The Moving Plank

A challenging movement in our work out sessions has been the pushup. Which have involved their own progression with many steps. The first interaction of mine with the purple block was through the pushup. The purple block having become part of different exercises during the work with Bernard. However, the main movements this block has been used for has been the pushup. The block estimates to be about 12-inches tall and maybe 6-inches across. When beginning our work with the pushup the purple block was placed at its tallest 12-inch position. My objective that first time was to start from the extended plank position, lower myself to touch the purple block with my chest, and push my way back upward. Once back into the plank position, the pushup was complete. Along with the actual pushup, Bernard has worked with me on holding the extended plank position, occurring at the top of the pushup. Similar to our work with the pushup, holding the extended plank position has gone through progressions. Holding the position began with the balance of the bird-dog movement. Moving to using the bosu-ball, but the goal of the extended plank was the movement of my hands. While holding the extended plank position, we have worked on being able to move my hands individually.  

The movement toward developing this skill seems to require work on two main exercises. The ability to move the hands while holding the extended plank position required strength and stability. Two areas needing attention in my body to make the move possible. Among other exercises used, the two main ingredients have seemed to be the pushup and holding the extended plank position. While holding the extended plank position, other activities have been required. One of the first challenges of memory was holding the extended plank position on the bosu-ball. The bosu-ball would sit with the rounded ball side against the floor. Leaving the flat side facing up at me for my hands to be pressed against. My hands would be placed on either side of the bosu. From there, my body would extend up into the extended plank, or pushup position. The challenge in holding the position was in the instability of the bosu. With the rounded ball under my hands, my body was made to be unstable, causing more pressure around maintaining balance. The ball would move around depending on the position of my hands and body. Keeping the core muscles engaged, while maintaining focus on balance kept me stable. This extended plank position also tends to require the engagement of many muscles throughout the body, more than just the core. All of them firing at one time in order to maintain stability, holding the position. The tension being placed on the body from the back of the neck all the way through the toes holding me up, all directly impacts cerebral palsy improvement. 

The next progression with the bosu-ball extended plank would add some excitement. It would turn more lights on in the brain, which has often been on the mind of Bernard. The added function requiring concentration and challenging the brain. This challenge would include the brain signaling my muscles in multiple ways, targeting an aspect of cerebral palsy improvement. The process also placed pressure on my ability to remain composed during the exercise. So, Bernard brought out the lacrosse ball to add that excitement. On the flat side of the bosu-ball, an indentation sits in the center. That indentation remains an ideal size for accepting the lacrosse ball, which provides good opportunity. The plan would be to guide the lacrosse ball into the indentation at the center of the flat side. To achieve this goal, we began in an extended plank position, with my hands steady on each side of the bosu. The lacrosse ball begins at a point along the edge of the bosu-ball, with my objective of guided it into its resting point at the center. My shoulders, arms, and body are used to tilt the bosu-ball, as the lacrosse ball rolls along the flat side. Hopefully, making its way into the indentation in the middle. Once, the ball has landed in the middle, Bernard picks it out, placing it on another point along the edge. Without dropping my knees to break, the process begins anew. The objective remains, roll the lacrosse ball from its origination point into the indentation at the center. Usually, about five cycles completes a set, with my strength seriously waning during the fifth cycle.

While the work on holding the extended plank position progressed. So too, did my work with the pushups improve. We continued working the pushup with the purple block resting at the highest point. Where the block was set about 12-inches off the floor. It took a couple months to improve strength on this form of the pushup. After the work, had provided enough strength, another step was implemented. We began conducting the pushup with a mixture of the purple block heights. Gradually moving me into doing a more challenging form of pushup. The purple block was set flat against the floor. Taking my chest touch point from 12-inches down to around 6-inches off the floor. However, the strength hadn’t been established to perform the entire pushup rotation at the 6-inch height. We would begin with pushups on the 6-inch setting, with the purple block flat against the floor. As fatigue started taking its toll, the purple block would be moved to its full standing position for the final set. The work with the purple block continued until the entire rotation of pushups could be executed with the block flat of the floor. It took time to build the strength for that, but we ended up accomplishing the goal with the purple block. 

Our progression continued from working on the pushup and with the bosu. The next step would be attempting to move the hands from an extended plank position. We attempted this by using the circular pads that had been used for hopscotch. Beginning in the extended plank or pushup position with both hands resting on the circular pads. One more pad was placed on each side, up and to the outward side of each hand. My goal was to lift each hand from the pushup position, moving it to the other pad. Maintaining balance in the extend plank position of my origination. The movement could be accomplished, with struggle, on my right side. Moving the right hand up to the empty circular pad and back to the origination point. When it became time for the left hand to move positions, everything came to a halt. My brain could be felt trying to tell my left hand to move, but it would not budge. It seemed each time the hand was picked up a little, the left arm would collapse, sending me to the floor. It was a frustrating feeling to handle. Understanding what the left hand should ideally be doing, feeling the emotion of telling it to execute the movement, then realizing the left hand simply couldn’t be moved. But, fear not young grasshopper, Bernard had another idea.

