Sunday, December 6, 2015

The 30-Day Plank Challenge

One thing that became abundantly clear to me after our attempt of the OD 25 this year was that I need to spend some time working on my fitness off of my horse.  In the past, I've subscribed to the theory that to be fit to ride, you need to ride, not do kick-boxing or lift weights or ride a bicycle.  And that theory worked out OK for a very long time.  Which was good because I hate exercising.  The idea that I would force myself to be sweaty, miserable, and sore on a regular basis made no sense to me (as I wrote that sentence, it occurred to me that being sweaty, miserable, and sore is exactly what I've been doing on my horse when we've been getting ready for rides, but that's somehow different...).

It's not that I have never exercised.  I have done running, tennis, weight-lifted (on machines and with free weights), aerobics (high and low impact), yoga, kick-boxing, rowing machines, treadmills, and some box-jumping crap that left me with a serious permanent scar when I missed the top of the box I was jumping onto (maybe Santa will bring me physical coordination this year for Christmas?).  And while being fitter was nice, I absolutely loathed the time I spent in the gym.  I had so many other things that I wanted to do, and using equipment that thousands of people had already sweated on just so I could be miserable made me cringe.

Over time, I eventually gave up all pretext of even trying to exercise.  I still rode, walked the dog, played with my child, cleaned the house, gardened, hiked, and did all sorts of active things, but I put away all the fitness books, DVDs, and articles I had accumulated over the years.  I turned a blind eye to ads for gym memberships and I routinely (but hopefully politely) made my excuses for not attending a jazzercise class with a friend.  I didn't want to spend my life in a fitness class trying desperately to pretend that it's all great fun.  I wanted to live my life.

Flash forward to a couple of months ago as Nimo was happily trotting down a steep grade and I was struggling to maintain a good balance as my abs wanted to give out.  I really was OK for the first couple of miles, but after that, it became apparent that my body was just not ready for much more.  And I really felt all 15 miles of the OD that we did for several days afterward.  Even though the ride wasn't as horrifyingly rugged as I thought it might be, it was still challenging.

And I realized I had to make a choice.  Either we could stick to easier rides and I could continue to avoid exercise or I would have to suck it up and start conditioning myself in the same way I work on conditioning Nimo. it it happened, one of those random (or maybe not so much) Facebook ads popped up in my newsfeed a couple of weeks after the OD.  It was some 30-day plank challenge thing.  I never click on those ads.  It's the principle of the thing.  No matter how tempting something might be, I leave it alone in a desperate attempt to convince Facebook that it doesn't know me at all.  But I clicked on this one.  And I decided to give it a try.

At first, it wasn't too bad.  There are several forms of the 30-day plank challenge, but this is the one that I used.  I started out with a 20 second plank and the plan was to increase a little bit at a time for the first 7-10 days.  But after that, the increases started being up to 30 seconds, which got to be a little much.  After I hit 1 minute, 40 seconds, I decided to back-off a bit.  I had gotten a cold and adding a plank on top of that was too much for about a week.  So I literally just did 10-20 seconds every day until I felt better and then worked my way back up to about a minute.  I missed finishing the 30 days by a few days because of my fall at Kelly's Ford, but after about a week of taking a break, I picked up the planks again.

I decided to start with a plank because I think it is a nice stabilizing exercise that works my whole body to some degree while targeting my core.  I have no problem holding it for a minute now in the position where I'm balanced on my toes and elbows (my chiropractor recommended that I not use the position where I'm fully extended and balanced on my toes and hands because of a chronic shoulder issue).

The 30-days of my challenge to myself are well-past and I still do the plank a couple of times a week.  I've also added push-ups, which I'm so pathetically bad at right now.  But, I've been able to improve a little each time, and my goal is to be able to do 3 sets of 10 within a couple of months. 

I know doing a plank and some push-ups probably seems like kind of a lame attempt, but I'm really not in a position where I can go to a gym even if I wanted to.  Most days I feel like I'm a chicken running around with my head cut off and I feel pretty accomplished if I manage to eat twice and take a shower.  And, as I've already explained, I really don't want to exercise in the first place.  So, I need to find a way to very gradually work exercise into my life by essentially tricking myself into thinking it's no big deal as well as keeping the time spent to a minimum.  Doing a minute or two a couple of days a week seems very reasonable and doable to me right now, and my hope is that each month I can add something new until I have managed to get in a real work-out.

I'd love to hear what you guys do for exercise to help improve your riding.  I can't promise that I won't cry a little bit when I read what you do, but maybe I can get some ideas to help motivate me over the coming months:)

And now, I'm going to go eat some ice cream!


  1. Hi Gail! You have been posting all kinds of interesting stuff the last few days and I've been so swamped and wasn't able to make my usual comment that I so enjoy following all of your activities from afar. I will make a note that I chained up my truck and tried to trailer my horse down the mountain where we live on Friday to get to an arena so I could ride and seriously jacknifed the trailer with my horse in it on an incredibly icy road, slid dangerously close to a severe drop off, and aged 10 years in 10 seconds. I abandoned truck and trailer and walked my horse home. Trailer and truck were rescued the next day. ANYWAY... one of the things I love about reading your posts is that we have never met but we live in such a parallel universe! My good friend introduced me to "planks" or "planking" last year when I was desperately trying to get in shape to go row a huge gear raft through though the length and breadth of the Grand Canyon. Planks are a very good exercise. I think you have already done the hardest part of any sort of move into exercising which is... to start! There is nothing wrong with just starting by basically getting into the plank position... and then very slowly building increments! If you want to match the pace of the 30 day challenge then go for it. The most important thing is to just start moving. I swear, that is the hardest part. What I do for exercises any more is basically planks (yes, I do them in my office at the Ranger Station all the time!)... and then I do walking lunges a lot (getting ready for ski season, but it really builds the legs for posting and other things too). I walk down to the barn while doing walking lunges...over to fill the water trough for the horses while doing lunges... I walk back to the house while doing walking lunges... I walk the dog and do lunges (in the dark where no one can see). When I go trail riding, here's what I do: instead of just getting on my horse, I make myself walk or jog (depending on the terrain) at LEAST the first mile. Great warm up for my horse, we can do a few ground work things on the lead line, I get some exercise and burn some calories, and then I get on... I do this all the time. I think it's a great thing. I guess the last thing I would say is be kind to yourself and patient with yourself. You have, as I said, already done the hardest part which is to start moving. You're slowing incorporating exercise into your life at a reasonable pace. So often we fail when we suddenly try to go all nazi Jane Fonda on ourselves and burn out in a week, and not have any balance with all the time spent on exercise and the rest of our life and it becomes unsustainable. Inch forward in tiny achievable increments. Plank and walk when you can and you'll start slow, but you'll pick up momentum. You will!!!!! :-) :-)

    1. Oh, Jo! The incident with your truck and trailer sounds terrifying! I'm so glad you and your horse are OK!

      And thank you for the encouraging words:) Your idea on walking with your horse is a good one. I've done that off and on, but I really need to make it a regular thing, so I'm going to put that on my list!

  2. I despise exercise outside of riding. But I ride 5-6 times a week and usually pretty intense rides so it's been fine in the past. However, It's become a problem in the last month with our riding horse all injured. I've gained weight and lost all of my fitness. I've been contemplating exercise, but just can't decide what I'll hate the least.

    1. Sorry to hear about all the injuries, Olivia:(. If you find something that you don't hate, let me know!

  3. Alright, you've formally motivated me. I began my 30 days last night! Cheers to fitness!