 18. One’s been awarded already, but there are still two up for grabs! All you have to do is upload the Jillian Slimdown Widget wherever you can (you’ll see it here on the right side of my blog), then tweet about it on Twitter every time (be sure to include the location of the widget, and the #ExerciseTV hashtag).

Go to for complete rules and prize details.

Get posting!

Gadgets and Gizmos to Ramp Up Your Walking Workouts

So, after my less-than-successful intro to running, I’ve decided that I’ll focus on walking for the time being. My legs are getting very strong from my workouts, but not in the right places for running (primarily my ankles).

After doing a little online window shopping, I’ve come up with some fun items that will make my walking (and, eventually, running) workouts a little more enjoyable, not to mention productive:

GoFit Walk Vest1. GoFit 10-Pound Walking Vest with Removable Water Bottle Holder

Even Leslie Sansone, creator of the Walk at Home exercise program, recommends using a walking vest. Why? Walking vests are weighted. If you’re carrying extra weight around with you (besides what your body is used to carrying), you’re going to burn more calories than you normally would.  It’s a small investment that will speed up weight loss. Sounds good to me!

2. Omron HJ-112 Digital Pocket Pedometer
If you’re walking without this pedometer, you’re missing out on a great hand-held support system. Not only does it accurately measure your steps, aerobic steps and minutes, and distance traveled, it also measures the amount of calories you’ve burned. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? We want to make sure we’re working hard enough to cause our bodies to start burning our stored fat for energy. Comes with a detachable belt holder and security strap, and has easy-to-use push button technology. Great price, too.

3. Sportline Walking Advantage Water Bottle Holder
When I walk, even in my own neighborhood, there are certain things I like to take with me: water, cell phone, house keys, and driver’s license (hey, if the neighbor’s lawn mower tosses a rock and knocks me out, the paramedics will need to know who I am, right?). I’ve found the perfect “fanny pack” just for this purpose. It’s so much more than a fanny pack, though. For one thing, it isn’t ugly. Secondly, it’s made primarily for holding a water bottle. Two side pockets hold other necessities, like my cell phone and keys. Handy, handy! And under $10.

Now get walkin’!
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When Life Gets Overwhelming: Work it Out

Pilates Leg Slimmer and TonerYears ago, when I was going through a time of crushing stress, I began experiencing heart palpitations. My heart would race and then pound like crazy — here, there, and everywhere. Not only was my heart following a different drummer, it was the drummer.

When I finally saw my doctor about the palpitations, the only thing the EKG picked up was a slight arrythmia, something that he said would not have caused the strange beats. He then asked if I was under stress, and I explained what was going on. What he said next was an eye opener: “If you don’t let the stress out, it will find its own way out.” He suggested I exercise.

That was over 10 years ago, but it’s great advice that I’ve never forgotten. Now that I’m going through another period of heavy duty stress, and dealing with more palpitations (not to mention anxiety and depression), I’m finally “taking it to heart.”

I’ve been working out for the last month or so, following the ExerciseTV videos on Comcast’s OnDemand. I’ve already lost a couple of inches and a few pounds, all from working out at home. My abs are looking defined for the first time in my life, and my legs are getting strong. Is my stress gone? No, but working out takes my mind off of it for the time being, and being stronger physically makes me feel like I can handle anything.

If you don’t have Comcast, you can see the same videos at I like to change up my routine, and look forward to trying new workouts. I’ve been doing the following workouts as my routine for this past week:

I also recommend any of Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo workouts — you’ll be able to find some of those either on Comcast or at

Tomorrow we’ll look at other fantastic benefits you’ll reap from working out. See you then!


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