The Plank: Strengthening the Core

The Plank is one of my favorite exercises in the Gym. Here’s my write-up cross-posted from Aches & Joints.

The core is commonly thought of as only your abs, but consists of multiple muscle groups in your abdomen, back and pelvis. Core muscles are engaged during all activities requiring a coordinated movement of the upper and lower body. They generate the force and power required for many activities, while simultaneously playing a foundational role in stabilizing the torso.

Our modern sedentary lifestyle does nothing to working these important core muscles and over time result in their weakening, and the consequent injuries from seemingly simple tasks.]

There are various ways to strengthen these core muscles. The PLANK, for instance, is easy to perform, effective and appropriate for any age and fitness level. With no special equipment, the plank can be performed on a carpeted floor or mat in your living room, in the gym between sets of other exercises, or at the end of a workout. Also, the plank literally only takes a minute!

In performing the plank, you hold a steady position by isometrically contracting the deep stabilizing abdominal muscles (transverse abdominus), while keeping the lower back (erector spinae and multifidi) stable, fighting fatigue and simultaneously building endurance. This exercise is not appropriate if you have any shoulder weakness or injury.

Step by Step: How to perform and hold the Plank
Plank Strengthening the Core Aches & Joints

  • Have a wrist watch or clock nearby to track time
  • Start with palms on the floor, shoulder distance apart (see above), then lower to forearms only with and elbows directly below the shoulders as demonstrated below
  • It may be easier for many to start with knees and elbows on a mat
  • Extend legs back, one at a time, straightening the knees and balancing on your toes
  • Keep your body straight as a plank (see below)
  • Relax your neck and look down at the floor
  • As you fatigue, there will be a tendency for your hips to sag. Squeeze your deep abdominal muscles and glutes, and hold your hips in line with the rest of the body
  • For starters, hold the position for 30 seconds and work up to 60 seconds or longer
  • Rest on your knees; when ready, repeat plank for two additional sets

Plank Strengthening the Core Aches & Joints

For a more challenging workout: In the plank position, alternately lift and move each leg outwards (see demonstration below)
Plank Strengthening the Core Aches & Joints

Julie Schlenkerman, Personal Trainer, Clubs at Charles River ParkThe Plank was demonstrated by Julie Schlenkerman, certified personal trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park, Boston, MA.

Julie is an avid runner and ran the 2009 Boston Marathon in 3:16:14!

Here is wishing Julie the very best for the Boston Marathon tomorrow.

Run Julie Run!

From My Archives: Simple exercises & Related articles

11 Essential Things to do Before a Long Run

(pic by Martineric from here)

Despite a tear in my medial meniscus, I hope to run the New York City Marathon on November 7, 2010. The long runs are the most grueling part of marathon training. There are NO crowds to cheer you, there is no one handing out water and no friends to pat you on the back. Its just you and the demons, on a long road. And it is you alone, my friend, who will have to slay the demons.

Having a checklist helps you get psyched for the long run and reduces the stress that you may have forgotten something important. It also works like a trial run for the Marathon. So prepare a list and tweak till you get it right; then it becomes your Marathon prep checklist. Continue reading “11 Essential Things to do Before a Long Run”

Tutorial: How to do Interval Training on a Treadmill

pics of Julie Schlenkerman doing intervals on a treadmill by Arun Shanbhag

In Interval Training, you combine a short, 1 minute burst of high intensity exercise followed by a 4 minute recovery period of low to moderate intensity. You string together these 5 minute cycles, or intervals, and end up with a very intense exercise regimen with amazing consequences. Also called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a 30 min interval training is the quickest way to lose weight, get physically fit and enhance your running speed.

Benefits of Interval Training: Continue reading “Tutorial: How to do Interval Training on a Treadmill”

Marine Corps Marathon 2008: The Long Slog!

Marine Corps Marathon 2008
time: 4:33:10
My Slowest Marathon!

Its been two weeks and now I can write about my slowest marathon.

