At-Home Exercise: Side Planks, Level 1

Do these. Love these. Your body will love you right back.

Doing side planks (correctly) will result in better activation and better strength in the muscles that provide stability for your spine and pelvis. This makes everything else work better, since with poor spinal and pelvic alignment we open ourselves up for a whole host of problems ranging from discomfort to major spinal disc issues.

To really maximize the benefit of this exercise, it’s important to maintain the straight lines that you start with. That means that shoulders need to stay stacked (one directly above the other), as do hips. The hips also need to stay straight, so keep squeezing your glutes! Keeping your pelvic floor activated will also make a huge difference in the strength and activation. (Not sure what that means? Think about the last time you had to pee and were not close to the bathroom. That’s the same squeeze you want.)

Level 1 is the easiest version of the side plank, though still challenging, both for the muscles of the hips and torso, and the shoulder on the “down” arm. It’s not uncommon to feel it there the most: Your arms aren’t used to holding up your body weight and will likely complain about it.

Side (Lateral) Plank, Level 1
  • Start by laying on your side with your shoulders and hips stacked (one of top of the other) and elbow under shoulder
  • Legs are aligned straight down from torso – if you look straight down your body, everything should be in line
  • Tuck the bottom foot behind the body so the knee is at a 90 degree angle (bottom knee should not move forward)
  • Brace through tummy and gently squeeze pelvic floor and glutes
  • Lift hips off the ground by pushing through your bottom knee and elbow
  • Keep top hand on hip, or reaching straight up in the air (this will help keep you aligned)
  • When at the “top” keep squeezing glutes to maintain straight line
  • Keep head and neck in line with spine
  • Hold for 10-12 seconds, then relax back to ground
  • You should feel: work/bracing through the core and glutes, and through the bottom shoulder


At-Home Exercise: Single Leg Deadlift

No equipment needed, yet a highly effect exercise for working the hips and back of the legs (hip stabilizer muscles, hamstrings, and glutes). This exercise looks simple, but it takes a lot of concentration to really get the benefits, so take your time and only move as much as you can control it:

Single Leg Deadlift
  • Stand tall and brace core
  • Lift one foot off ground and make leg active by pulling toes towards shin
  • Move heel back and behind body
  • As foot moves backward, torso will tilt forward (keep head and neck in line with spine)
  • Keep a straight line from keep to top of head, even if it means you don’t go down as far
  • Keep back in “neutral” position as you move
  • Keep “bottom” knee slightly bent
  • Arms can reach to the side, front, or anywhere you are comfortable
  • You should feel: work through the outside of the hips, back of the thigh, and your core


Making Positive Changes

Making changes to our normal routine or habits can be difficult at the best of times, and especially when the change we want or need to make isn’t one we are excited about. Many people find themselves in this sort of conundrum when it comes to improving their health, fitness, and wellbeing. We know we should be doing something different, and we even have a good idea of what is it, but we just don’t realllly want to.

However, we don’t need to make sweeping changes to have a positive effect on our lives. Making good food choices and moving our bodies more are where we’ll most benefit, and if we can make progress in one or both of these, we are well on our way to feeling (and looking and living) better.

But where to actually begin? There is abundant information available, and mis-information too. Couple that with frequent pressure (both from external sources like the media, and from ourselves) to doing everything right, and the thought of making any change can be overwhelming.

Let’s fix that.

In a nutshell, the key to making permanent change to habits or routine is to set yourself up for success. Pick ONE thing to work on at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed by making a million changes all at once. And go easy on yourself: New habits and healthier routines are created when we make our desired behavior or choice easier than making our old, habitual, less desirable choice.

Example 1: You are on your way home from work and starving. The options: Pizza, or making a healthy dinner… Hmm.

What if you had some chicken and salad ready and waiting for you when you got home? Because there is no work and no waiting involved, you’re more likely to head straight for that (even if pizza sounds more appealing).

Example 2: You are thinking about exercising more, but you HATE the thought of joining a gym. Then a friend calls and asks if you want to join a recreational soccer team (or insert other fun activity here: hiking, running around with the kids, line dancing, etc.).

Picking an activity that involves movement and fun is going to beat the activity that involves movement and boring and hard. Bringing a friend along can also up the enjoyment factor, making you even more likely to stick with it.

Bearing in mind that we want to pick something that is an easy addition to our lives, the best changes we can make are the ones that will have the greatest impact on our lives. We want the biggest bang-for-buck, especially early on, because success in itself is motivating. The more you have, the more inspired you are to work harder, and hard stuff becomes easier because it’s your ticket to continued progress. “Most impactful” can be different things to different people, so it’s worth taking time to consider what life might look like with one new habit versus another.

Bear in mind that you might not come up with an idea that is totally fun and really easy – sometimes you give a little of one to get a little of the other, and that’s ok too, as long as it is ok with you. There are no rules – just keep tweaking an idea until it really works.

The Takeaway: When you want to make a change, make it easy on yourself:

  • Choose one new activity, behavior, or choice to work on at a time. This allows us to focus, and cements this new, positive change faster. Adding a second desired change greatly reduces our ability to make either permanent. Stick with one thing until you find yourself doing it without thinking about it, then consider what change you might like to make next.
  • Choose the simple, most impactful things to work on first. Most of us have a number of ideas about what we can do to “get healthier”, thanks to a seemingly-infinite number of news sources. Worry more about eating less cake than eating more kale (or whatever the latest trendy superfood is).
    • Make it easy by choosing the things that are easy for YOU
    • Think about “bang for buck” – what is the one thing you could do that will give the most progress?
    • Realize that the easiest thing might not have the biggest bang-for-buck, and that’s ok!
  • Master the basics, and then move to greater challenges. Start with something you are confident that you can be successful with. Ask yourself: Am I confident that I can 90% stick with this chance for the next week? If yes, go for it! If not, continue to simplify it until you feel that you can stick with it 90% of the time.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. None of are on our best behavior all the time. This is why we use the “90% test”. When you make a choice that isn’t in line with your changed behavior, don’t stress about it. Every hour of every day can be a fresh start, so if you slip up, shake it off and keep moving forward.
  • Do celebrate your successes. (Not with cake.) One of the best ways to cement a change is to associate it with something you enjoy. This can be done on a daily basis: think about eating extra broccoli as you enjoy that juicy steak, or go walking with a friend instead of by yourself. Celebrate your bigger successes too. When you feel confident in your new habit, reward yourself – go for a massage, get a manicure, see a movie. Treat yo’ self!