35 Hours A Week Workout GEORGE HOOD

With the flick of a switch, George Hood can bring time to a standstill. His body will beg him to stop. His rationale will tell him why he should. But his mind turns a blind eye to all the noise — bringing a sense of calm and comfort while he pushes himself far beyond what should be humanly possible.

               —By Braydon Holmyard

Hood, who set a new Guinness World Record for longest male plank in February with a time of eight hours, fifteen minutes and fifteen seconds, has a remarkable recollection of every meaningful set he’s done over the years — and there have been a lot of them.

Ask him 10 years from now what he remembers about his final planking event, and he’ll list off every moment of joy and agony he experienced during a gruelling eight-plus hours at 515 Fitness club in Plainfield, Illinois. The event has already been uploaded to his gallery.

“I have a hell of a memory, brother,” he says over the phone on an afternoon in March. “I have a mind that is unbelievably powerful. And in that head of mine are stored countless images and details that’ll probably blow the average person away.”

In a day and age where many people can hardly sit still for five minutes — let alone eight hours — Hood has found a way to hold the plank position for hours on end, over and over again, under dire circumstances. He’s 62 and says he’s physically in the best shape of his life. But the physical aspect is only half the battle. So, on February 15, as he crossed the finish line with his victory song “Sweet Caroline” blaring in the background, Hood was also adding another chapter to the album in his head.

George Hood

The athlete setting a new World Record for the longest plank ©George Hood

Hood always does his plank events in front of big crowds and support staff. He will talk to people, take selfies and joke around. There’s only one rule for anyone in attendance: Don’t tell him the time.

“I’m superstitious about the clock. I always have to make sure I don’t see it. I’ll take every precaution necessary,” he says. “We block out my phone and black out anywhere you can see the time. We put tape on everything and all the clocks in the venue come down. But sometimes invariably someone will walk in that venue and say ‘hey, you just crossed the three-hour mark!’”

Hood only did about six hours of planking the week after he broke the record. For the average person, where a two-minute plank is enough to leave one breathless and exhausted, six hours in a week is unfathomable. But for the former Marine from Naperville, a suburb on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, it was nothing more than a walk in the park.

“I’m usually knocking down 30 to 35-hour weeks. It is a nice break, I have time in the day to do things now,” Hood says. For 18 months leading up to his new Guinness record, he was committed to four to five hours a day in plank pose. He also did 700 push-ups, 2,000 sit-ups, 500 leg squats, and 300 arm curls a day. 

The plank is a core exercise that holds a push-up position for as long as possible. The torso is sustained in a horizontal position, anchored by the toes on one end and the forearms on the other.

Much of Hood’s plank work was spent on an elevated platform in his apartment, which was conjured up with a piece of plywood sitting on sawhorse legs and covered with a combination of rubber mats, yoga mats and the most important material of all: lambskin.

“It’s actually a Peruvian lambskin from the Alps in South America, and it’s only harvested once a year because of the altitude,” Hood says. He can barely hold in his laughter. “I’m kidding, I can’t let you print that. Being an undercover cop back in the day, I can make up a good story.” 

With a training regimen as time consuming as a regular work week, Hood often had no choice but to move his office into the great outdoors. He’s planked on top of picnic tables at the local park, while soaking up a back tan at the neighbourhood pool, and even among the rolling hills of Montreal’s Mount Royal, where he was training with Canadian Dana Glowacka, who holds the world record for longest plank by a woman at four hours and 20 minutes. 

Even for a man full of confidence and self-belief, times of self-doubt also creeped in over the last year and a half. The road to his final planking record before retiring at 62 years of age had its ups and downs. It all came to a head on the Saturday before Christmas, when plans for the big event were nearly derailed just a few short months before the big day.

“I was pretty beat up. Physically you know you’re not gonna last much longer,” Hood said. He was doing one of his long practice planks and struggled to get through it. “It really threw the crew into a tailspin because now I’m in crisis mode. I’m in survival mode. I know I’m not gonna make goal, so we have to find an alternative solution.”

George Hood

An official Guinness Records appointed Judge was present during the process ©George Hood

That original goal was to not only surpass the Guiness record held by long-time rival and Chinese police officer Mao Weidong, but to blow it out of the water by beating his personal best and international record of 10 hours and 10 minutes. His team took a break, regrouped, then relapsed again. He remembers feeling “physically shot,” but with the help of his cognitive coach, he was able to turn those setbacks into motivation.

“She flew here all the way from Australia to be with me because she knew what was at stake. And she knew that psychologically I wasn’t always feeling it at my training venue,” Hood says. “She helped me get through a lot of that. She knew it was just a small setback to the whole training cycle.” 

The long training program was demanding and exhausting, which was nothing new for the former Marine, police officer and DEA agent. His time in Afghanistan changed his outlook on life. It was also the reason why his record-setting plank in Chicago raised money for mental health awareness.

“I’m tired of seeing good cop friends of mine and our first responders, and guys coming back from fighting overseas struggle,” he says. “I saw some Canadian soldiers have to come home in a casket and I certainly remember the Marines that we lost. You don’t forget those moments.”

“When you’re around a lot of death and dying during a career, and I’ve seen my fair share of that stuff, you have to learn how to process that.”

Hood says his personal transition back to civilian life was manageable. Between exercise and the odd visit to the chapel, he was able to find his place back home. He brings his memories of serving with the Marines to every plank he does. At every event he does a dedication for Alberto Francesconi, who died in 2009 in Afghanistan when a land mine ended his young life. Hood says he will never forget that early morning on January 1.

“I came back with a different attitude and outlook on the sacrifice that was made. And I deliver that message to my events and I do those dedications,” Hood says. He has plans to see the street that was named after Francesconi in the Bronx and meet his brother. “That’s what I am making reference to. It changed me over there, it really did. People come back from that fight with real issues.”

Hood has become sort of the leading expert of the plank around the world. Over the last ten years, he led the evolution of a quirky gym exercise into an international symbol of strength and resilience. The first plank he ever did was five minutes long. Six months later he set the Guinness World Record at one hour and 20 minutes. He’s been breaking records and starring in viral videos of unbelievably long planks ever since. The plank was even adopted into the official training program for the Marine Corps. 

Whether he likes the title or not, Hood truly is the Grandfather of the plank pose, and he has always used his platform to inspire others.

Hood is comfortable with walking away from the record-setting planks now. He’s already proven everything he can and raised plenty of money for charity along the way — and he’s not done that aspect of it quite yet. His next goal is to set the Guinness World Record for most push-ups completed in one hour, which currently stands at 2,806.

The next time a strong, shirtless man is doing push-ups on a picnic table, by the pool or in the rolling hills of Mount Royal, just be sure to follow the rules.

Don’t tell him how many push-ups he has left.

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Written on: March 28, 2020