You work in an office, so perhaps you’ve joined in an office challenge (maybe reluctantly)—guessing the due date for a coworker’s baby, who’ll win the Superbowl, or which team will come out on top of the Sweet-16 basketball bracket.
What if you could participate in a challenge where everyone wins—and as a bonus, all the participants get in better shape?
There are a number of physical fitness challenges the whole office can participate in. Typically, they run for 30 days. Depending on your office layout, some may be easier to organize than others. Some offices have competitions to see how many steps or miles you can walk or run in a month. Others have squat challenges, starting with a few and increasing the number by five a day, for example.
A plank challenge is one of the easiest fitness challenges to organize and implement because there’s no special equipment required. And planks are one of the best overall exercises to strengthen your core, the muscular area between your ribs and pelvis —what we often call the belly—plus your back muscles and muscles on both sides. Core muscles are essential to many of our everyday movements, which is why toning and strengthening them can improve everything from posture to balance and stability, as well as sports performance.
It’s not just your core that will benefit from planks. Your triceps, biceps, and the upper back muscles between your shoulder blades will strengthen, plus your glutes will get a workout too. In fact, when you do a plank, there’s almost no muscle that isn’t involved, which makes this a perfect all-inclusive exercise.
First, decide how big you’d like your Plank Together group to be. Talk it up among your coworkers to gauge the interest level. Maybe it’s you and the five people sitting closest to you; or maybe you want to get your whole team or office involved. Check with your human resources department to see what support they can provide you. Generally, office-plank challenges happen on workdays, Monday through Friday, but your group could vote on whether to continue doing planks over the weekend.
Once you have a list of everyone who’s interested, send an email that includes the start and end date of the challenge; the structure (whether everyone does it together or on their own time); how to track progress (a whiteboard, a sign-in sheet, or an app); and whether there are any prizes for finishers.
How To Do a Plank
Find a space on the floor and get yourself into a push-up position. Bend both arms to 90 degrees, rest your weight on your forearms, and lift yourself off the ground. You can point your forearms straight ahead or clasp your hands together. Try to keep your shoulder blades down, not up around your ears. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Don’t let your rear end sag, and don’t lift it up in the air. Keep your neck relaxed and look at the floor. And remember to breathe!
If you’re new to planks, start by holding the plank position for 10 to 20 seconds. Count out loud or use a timer, and increase the time by 10 to 30 seconds every few days. After 15 days, you should be close to 2 minutes, with the goal of getting to 4 or 5 minutes by the end of the 30-day challenge.
How To Track Your Challenge
To track progress, some offices use a whiteboard with participants’ names and times. Apps that support both iOS and Android include “5-minute Plank” and “30-day Plank Challenge.” As an incentive, see if HR would provide a healthy reward for participants—like an extra box of FruitGuys fruit on the final week!
Mike Delonis, who works at a midsize winery in the Napa Valley, says participating in a physical challenge with his colleagues not only increased his fitness but also his team’s sense of camaraderie. “We’re accomplishing a goal, and it’s nice sharing the pain and struggle with the group,” Delonis told The FruitGuys Magazine. “It’s informal, but we all do it at the same time so we’re accountable to each other every day.“
These days, many companies are willing to contribute to health-related activities for their employees. Talk to your higher-ups to see if they can help facilitate the challenge and perhaps offer rewards in the form of more fruit, movie or event tickets, vacation hours, or perhaps bringing in an onsite massage therapist for those who’ve completed the challenge.
Even if your company can’t offer prizes, the intangible rewards of teamwork, support, and getting stronger will be worth the effort at the end of the month. And it’s likely that in a few months, someone will suggest a new challenge!
T. J. Ford is a health and fiscal fitness coach, educator, and writer who usually eats dessert first. She lives with her husband and their cat, Kiwi, in Portland, OR.