The Course and the Run:
I loved the first ten miles of this course. Leaving the Pentagon, the course works its way through the narrow streets of Arlington, VA. The mass of runners then worms their way over the George Washington Parkway and through the forests of Georgetown. It was a nice incline and the heavy breathing of runners filled the cool air. As we worked uphill, sunlight filtered through fall trees and only a few feet ahead, runners disappeared in fog mingling with mist from their breath. It was a beautiful slog. Then we raced down to the center of Georgetown to a large and raucous crowd. At that point, it was only mile Ten, and I was ahead of my expected 4:00 h pace!
Continue reading “Marine Corps Marathon 2008: The Long Slog!”

BAA Boston Half Marathon 2008

BAA boston half marathon medal Brooks Adrenaline Shoes

Boston Half Marathon 2008
time: 1:53:09
pace: 8:38/mile

Enjoyed a nice run on a spectacular Fall Sunday here in Boston! The air was crisp and sunlight poked through leaves in all hues of red and yellow! On this blessedly beautiful morning, everyone ended a winner!

I ran like on a careless stroll and did not check my watch till the race was over! Then, I wished I had run a bit faster! This half marathon was part of the taper before the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon (Washington DC) next Sunday (26th). This was not the time for heroics and my legs needed to rest after the 20-miler I did the previous week.

Big Foot Stories:
Continue reading “BAA Boston Half Marathon 2008”

Kaapi: Way Coffee Should be Enjoyed

How to make south indian coffee kaapi by Arun Shanbhag
Running Update: To keep up with my training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC I had to run 13 miles through partial rain and dodging puddles the entire way. Running with squishy shoes for a couple of hours is not fun! I made it around in horrible time and sore hamstrings.

This year its the hamstrings and lung capacity which have been slowing me. Appears my lungs have NOT fully recovered from the bronchitis I got earlier in the Spring and kept me from the Boston Marathon. For the first four miles, I find myself gasping and unable to pick my pace. My doctor is not surprised and mentions that after bronchitis, lungs need 6-8 months to recover vital capacity. While I don’t notice a deficit in most activities, running long distances needs my entire lung capacity, which is still compromised. But I plod on! Have no hopes for breaking 4 hours, but it would be good to FINISH a marathon this year!
Continue reading “Kaapi: Way Coffee Should be Enjoyed”

Not Running the Boston Marathon


As the runners are all laced up and waiting for the gun to go off, I am at home recovering! Aarrrrghhh!

After my 18 mile run about 5 weeks ago, I came down with a bad case of the flu. Instead of resting, I pressed on with the training (tough guy!). It got worse, and I ended up with bronchitis/asthma! Missed the 21 miler and all the running since then. With medications and two types of inhalers, I could do TWO MILES! Been resting and trying to get my lungs back to capacity.

It was extremely frustrating to fall ill at this late stage of the training. Very depressing and I couldn’t write about till now. C’est la vie!

My friends remind me: There will be other marathons! If I can start running this week, and it looks likely that I can, then I plan on running Boston’s Run to Remember at the end of May. I think deep down, my marathon training is ‘saved in draft form.’

And for the Fall, I have signed up for the New York City Marathon (Nov 2) lottery. Did not get in the last two years, so perhaps this third try is a charm! As a backup I am signing up for the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, DC (Oct 26).

Still too depressing to actually go to the course! I will imagine its in a different city and just track my friends on the computer!

Monster March Training Schedule

For runners training for the Boston Marathon (April 21, 2008), March is the feared Monster March. While we start training in January and slowly ramp the mileage in frigid February, it is March when every weekend entails a 14+ mile run; on cold snowy Saturdays! Brrrrrrr!

The long runs planned for each weekend in March start at about 16 miles and end with the longest training run of 21 miles on March 29th – three weeks before the Marathon. After this, we reduce mileage during the three-week ‘taper’ and run 26.2 on Marathon day. So in April, you only have one 26.2 mile run. But in March, every weekend is a 14 – 21 mile run. And that does not include the mid-week lower mileage runs!

Thus surviving March is key for a successful marathon! If you get through March, without getting injured, sick or the equally dreadful – over-training injury, the actual Marathon can be very enjoyable, though exhausting!

