I am lying face down on a plastic playpen mattress that still holds an ever-so-faint whiff of long-ago baby pee. I’m on the bedroom floor bathed in warm late-afternoon sunshine flooding in through the triple window that displays a cold, deep, white winter vista in which my dry driveway ends abruptly at a 20” wall of snow in the street. The mattress is my exercise pad.
For the last 20 minutes or so I’ve been doing low-impact core strength work. “Low-impact,” I am learning, does not mean “easy,” but rather that they don’t do collateral damage to my spine or other regions while they do work my core muscles. I like these exercises because they are sensible in several ways. There’s plenty of dynamic tension, but I don’t work up too much of a sweat. They call for precisely timed pauses between sets of work for micro recovery. Like a county road worker, I’m only active about half the time. They target specific muscle groups, principally the abs and the glutes, but also rib muscles, lower back, and upper back extensors.
The toughest one is the first, the Side Plank, in which I lie sideways, lean on one elbow, straighten my body so that it’s supported on the floor at the elbow and the feet, and hold it for one minute. Only three reps of that, but at the end any inkling that this would be comfy is dispelled. Then it’s on to the Supine Bridge and the Reverse Crunch, both requiring tensed muscles and 3 sets of 20 reps that work the abs, glutes, and back.
Which brings me back to my face down position. For this one I am supposed to lie straight, put my arms by my sides with hands palms down, and “slowly peel [my] upper body off the floor” for a few seconds, “stopping when [I] feel tension.” I feel tension lying flat on the floor, before any peeling has begun. This movement depends entirely on the extensor muscles along my spine, and they are lamentably unused to such efforts. Still, I manage a small lift-off for a brief period, and before I’m done with the third set I can peel and hold the pose long enough to imagine myself the “prone cobra” for which this exercise is named. When it’s over, I am breathing hard.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010