When I tell people that I have two herniated discs in my lower back at 29 years old, I proudly note that it’s one of the most common injuries in professional athletes. “I just went too hard, I guess,” I smirk.
However, my orthopedist knows I sit on a throne of lies. In fact, I didn’t injure my back during a set of gloriously heavy squats or any impressive feat of athleticism; I just started noticing pain when I bent over to pick something up or rolled over in bed. Why? Apparently because I have a very weak core.
While I can pile on plate after plate during my usual leg workouts and love a good spin or HIIT class, I can’t stand Russian twists, sit-ups, or my sworn enemy: bicycle crunches. So I never work my abs. Ever. (And it’s really backfired on me.)
Despite my general dislike for most abs moves, though, I never 100 percent hated planks. Actually, they were one of the exercises I did during my short stint in physical therapy that seemed to help alleviate my back pain.
Since back pain has continued to be an ever-present annoyance since I fell off the physical therapy bandwagon, I decided to plank every day for a month to see if there really was hope for my core strength.
Week 1: How’s It Feel To Be Below-Average?
Excited as I was for my planking time to (hopefully) improve, I wasn’t even sure how long I’d be able to plank for that first day. My answer: 32 seconds. Twelve seconds longer than I had even planked in physical therapy, that seemed pretty good.
Until I Google searched ‘average plank time for women,’ that is. I was a full minute below the average! I’d never been so below-average at something athletic in my life. Even pushups!
I tried to blame my pitiful plank performance on my injury, but knowing my weak core strength pretty much caused that injury left me feeling terrible.
Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Moves
Although my plank time crept up to 44 seconds by the end of that first week, I was still frustrated with my performance. Every time I got into that plank position, time seemed to move at half-speed—and no amount of fidgeting or staring at the stopwatch on my phone passed the dreaded seconds any faster.
However, since I didn’t really feel sore, I knew I had more to give that next week.
Week 2: Okay, Now This Hurts
Fuming about my below-average planking ability and motivated by my lack of soreness, I was ready to put some oomph into week two.
While I didn’t necessarily feel stronger or have drastically better form throughout my second week of planking, my anger about being below-average really revved up my willpower. With my face red and the veins in my neck bulging, I slowly built my plank time up to a solid 60 seconds.
Still, my abdomen didn’t look or feel any firmer, and I could still see my stomach dipping toward the floor in the photos I snapped. However, I finally noticed the satisfying soreness my first week of planking lacked. I was on the right track!
Week 3: The Glute-Squeeze That Rocked My World
Have you ever realized you’ve been doing something wrong your entire life, and that just one tiny tweak could change everything? That happened to me during a workout class in my third week of planking.
After a few rounds of rowing intervals, we moved to the floor and moved through not one, but six (!), different plank variations. The instructor told us to squeeze our glutes as tight as we could, and to try and shift some weight out of our arms and shoulders.
So, I squeezed my butt and shifted my weight—and I had a total a-ha moment. Planking was instantly easier! If I hadn’t been slathered in sweat at the end of class, I would have hugged that instructor. With his advice, I was able to up my plank hold times to 70, 80, and then 90 seconds by the end of the third week.
Though I still hadn’t noticed any major physical changes, I felt stronger and more stable for the first time. And despite the soreness that rocked my midsection, the jarring lower-back pain I’d get when bending to pick something up or shifting in bed started to dissipate.
Week 4: Just Breathe
Despite my continuous gains, I was still woefully average (at least according to Google) at the start of my fourth week. And worse, by mid-week, I’d hit a plateau. I couldn’t get past 90 seconds of planking without flopping onto the ground, core on fire and self-esteem completely deflated.
I began to wonder if I was just psyching myself out. My constant fidgeting and phone-watching proved that though my body could keep going, my mind was absolutely losing it.
If I could just find a way to help pass the time—or feel calmer—I knew I could make it past that annoying 90-second threshold. After all, the people we often think of as pro plankers are pretty disciplined folks—Marines, police officers, yogis.
I decided to focus on quieting my mind the next time I planked, and let me tell you: It worked! Though I didn’t exactly meditate my way through my planks, I did start listening to my favorite news podcast. I got so peeved by all of the political talk that I completely forgot how on-fire my core was!
No, I wasn’t suddenly able to plank for 10 minutes straight, but I was able to hold the position for 122 seconds that final day. That’s more than two minutes!
How 30 Days of Planking Transformed My Core
While I didn’t have rock-hard abs by the end of my month-long planking experiment, I never really expected to. After all, I’m a firm believer that abs are defined in the kitchen—and I really love pizza, wine, and mozzarella sticks.
However, I was really surprised by my progress. Thought I’d always considered myself a pretty athletic person, this challenge reinforced the fact that if I neglected certain parts of my body, I would pay the price. I still felt disappointed in myself for neglecting my core for so long, but I was proud of myself for finally making a concerted, daily effort to rebuild strength.
And, while my lower-back pain is still there, it’s definitely less prominent—and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I might not continue to plank for as long as possible for every day moving forward, but I will certainly incorporate more core work into my usual exercise routine.