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I Tried Planking for 5 Minutes Every Day for a Month

Bodyweight exercises, like the good old plank, are simple to work into your fitness routine in that they require no extra gear. But in recent months, I lost sight of the obvious benefits of planking, so we went on hiatus. I would usually throw in a few plank holds after some post-run squats and crunches, but one day I was running late for a meeting and thought, "I'll skip them just this once." And, of course, I never planked again that entire season.

That's what happens. You think these movements are so small they don't matter, but guess what? They totally do. I realized my core felt like a loaf of sourdough bread and my back ached like I was 90. So I told myself it's time to re-plank my way to fitness. (A good place to start: The Ultimate 30-Day Plank Challenge for Your Strongest Core Ever)

One proven way to start a new habit (and stay committed to it) is by setting a monthly goal, so I gave myself the target of planking five minutes a day for an entire month. The five minutes didn't have to be consecutive, but the amount of work needed to add up to that. I ended up learning much more—about my routines, my feelings about exercise, and why sprinting toward a finish line might not always work.

Before starting, I asked Steph Creaturo, yoga teacher, run coach, and planking fiend, what I should keep in mind during every plank. Engaging your transverse abdominis—the deep core muscle that's responsible for flattening your abs and stabilizing your core from front to back—while you plank is key, she says. "It takes stress off the low back and brings all the other key plank muscles—hamstrings, butt, quads—to the party in spades."

Day 1: It's the first minute of my first plank and there's nothing but me, my living room floor, dead silence, and the timer on my iPhone. One timer dings. I move from a forearm plank to a side plank. Great! Ding. Another side plank. Three tiny beads of sweat form on my forehead. I take a little break then eke my way through the other planks and have one thought: "Twenty-nine more days?"

Day 2: Instead of conquering my five minutes' worth of planks all in a row, I decide to separate them between sprints of work. Ideally, this would force me to get up from my desk and use the rest of my body for 60 seconds at a time. Not so ideal: I do two plank holds, forget about the rest until after dinner, and am forced to do the remaining minutes on a full stomach. I do not recommend this.

Day 3: Yep, more planks. Forearm planks, side planks, and straight-arm planks are my sweet spot, but I flirt with the idea of planks with leg lifts until—nope, yeah, gonna have to work up to that.

Day 4: Oops, forgot to plank today, but I think I've discovered the problem. Habits get locked in when they're instituted by a trigger action. (Changing into pajamas signals it's time to brush your teeth, etc.) I haven't found a trigger for my planking, and what doesn't get scheduled doesn't get done.

Day 5: Aha! Here's my trigger action—running. I do my two sets of five-minute planks (making up for yesterday) right after a nighttime run and my other core exercises. They're getting slightly easier.

Day 6: Since I don't have plans to run today, I try to knock out my quota in the morning. Sleepy arms don't like planks, but I do find one new trick. Instead of setting a one-minute alarm five times, I download a timer app, which can be programmed to automatically reset a one-minute timer. No breaks, but I'm finished much faster.

Day 7: Now I'm really getting creative. Full plank, forearm plank, side planks, and a bicycle plank. (OK, maybe I made this exercise up, but I felt like moving my legs.)

Day 8: Time to check up on proper plank form. I realize my back and hips are dipping, so I focus on engaging my core like I'm about to get punched in the stomach—and whaddya know, the planks become both easier (I feel much more solid) and harder (all the other muscles I was ignoring begin to activate).

Day 9: I turn on a short YouTube workout video to watch instead of my timer and it helps the seconds tick by. And then 20 minutes pass and I realize I'm still lying on the floor watching YouTube in my workout clothes.