We found through our attempts with the extended plank position, the left hand couldn’t be lifted, but had the ability to slide. It would be a good first step with the left arm. The following attempt at moving the left hand from the extended plank position was done using sliders. These sliders are often used as furniture movers when attempting to move something heavy. The idea was to get set up into the extended plank position. My hands would be pushing on these sliders, which were just larger than the surface of the hands. The sliders rested against an AstroTurf surface providing friction. Which meant they wouldn’t slide out from under my hands easily. The turf surface also meant the sliders would be challenging to move. As we began the new movement, getting my right hand to move the slider was working. Not easy to do, but my right hand moved the slider out to the right, and back to the neutral position for the extended plank. The left hand was again more challenging, finding a way of moving slightly out to the left, and back again. The left hand didn’t move out to the left as far as the right went out. But, even the ability for the left to move subtly was a good sign. It seemed to indicate a starting point for the things we wanted to accomplish. As we continued working this exercise, strength began coming to the left arm and shoulder. Still, being challenging to move the slider, but realizing progress. We started moving the slider forward with each arm, moving on from working the slider out to the side. The result was building more strength and getting added mobility in the left arm. However, we hadn’t reached our goal of lifting the left hand off the ground.

As time went on we continued working on strengthening the body. Being able to execute the movement of lifting my left hand while in the extended plank had become a goal. The strength didn’t just need to be added to my shoulder. It needed to be added throughout the body. Maintaining the extended plank position during hand movement, called upon many muscles in the body. So, we took a break from our attempts and worked on exercises throughout the body that may increase strength, helping execute the exercise. After a few months of not challenging the extended plank, it was brought back last week. This time taking on a different form. We would try a moving plank, beginning from the extended plank or pushup position. With hands on a mat and toes on the floor off the mat. The challenge would involve moving laterally to the right first. My right leg would move, being followed by my right arm. Then, my left arm and left leg would follow. Maintaining the extended plank position all the way through. Bernard had me move sideways over four length of the mat. Venturing a guess, it was probably around eight to ten feet. Upon completion moving to my right, he requested the same movement back to the origination point. When Bernard gave me an example of the movement, shock ran through me. It was one of those times where the movement didn’t look doable. Even with the doubt and apprehension, it was worth an attempt. 

Surprising to me, the movement was challenging, yet possible to accomplish. When getting up into the extended plank position, nervous energy was present. Like most exercises Bernard examples for me, it wasn’t going to have the ease his example seemed to show. My first movement was with my right leg, trying to shore up support for the arms to move. The right hand made its move to the right without hiccup. Then, it was time for our moment of truth. Instead of the left hand rising off the mat and moving. The hand did more of a slide to the left, bringing it back into place. The accomplishment was taking enough pressure off of the hand to slide it left. The movement patterned continued, with the right hand maintaining the ability to lift and place. The left hand maintained its ability to slide into position, while my plank moved right, along the mat. When the movement stopped, and started back to the right, something interesting took place. My left leg led the way by making the first move back to the left. When it was time to move the left hand, anxiety came back inside my body. I looked down at my left hand, asking it to move up and over. Instead of resulting in no movement, the left hand came slightly off the mat, moved to the left some, and slapped back down on the mat. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, as the slap could be heard in Iowa, but it had worked. The extended plank position was held, as the right had followed, and the right leg was close behind. We continued the movement to the left, each time the left hand would move up and over slightly, slapping down on the mat to its resting point. There wasn’t much control over the arm, but it was working to execute the movement, and hold me up in position. We were accomplishing another goal that didn’t feel possible to me.

Interestingly enough, things happen with cerebral palsy that seem challenging to explain. Each time we moved this exercise to the right, my left hand would slide. It didn’t want to move up and off the mat. Then, all of the sudden, with one movement to the right, my left hand lifted off the mat, moving smoothly to the right, and set back down gently into place. Bernard and I looked at each other, wondering where in the world did that come from. We continued on with the exercise without it happening again. But, like situations in my life before, it seemed a small snippet of what can be done. The hard work we put in as a team getting us to this point. Taking on the physical challenges of cerebral palsy that seem at times to cause permanent inability. In accomplishing, small goals like this one, hope continues to fester. There hasn’t been a way to cure cerebral palsy to this point. At least not to my knowledge, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue improvement. Getting a little better each day and making daily life with this disability a little easier. I’m always thankful for the work we do in the gym that leads us to accomplishing some cool stuff. Whatever challenges present in your life, hopefully you keep fighting. It can be the little victories leading to some amazing things. Those accomplishments can be even sweeter when we don’t see them coming. 


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