As I posted last month, I decided to undertake two 30 Day Challenges in January: the 30 Day Plank Challenge, and; a 30 Day Tai Chi Challenge. Well, those 30 days are up, and I thought I’d share my results with you. Although I did both challenges at the same time, I’m going to talk about them separately because each challenge was a unique experience. So, first of all, the 30 Day Plank Challenge.
What is it?
The 30 Day Plank Challenge basically aims to help you build up to holding the Plank Pose for 3 minutes. You start off by holding the pose for 20 seconds on Day 1, and gradually increase the length of time to hold the pose over the following 30 days. I followed the instructions here.
For some reason nearly every guide for this challenge online instructs you to use the Dolphin Plank Pose which puts your weight on your forearms. I preferred to do a full Plank Pose with the weight on my hands. Neither pose is “better” than the other – they are just slightly different and will use slightly different muscles. Some find Plank Pose difficult on their wrists, and prefer to do Dolphin Plank Pose. Instructions for Plank Pose can be found here, and instructions for Dolphin Plank Pose can be found here.
How was it?
This was a relatively easy challenge as it doesn’t really take much time. I could never justify being too busy or too tired to skip a day. Plus, the challenge includes a rest day every now and then which was nice. My main problem was that the length of time to hold the pose seemed to increase rather suddenly. For example Day 11 is 60 seconds, followed by 90 seconds on Day 12. Yes, it’s only 30 seconds more, but it’s a 50% increase which is significant. It’s the only way to reach the goal of 3 minutes of 30 days, I suppose, but it was quite difficult for me.
One of the most important keys to this challenge is to always maintain as good a pose as possible. It’s better to do a shorter length of time with the pose held correctly, than to hold the pose for longer in a sloppy position. Personally I found myself completely unable to break through the 90 second barrier. I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was able to reach 90 seconds from 20 seconds on Day 1, but holding for longer than that just didn’t happen.
Key lessons learnt
1. It is possible to achieve rapid improvement
I was amazed at hose easily I progressed from struggling with holding the pose for 30 seconds to being able to hold it for 90 seconds. It showed me that a little bit of practice every day really can make a difference. I could also feel improvements in my plank pose everyday.
2. Scheduled rest is important
Although this challenge didn’t take much time on a daily basis, it was still really good to haves rest days scheduled in. They were something I could look forward to and didn’t have to feel guilty about. If I didn’t have set rest days, I suspect I would have ended up “resting” for more than 1 day at a time, and probably would not have finished the challenge.
3. Focus on the process not the outcome
As I said earlier, it is more important to be holding a pose correctly, than to hold it for a long time. Yoga itself is about being present and mindful, and this means focusing on the process of what I am doing rather than on trying to achieve any particular outcome. Of course this goes against what so many of us are taught, and I had to keep reminding myself to focus on NOW. The nature or doing a 30 Day Challenge is goal oriented; we set ourselves a challenge because we want to achieve something, even if it’s just the pleasure of knowing we completed the challenge.
Yoga isn’t about how long you can hold a pose for, and some might argue that following challenges like the 30 Day Plank Challenge goes against the spirit of yoga. Nevertheless, I found it really useful and encouraging. I will be adapting it to use with other poses that I want to improve. However, rather than aiming for specific timeframes, I think it would be better to count breaths. In other words, aim to hold a pose for 3 breaths, 5 breaths, 10 breaths, and so on. Of course the rate of our breathing can change, but I would rather focus on my breathing during a pose, than watch a clock. Have you tried the 30 Day Plank Challenge or anything similar? What were your experiences?