Despite my ankle injury in January, I have nearly caught up with the mileage in my training program. But I find myself running at a woefully slow pace: about 1 minute slower! 😦 And March finds me tired all the time. The long runs (with associated stretching, prep, driving to the course, etc) take up entire Saturdays. Sundays is for rest and catching up on sleep. I need an extra hour of sleep each day – to just recover from the trauma of running! You could catch me dozing off on the T and even at work. And socializing has shrunk to zero. I need my rest!

And the amounts of food I have been putting away is quite disgusting! In prep for the Saturday long run, I order a take-out pasta dish meant for two, and gorge on it myself. I actually get tired of eating, and will take a little break from dinner, do some cleaning and then come back to finish dinner. Yeah, gross!

Here’s my weekly training schedule. Notice emphasis on Stretching:

  • Monday: Stretch (~15 minutes); 45 min intense spinning;
  • Tuesday: Stretch; 4-miles fast on Treadmill; stretch;
  • Wednesday: Stretch; strength training (upper and lower body); stretch;
  • Thursday: Stretch; 4-miles fast on Treadmill; stretch;
  • Friday: Stretch; light strength training; gluttony!
  • Saturday: Stretch; long run; stretch; nap; ice knees and ankles; early to bed!
  • Sunday: Stretch; 90 min Iyengar Yoga; Eat well and rest at home!

Surprisingly, recovering from the long runs has been very quick; must be the banana I force myself to eat immediately after the run, along with a bottle of water.

If you need more tips, don’t hesitate to holler! 🙂

Tips for Running on Snow and Ice

My training for the Boston Marathon is in a funk. No sooner had I signed up, I hurt my ankle. Nothing broken, but sidelined for a couple weeks. “Not running” is tough during marathon training. Give me bone chilling, snot freezing, long runs any day, but please don’t let me nurse an ankle when its Marathon season, the skies are blue and the air is crisp!

If you are training for the Boston Marathon, you need to start training in the dark winter days, when the ground is still frozen and covered with snow or ice. You could squeeze a couple short, mid-week runs on the treadmill, but you need to do the longer weekend runs outdoors – even if there is snow and ice on the ground.

Here are a few pointers (and forms) for running on various snow and ice conditions. These are based on my personal experience of innumerable winter runs; btw, I have had my fair share of slips and fall in the snow, including a nasty head injury and a cracked rib, four weeks before last year’s marathon.

Important: If there is any amount of snow or ice on the roads or trails – RUN SLOW! Speed work can stay for another day. For the long run, just plan on clocking the miles, and making it back without getting hurt! This is not the time for heroics, just go for the distance (not time)!

More than Four Inches of Snow
Try your luck on roads if they are clear. Remember, the plows only clear a narrower lane for vehicles and there may not be enough shoulder for you to run safely on. And if the snow is piled high on the sides, you may not have a safe place to escape if you see a truck barreling close.

Instead, put off running and instead go for a long walk. Or wait to see if the weather will clear by the next day. There is always tomorrow.
Continue reading “Tips for Running on Snow and Ice”

Boston Half Marathon 2007

Boston Half Marathon 2007
time: 1:49:31
pace: 8:22/mile (5.11/km)

Was a minute 56 secs slower than my Feb Half Marathon in Hyannis. 😦 And my pace was off by 9 seconds!

In Feb for Hyannis, I was in training for the Boston Marathon and at the top of my training. This half marathon was to be a practise run for the New York City Marathon in Nov. But I did not get into the NYC lottery, making it difficult to get motivated. And I suffered from heel pain all summer (now you know why I wrote all those heel pain articles) and could not run on my heels for most of my training. Today was the first time in months that I ran any distance on my heels ~ and transiently felt a stab of pain at about mile 6.

Enough excuses!

And wow, what a scenic but tough course! The course runs through Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a chain of nine parks linked by parkways and waterways. My friends who ran it last year had correctly warned, “it is very hilly!” At the halfway, we run through the Franklin Park Zoo, past the giraffe pens, birding area, tropical animal trails and the alligator area; before turning back around. Sorry did not pause to enjoy! :-))

No excuses! A fabulous run and I am very pleased. In this off-season, needed to maintain form and was expecting to do better than a 9:00 minute pace. And did way better than that! Now I rest for a few months and restart training in Jan for either the Boston or London Marathon in April 2008! Yaay! Run ARUN Run!

