Debi Farber Bush: Planks And Crunches And Squats, Oh My! – April 27, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Today it’s my privilege to share a conversation I had with my friend and trainer Andy Salatnay. We’re gonna finally get an explanation as to WHY WHY WHY the dreaded planks, crunches and squats are so important.

Anybody who has ever entered a gym has been told at one time or another to “grab a mat” or “work through your obstacles” or my personal favorite “hold that position longer.” No matter what the position might be or what your fitness level is, holding any position for long periods of time results in a kind of intense pain that the pros call a “burn” which is a great description. Sometimes I think I can actually see the smoke in the room!

I know from experience that performing these torturous activities regularly does work, just look at how my clothes (don’t) fit, but I really want to know what each exercise does. Knowing Andy, I’m sure there is a good explanation besides simple masochism!

In the beginning, I needed a lot of prodding and practice to get through it (I also needed to be pulled up from the floor on occasion). I also learned fairly quickly to never ever say “I can’t” because in Andy’s world, “I can’t” somehow gets twisted into meaning “more please!” and pushups.

To make things easier for the reader to understand, I have included my own point of view about each exercise including my WHY Meter. The WHY Meter measures the amount of pain and discomfort you can expect to bear while performing the movements correctly. The ratings run from WHY (slight pain and discomfort) to WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY (if I was able to stand up after doing this I would seriously consider kicking your ass!)

The Plank

First, I have to ask about the dreaded plank! To be fair, it’s me who dreads them, Andy loves them! “Planks,” he says, “are a ‘core’ based exercise that when done properly contracts almost every muscle in your body and is great for strengthening all muscles that support the spine”

Proper form

1) Lie on stomach with elbows under shoulders, and palms flat on ground.

2) Dig feet into the ground while pulling belly button into spine (pretending there’s a string attached to the belly button pulled tight towards the spine.

3) Dig forearms towards hips to create tension from elbow to shoulders.

4) On exhale, draw belly in to spine while focusing on ab contraction and raise hips into the air to form a straight line from the shoulders to hips and knees.

• The tension should not be in the back but evenly distributed around your waist. Regression, on your knees instead of your feet.

WHY Rating

WHY WHY WHY to WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY (depending on how long Andy makes you hold them).

My take

“Lie on the floor, face the mirror and dig your elbows in the mat…” OK, easy enough… I can totally do this… “Now, up on your toes.” My toes? OK… sweat is starting to accumulate on my forehead… “And move your feet forward two inches.” Is he friggen kidding?

As I move forward the sweat is starting to drip into my eyes. The moving of my feet forward is easy cause my mat is now wet and my feet just slide up… “Raise your body up… here we go… and finally two words I experience a love/hate relationship with… “Hold it!” Argh… as if this isn’t enough…

He… who shall not be named wants the class to communicate with him when he asks, “Are you feeling the burn?” Duh, I know Andy is educated and certified with lots of letters next to his name in the field of health and fitness but if you looked up the word “rhetorical” I do believe that you’d see a picture of Andy next to it.

Like Dude, I feel the burn, in fact I’m sooo hot I’m starting to wonder if it’s possible to spontaneously explode? As I begin shaking uncontrollably… I’m wondering: Are we experiencing an earthquake? Or am I just having another mini seizure confined to my arms and legs?


Now on to crunches. Andy says that crunches help strengthen your ab (not abs – we only have one ab muscle). Crunches are great for core strength too and when executed properly help prevent lower back pain.

Proper form

1) Lie on floor with knees bent and feet flush with the ground. Push lower back into the ground by rocking hips up. there should be tension in the ab now.

2) Lightly support head and neck with finger tips… elbows off to the side… Head and shoulder blades off the floor (this is your starting position).

3) Crunch body up pulling ribs to hips shortening the distance between ribs and hips. Focus on the contraction of the ab!

4) Slowly lower upper body down to the starting point focusing on lengthening of the Ab.

5) Tension stays in the Ab. not the back!

WHY Rating

WHY (they burn but they’re easy).

My take

My turn to tell ya about crunches…and if we’re bein’ real, I can say that these are easier for me because at least I’m lying on the floor!

Here we go. “Lie on your mat and bend your knees.” OK, “now crunch up lifting your shoulders off the floor.” I can do that too! Now raise up two inches and hold it!

Thoughts of why why why surge through my head again. I do exactly what he says and wait for further direction… then he says, “Can you feel the ab burning?” Class is quiet. “Can you feel the Ab burning?” Duh… what the hell does he think? Of course I feel my Ab burning… so much so that I’m rendered speechless. Then we come down for what he calls a rest, I ask you, how can a giant 10-second break be considered a rest?

Then we do it all over again, only this time the “crunch” includes a little twist from side to side workin’ on the “the fat on the side of your body.” Thoughts of why why why surge though my mind… if only I’d of opted for a straight martini without the vodka instead of the cosmo!


“What about squats?” I ask? Andy says that squats focus on lower body strength and also engage your core (again) while moving through a range of motion.

Proper form

1) Stand comfortably with a soft bend in your knees. Legs and feet should be a mirror image of each other. Finger tips behind head and pull shoulders and elbows back creating tension in between the shoulder blades.

2) Re engage your core by pulling belly button into belly button spine.

3) Push hips back, like sitting down in chair, and squat down to a comfortable level. Keep your eyes focused straight ahead.

4) Tension should be in the legs, not your kneees… (if you feel it in your knees, push your hips back.) Make sure that the knees and ankles are perpendicular throughout the entire range of motion.

5) Push feet through floor while standing up.

WHY Rating

WHY WHY (at the time you do them) and WHY WHY WHY (the next day when you try and sit or use the bathroom).

My take

My interpretation of a squat or squats as I call them since they seem to be done endlessly!

Starting at a standing position, now we’re talkin’ this position is gonna be is easy…at least I’m not gonna have to pull myself off the floor when we’re done. Soft bend at the knees making sure you can see the tops of your shoes, hinge your hip, stick your butt out… grind those feet into the ground… hold it there… sweat dripping into my eyes, “work through your obstacles,” (sweat burning my eyes now)… I’m tryin’… dig those heels in… why why why… oyyyyyy here we go again… I feel the burn, in fact, I’m on fire… need to worry as the sweat is dripping, I’m quite sure it’ll cool anything off… music to my ears, he says, “Walk it off and get a drink.” (Ya think he meant a martini because at this point I’d settle for just the olives?) Geez, why is my water bottle sooooo far away…?

At this point I’m believing that planks, crunches and squats are actually good for you. They make you strong and skinny (I have faith).

I told my boss “I’m not stopping until I am skinny and sleazy.”

He said, “Just skinny will do.”

He’s boring. Reliable and supportive, but boring.

The real beauty of these exercises however is that you don’t need a gym membership to do them, you can do ’em anywhere*, even outside if you so choose.


The exercises described here hurt like hell even when done properly, so be smart and consult with an expert like Andy before you really hurt yourself.

Next up: Kickin’ some serious ass at Martial Athletics with Eric Crange.

As much as we’re all enjoying Debi’s columns documenting her skinnification, the ones detailing her ensleazerating process should be really good.


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