Don't Have Hours to Spend in the Gym? Try Walking and the Plank for Just Minutes a Day

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(U.S. Army Reserve/Sgt. 1st Class Brent C. Powell)

If you are having issues figuring out how to get started with fitness, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of Americans feel overwhelmed when it comes to fitness and don't know how to begin. Fortunately, there are two highly effective ways to become more active and get fit without spending hours at the gym -- or spending a dime.

Many of us struggle to fit exercise into our daily schedule. But science and common sense tell us we need to be more physical, so we feel better, look better, lose weight, gain muscle, perform better on fitness tests and, in general, live longer.

One type of exercise that can help you achieve your goals is the plank pose. Combine this activity with walking, and you have a powerful one-two punch to get back into shape safely and at no cost. The plank pose is an isometric muscle-strengthening exercise, while walking is an aerobic exercise. Both are needed to see the type of muscle toning, core stability and fat-loss goals we have for setting up a training program.

Planking and walking work your entire body, including your heart and lungs, entire torso, arms and legs, and can be done in just a few minutes a day. Best of all, you don't need any special equipment to do either.

The plank pose is also a great way to improve your posture. You can burn 3-5 calories per minute doing the plank, but when mixed with walking, you can burn much more and see significant weight loss if you are consistent.

It is important to remember that your results will depend on how often you exercise and how long you can hold the position and walk. For many military members, planking is now a fitness test event that you have to practice. Here are some ideas to build up to a rock-solid plank position and max the test:

1. Proper Plank Position

To get started, lie down on your stomach and place your elbows and toes on the floor. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders and your legs should be straight. Then, squeeze your stomach muscles and lift your body off the floor.

Make sure you keep your back straight and your head in line with your spine (don't look up at a wall or down toward your feet). Hold this position for as long as you can, taking breaks as necessary by dropping to your knees first, then completely on the floor.

2. Progression

When you fail, drop your knees on the floor to continue the plank pose for an additional minute. As that gets challenging, lean in a planked pose against a sturdy piece of furniture or bench, as the angle will still challenge your body but just be a bit easier until a floor plank is manageable.

3. Spread Throughout the Day

Every hour on the hour, drop for a plank pose for one minute. This is a tough habit to remember, but setting a timer on your watch can remind you to drop and plank it out. If you do not want to get to the floor at work, try a wall-sit and work the legs or just walk an additional 10 minutes during your lunch break. Accumulating activity is a great way to help you fit exercise activities into your day with little time commitment.

4. Distraction from the Plank/Walk

Walking and planking can get boring, so try listening to music or talking on the phone. Finding a workout partner is an even better way to keep you moving. Distracting yourself with music or a friend in conversation works well, so build up to longer songs. Take the "Free Bird Challenge" and hold it for nearly five minutes. The next level, the album version of Free Bird, is nine minutes long.

If you want to get the most out of the plank pose and walking, it's important to do it regularly. Aim to walk daily and work in the plank pose at least three times a week, trying to increase the amount of time every week, even if by a 10%-15% progression.

As you get stronger, you can also add more challenging variations to the exercise, such as lifting one leg at a time or doing the plank on an unstable surface, like a balance ball or TRX straps.

Walking and the plank pose are effective ways to get in shape without spending hours in the gym. With just a few minutes of practice a day, you can start to see the results you want. So don't be discouraged if you don't have a lot of time to devote to exercise.

These are great ways to get in shape without spending hours in the gym. Get started today, and you will be on your way to feeling better, avoiding injuries and doing better on fitness tests in no time.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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