Foot and Toe Extension

Continues the Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis Series.

For most of the day, our feet are bound within stiff shoes and many of the soft tissues within the feet are infrequently used. This is a simple yet very effective exercise to stretch the heel and underlying plantar fascia … and bring life to those toes!

If you have heel pain, perform this stretch as you wake up and place your feet on the floor. This can also be performed while sitting in the office chair or on the couch.

  • Sit on a chair and place your ankle over the opposite knee.
  • Grip toes and gently pull them back towards the knee, while holding the ankle to prevent it from moving.
  • Feel the stretch in the sole of the foot all the way to the heel.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat three times for each foot.

See related articles:
Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis
Heel and Achilles Tendon Stretch
This article and archives are available at

Heel & Achilles Tendon Stretch

Continuing my Health & Fitness Series, as published in our patient newsletter, Aches & Joints.

Following up on the Heel Pain (Plantar Fasciitis) article from a few weeks earlier, here is the first of a series of exercises that can help recovery from heel pain.

This is a wonderfully effective warm-up before running, going for a walk, or participating in any sports. Or just do this stretch because you want to. This stretches the Achilles tendon as well as the calf muscles. Runners especially need to do stretch these before heading out and after returning from a run too.

You don’t need to go to a health club or gym to do this. Stretch in your office or waiting in the coffee line, or even during a walk in the park.

Enjoy and Share with others. Live well!
heel achilles tendon stretch, Meg Vitter

  • When out for a walk, find a wall to lean against. Even a tree will do.
  • Stand an arms length from the wall.
  • Place the leg to be stretched about 12-18 inches behind you.
  • Keep your toes pointed forward and slightly inward.
  • Bend your arms and gradually lean towards the wall.
  • Make sure your leg is straight and the heel of your back leg is pressed to the floor.
  • Feel the stretch in the calf and heel of the back leg.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and return to starting position.
  • Repeat three times for each leg.

Stretches demonstrated by Meg Vitter of Boston, MA.

Also read:
Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis
Precautions to Take Before Starting New Exercises
Article archives are available at

Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis

I had previously published this article in our patient newsletter Aches & Joints.

If you are a runner, you probably worried about Plantar Fasciitis. Early in the summer when researching this article, I got a mild case of heel pain that left me distraught. My training for the Boston Half Marathon (Oct 7th 2007) was guarded and I am still tentative with my heel. But doing all the exercises linked at the end, I am good to go. Continue reading “Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis”

Yoga of Running: Tough Mile 1

running yoga distance running, marathons
You’d think, after completing several marathons, running comes easy to me. Well, once I get going, I do enjoy it. But getting started on any run is always tough. Particularly Mile 1. I am not talking about a 1 mile sprint. Just the first mile of a long or short run. Its a tough mile!

I have stretched; sipped water and I head out the door. Reset the stopwatch; push off and go.

In about a 100 meters, I am panting! My mouth is wide open and my chest is heaving. My breathing is very labored and you could hear my gasps 20 feet away. My legs feel all wrong and my arms are like clumsy appendages. I wonder, are my lungs ok? I really cannot go on for another hour like this.

My legs feel wobbly. No pain, just completely uncoordinated. Like a toddler taking her first steps. Nothing grossly wrong. My feet are not splayed wide like a duck’s. I have the right shoes on and laces are tight. Knees don’t hurt.

My hips reluctantly and erratically swinging forward; pushing my knees ahead – seemingly uncontrollably. Hamstrings fire and decide how far my knee goes. Muscles and tendons in my calf are grudgingly lifting my ankle and projecting the foot forward. My foot is still learning how to land. Unsure where to take the load – should my ankle flex and land on the heel, or on the flat, or on the ball of my foot. Terrain is still alien and the pace, who knows. As my hips swing forward, my opposite arm is swinging back and my hands and fingers seem unsure of what to do. They are itching to do something, just not sure what.

