It didn't go exactly as I planned.

By By Kara Cutruzzula
Photo: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Call me a masochist, but I love a good plank.

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."

With that, I set some ground rules: Five minutes total, can be divided however I like, and plank variations are welcome. Then I got started.

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.

Day 10: Five solid planks before showering in the morning. Boom.

Day 11: I'm so busy with work and deadlines that exercise is the last thing on my mind. I forget to plank.

Day 12: I forget to plank again. I think about how finding time for exercise can feel like a luxury. In the hierarchy of daily priorities, something's always gotta give.

Day 13: I remember to plank, but don't feel like it. Not going to lie, I feel pretty guilty.

Day 14: Why do we self-sabotage our exercise habits? This is a real question. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, and this activity only takes up five. Instead of planking, I probably spent a half hour telling myself "don't forget" and another five minutes lying in bed thinking "you forgot." I fall asleep.

Day 15: Determined to make up for my failures, I resolve that this is going to happen. I get down on the floor, set my timer, and planking is hard again. I feel like I've gone backward, and the struggle is real.

Day 16: I don'…planking. Period.

Day 17: I don't plank, and in the process, I learn something new about myself. When I feel forced to do something, I can quickly grow to resent it. And right now doing five minutes of planks no longer feels like a choice. It feels like a chore.

Day 18: Planking today feels like doing the dishes or remembering to take out the trash. I wonder if I'd feel differently if I tweaked my goal, such as increasing my time by planking longer instead of doing the same one-minute rounds five times every day. I decide to stick to my original plan and opt for that challenge another day.

Day 19: Suddenly, another big problem with this challenge dawns on me. Toward the beginning of the 30-day sprint, I got injured and stopped my marathon training. Running was the anchor to all my other exercise-strength training was a complement to my running, so when there's no running, everything else kind of falls away. I tell myself that I need to reframe these planks as something that's necessary to keep me healthy so when I do run again, I'm healthier and stronger because of them.

Day 20: Feeling positive, I do a plank with a leg lift. Then, a high plank with a shoulder touch and a high plank with an arm raise. I'm a planking machine!

Day 21: After a busy day of meetings and deadlines, I forget to plank again. $#@$#.

Day 22: Planks done.

Day 23: Done again!

Day 24: Today they're easier than ever, and I feel stronger.

Day 25: I'm lying in bed, about to drift off, and realize-yup, I forgot. Or rather, I avoided. But this time, I crawl out of bed, get down on the floor, and plank my tired heart out. It feels good. I think I dream of planks.

Day 26: Looking at the calendar makes me a little sad to think I'll soon be finished with this 30-day challenge, yet also grateful that I won't have them hanging over my head. While challenges are extraordinarily useful in keeping up regular progress, it occurs to me that I didn't have anything to hold me accountable (besides writing this story, of course). If I had roped in an unsuspecting friend to do them with me, we could have supported and pushed each other. I was missing that motivation.

Day 27: I try to do a plank with a push-up. They're fun but hard. I miss running, but I remember this will help me run.

Day 28: The five minutes go by so quickly that I decide to throw in one more plank for good measure.

Day 29: Done. Done. Done. Done. Done. I feel like I'm going to miss the little patch of living room rug I've stared at (almost) every day for the past month.

Day 30: I have planked my way to victory!

Not every day was successful. I forgot some days, I dodged some others, and I fell asleep a few times, but that's the biggest lesson I've learned this past month-things happen. Treating each day like a short chance to accomplish micro goals was helpful. Fail one day? No biggie, just try again the next. The point wasn't to get a six-pack after a month (although that would have been nice) or to compete in the World Championships of Planking (that should be a thing). The point was to challenge myself mentally and physically and to get out of my comfort zone (like running without the planking). And now my biceps are a little more toned, and my back doesn't hurt anymore, so you know what? I might try again tomorrow.


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