Failing to Rise to the Plank Challenge

Because every now and then I attempt to impose some kind of structure and focus on the whimsical passing of my days, I recently attempted a 30-day plank challenge. I went about it by downloading a free app that gives you no information on proper plank technique, no supplemental exercises to strengthen your muscles, and no advice or tips on how to succeed at the challenge. It’s basically just a timer that increases bit by bit each day from 20 seconds on Day 1 to 3 minutes and 43 seconds on Day 30 and sends you naggy daily notifications till you execute your plank (or till you push the button saying you did).

Spoiler alert: I did not achieve a three-minute plank, much less a 3:43 one.

One reason I failed at this challenge is that, without warning, the app switched from a free to a pay version on Day 25, and I’m not about to pay 99 cents for an app. At least not an app whose sole purpose is to torture me.

But cheapness wasn’t the root cause of my failure this time. I could, and did, switch over to just using my phone’s timer for the last five days. The true culprit was my excessive fidgety-ness combined with my shortage of upper body strength and mental fortitude.

In order to provide a historical record of this event, one that I can refer to again and again the next time I think about doing this to myself, I have provided below a second-by-second transcription of my thoughts on the last day of my version of the plank challenge.

planking meerkat

0:07 in plank – Piece of cake. I’m strong. I’m going to kill this challenge, thanks to my yoga practice.

0:12 – Holy cow, this hurts.

0:20 – Think about something else. Like why I didn’t think to start some music playing to distract me.

0:25 – Only 25 seconds have passed? Dang, I’m weak.

0:30 – I have to stop looking down at the timer.

0:35 – I mean it! I’m going to close my eyes, inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of six before I let myself look at the timer again. That will burn up at least 10 seconds. *inhales, exhales, waits an extra beat just to be on the safe side*

0:41 – Only six seconds have passed?? That’s mathematically impossible. Someone has sabotaged this app.

0:45 – You know, the app doesn’t technically say “seconds.” Maybe these numbers ticking ever so slowly by are some obscure British unit of measure, and each one is equivalent to three normal seconds, and I’ve actually been doing this for three minutes already.

0:50 – Wait, 45 times 3 isn’t 180. Yes, that’s good. Think about math. Do multiplication in your head. That’ll be nice and distracting.

0:55 – The burning sensation in my arms, shoulders, lats, and abs is causing the numbers in my head to go hazy and combust. I have multiplication table amnesia. Let me try computing it the other way. 60—not 45—times 3 would be 3 minutes, dummy. Now just subtract 15 seconds from 3 minutes 3 times and you have your total. Wait…what was I trying to calculate again?

0:57 – Abandon the idea of doing mental math and planking at the same time. Evidence suggests it’s not humanly possible.

1:00 – As soon as this is over, I’m going to get a stopwatch and time this timer. It’s got to be running slow.

1:05 – I’m going to try going down on my elbows instead of up on my palms in this yoga-style plank. There’s much more surface area on my forearms than my palms. It’s got to be easier that way. That’s the reason I’m not breezing through this challenge.

1:10 – Nope nope nope. That’s worse, thanks to the Fractured Elbow Incident of 2002. Back up on palms I go.

1:15 – Hey, I totally just did a walking plank. I’m not sure if that’s valid for the plank challenge, but I once went to a boot camp class where they made us do that, but the girl teaching the class called them “commandos” and that seemed wrong. Regardless of the nomenclature, that thing I just did is a totally legit exercise and doesn’t mean I’ve violated the rules. I am still in this challenge.

1:25 – My lower back hurts. That’s probably a sign that I’m not using my abs enough. Then again, I no longer have any feeling in my abs to tell whether I’m pulling them in like I should. I’m guessing that means no.

1:30 – That’s it. I can’t stay still anymore. I’m going to lose my mind. I have to switch to side plank. That can’t be against the rules. *shifts to side plank* OMG it feels good to move. Side plank is so easy!

1:40 – Side plank is hard.

1:50 – Better switch to side plank on the other side. Can’t be uneven. That’ll burn up some time.

1:51 – Side plank on the other side is easy!

2:00 – Side plank on the other side is hard. *rotates back down to normal plank position*

2:10 – Two-handed plank doesn’t seem so hard after those one-handed side planks.

2:15 – Two-handed plank is so hard. I’m gonna peek at the timer because surely it’s been three minutes by now.

2:20 – Dammit man!

2:23 – My shoulders hate me. My lower back hates me. My lats wonder if I remember that thing that happened 16 months ago where a chunk of them got cut out of my back and are no longer there to help hold me up in this terrible position. Even my wrists are giving me side eye. Clearly, my abs are the weakest link on this team.

2:25 – I am dying.

2:27 – Time no longer has any meaning.

2:28 – I have a superpower: the ability to stop time. But I can only freeze time when I’m in plank pose, which is a complete waste and a damn shame. But it figures.

cropped mouse hero

2:29.50 – 2:29.5 rounds up to two and a half minutes, which is a nice round number. Who goes around bragging about how they can plank for 3 minutes and 43 seconds anyway? Two and a half minutes is close enough. I hereby officially declare this challenge failed. *collapses into panting heap on the floor*

So there you have it. We can all now clearly see why I’m doomed to live out the rest of my days steeped in ignominy and obscurity. If only I’d been able to achieve that magical threshold–that numerologically significant Three Minutes and Forty-Three Seconds in plank–the heavens would surely have unfolded and showered me with riches, fame, glory, and rainbows beyond my wildest imaginings.

dog hiker


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