No pain, just that odd feeling inside: this is so damn uncoordinated! So grace-less!

Continue reading “Yoga of Running: Tough Mile 1”

Boston Marathon 2007

Boston Marathon 2007
time: 3:59:17
pace: 9:08/mile

30 minutes faster than my last year’s time of 4:29:18.

Overcome by the gushing support and outpouring of best wishes from all my friends on LJ. Thank you! (WordPress post here.)

Despite all the drinks and four GU Gels I imbibed during the run, I still lost 6 pounds during the race! Resting at home today! My knees are a mess and I can barely walk – but truly satisfied!

The race started slow, with a light drizzle and streams of rain water flowing in the streets. Did not even notice the start line come up till I was over it. Forgot to start my stopwatch, then fumbled with the different functions; it was about 20 – 30 seconds before I got it right! Noticed I was doing 10 min miles for the first three and nearly gave up hope of finishing under 4 hours.

Then the rains stopped and I decided to give it my best shot; and within a few miles I was back on track. At mile 10, I was close to 180 minutes and my 9 min/mile pace. That was a key turning point. From then on I consulted the 4 hour pacing table on my wrist and was consistently tracking 1 or 2 minutes faster. But every water break, gel break (and two bathroom breaks) or stretching for a few seconds would slow me down. And since I was not sure how late I had started my stopwatch, I wanted at least a minute cushion per my watch.

When we turned the corner to face the Four hills in Newton I was still on track. … And after attacking Heartbreak hill … I was still on track! O M G! What a feeling keeping pace running up the hills. Felt like stopping to stretch my legs, but I knew I did not have any spare time. I was so nauseatingly exhausted that at the water stop at mile 23 I took in the water, couldn't drink it and promptly spit it out. That refreshed me as it cleared the bile from my mouth. And I was still within a minute! OMG! I so badly wanted to stop! But knew I was so close!

Then passed Mile 25 marker and the CITGO sign! Turned on Commonwealth Ave. Still a minute ahead of pace!

Felt like dying, but the crowds were thick; four or five deep at least!

Turned on Hereford St and less than half a mile away. Stopped and walked for a few seconds!

Turned on Boylston St! And the wall of spectators! Just had to keep running!

That “Boston Marthon” banner seemed so far away! Tunnel vision!

Just can't stop!

Saw the huge timer at the finish line and knew I could do it! Tried to smile for the cameras at the finish line. Shuffled so I'd land my right foot (with the timing chip) on the center of the timing mat.

Phew, I think I did it!

After a few steps, collapsed to the street, and a volunteer helped me up. Walked a little and collapsed again. And a friend grapped me. I could barely walk!

Met M, checked my final time at a computer station and I was 3:59:17!

O … M … G!

I did it in under 4!

In utter Pain, but with the biggest grin, I hobbled on!

Boston Marathon 2007: 26.2 miles in a Nor'easter!

Boston Marathon 2007: 26.2 miles in a Nor'easter!

We are expecting a Nor'easter here for the Marathon. Not good. Yesterday at the Runner's Expo where we pick up our Bibs, there was trepidation amongst the runners. No one I knew was going to “cancel,” but the question on everyone's mind was: “How do I dress to run in this weather?” My training had gone spectacularly well and I was hoping to finish under 4 hours. Now I will be lucky to just finish! Here is part of the Weather Alert email we received from the organizers:

Weather Advisory – 2007 Boston Marathon
The Boston Athletic Association's medical team recommends the following precautions and advice for participants in Monday's Boston Marathon:

The most up-to-date weather forecast calls for a predicted Spring storm on Monday, including heavy rains (potentially 3 to 5 inches), with the start temperatures in the mid to upper 30's. Wind will likely be East (in the face of the participants for most of the race) in the 20 to 25 mile per hour range, with gusts to as much as 50 miles per hour. This will produce a wind chill index of 25 to 30-degrees Fahrenheit.

Combined with the rain, we are concerned that predicted weather conditions will increase the runners' risks for a condition called hypothermia. As with any athletic competition, as a runner you are assuming the risks inherent with participation. It is your responsibility to be informed about the risks associated with running in the aforementioned conditions, and the risks of injury or illness will increase with these predicted conditions.

But heh! Now is a great time to share a couple of pics from last year's Boston Marathon. My first!

For those unfamiliar, the Boston Marathon is the oldest continuously running marathon, one of the most difficult and the most prestigious! For runners, completing any marathon may be a life long dream, and running Boston is equivalent to touching the Holy Grail (whatever that may be!).

Inexperienced, I started fast and did not account for the initial downhill part. With every step I was jamming by toes against the front of the shoes and could feel blisters and stickiness spreading around my toes. At mile 17.4 we turned the corner and started up the first of four hills in Newton. Here I am at Mile 19. Notice the “Run Arun Run” on my shirt.

Continue reading “Boston Marathon 2007: 26.2 miles in a Nor'easter!”

Hyannis Half Marathon 2007

Back in training for the 111th Boston Marathon on April 16th.

During most of the training, I run alone. But once before the actual race, I like to run a Half Marathon race to prepare for the psychology of participating, testing out newer clothes and shoes, holding myself to a pacing strategy and finally to get the feel of running with crowds (importantly not to let the slower or faster runners make you deviate from your pace).

So this morning I ran the Hyannis Half Marathon in a time of 1:47:35 (pace: 8:13/mile)*. 7 mins faster than my half marathon time last year! Yoo Hoo!

It was a beautiful day to run in Cape Cod. The sun was out and the temperature was a crisp 40 deg F (4 deg C). Running along the sea shore and the lighthouse was sublime. And we dashed past the Kennedy's Compound and the JFK Memorial! The first mile took an agonizing 9 min as the starting crowds thinned out. But i quickly got to my target pace of 8:15 and held it there. The terrain was characterized by constantly rolling hills and after struggling up the gentle inclines I'd dash downhill faster. As we ran uphill along deserted roads, we were all breathing heavily in unison and in synch with our heavy footfalls. We all suffered but kept the pace. I steadily passed others during the entire run – and particularly during the last few miles it was a major psychological boost.

Overall, a superb day and a satisfying run! Now back to the rest of the training.

* For the Marathon my pace would be much slower; hoping to be around 9:30. That would be 45 secs faster than my pace from last year. Lets see how it goes!

… and WoW! A no-picture post!

Marathon: Half-marathon and Update

Super busy with work and related travel. Marathon training is progressing well.

Finished my first road race, evah! On March 12th, ran Boston's Half-Marathon in a very respectable 1:54:56 for 13.1 miles at a pace of 8:46 min/mile. Hoping to finish under 2 hours, I realized at the 10 mile marker that I was cutting it very close. Sprinted the last 3 miles and ended with five minutes to spare! Stoked! What a kick to 'pass' others at the end!

Along the course I followed others, ducked behind a few bushes and relieved myself on an MIT building 😉 Thankfully, offices were all empty on the sunday morning. Think students and profs were nursing hangovers from wild parties on saturday night? naaaaah! prolly at home telephoning mothers and munching on fruit loops for breakfast 😛

Did the longest 22 mile training run this past Saturday! Lets just say it was not a pretty sight! Ran part of the actual marathon course including the notorious 'heartbreak hill.' Hundreds of runners were also training giving a nice psychological boost. The camaraderie amongst runners was phenomenal. Along the course many had set-up drink stations on sidewalks, cars and benches and willingly shared gatorade with all runners. Towards the end of the run as I struggled up heartbreak hill, an older gentleman asked if I needed refreshments (i must have looked drained and my fuel belt was empty) and offered a big bottle of gatorade. Others offered suggestions for tackling downhills, training regimens and best options for getting to the start-line on race day (April 17th).

Dashed home after the run, did a short stretch, shower and got on a flight. Did I suffer! My icing and resting schedules were completely off, and today, nearly five days after my run, I am uncharacteristically still sore!

The toughest part of the training is behind me! The taper starts now! I reduce my long runs to 16 this weekend (maybe?), followed by a couple of half marathons. Time to rest – but not too much!

O! Got my Marathon number: 210.90 (a transposed version of 90.210)
Run 21090!

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