Low-back pain is a potentially debilitating issue that affects most active people at some point in their lives. One major downside of having low-back pain is how difficult it is to exercise and achieve your fitness goals, such as finally getting that flat tummy you’ve always wanted. Luckily, there is one exercise that can reduce low-back pain while simultaneously flattening your stomach—the plank. Because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abdominal fascia, it is an excellent way to strengthen the core, which, in turn, helps reduce low-back pain. As the deep abdominal muscles become stronger, your mid-section tightens. When done properly, the plank not only uses the deep abdominal muscles, it also recruits the hip, shoulder and upper-back muscles. How to do an effective plank: Hold the elbows directly under the shoulders and place the wrists in line with the elbows. Push your body up into your upper back and hold your chin close to your neck (like you’re holding an egg between your chin and your throat). In this position, brace your abdominals—contract them like expecting a punch in the stomach, squeeze your gluteal (tailbone) and thigh muscles simultaneously while continuing to breathe normally. Hold a plank at least 20 to 30 seconds. (When using correct form, it is not necessary to hold it for longer than this amount of time.) Rest for approximately one minute and repeat three to five more times. Start doing the plank using the elbows and toes (feel free to drop to your knees if necessary) and progress up to a high plank when you feel you have developed the necessary strength. Common mistakes to avoid when doing the plank: Allowing the hips, head or shoulders to drop Holding both hands together (creating internal rotation and instability at the shoulder joint) Holding your breath Trying to hold the contraction too long—it is more preferable to hold optimal alignment for a shorter period of time than to hold a poor position for an extended period of time. Plank with Hip Flexion/Extension Start in a standard high-plank position. Raise the right leg approximately 6 to 8 inches, hold for five seconds and then alternate legs. Start with three to four repetitions and gradually increase over time. To increase the level of difficulty, raise the right and then bring the right knee up to the outside of the right elbow; return to the starting position. Alternate legs for three to five repetitions. Plank with Thoracic Spine Rotation Start in a standard high-plank position. Press the right hand into the ground, rotate both feet and hips to the left while raising the left arm off of the ground. Rotate the left arm down, then repeat the move to the other side, pushing the left hand into the ground and rotating the right arm up. Repeat for three to six repetitions on each side. Side Plank With Full Extension The first level of progression is to perform the side plank with the elbow directly under the shoulder. It is important to make sure the body is properly aligned and to enhance stability by contracting the abdominals (like preparing for a punch) and squeezing the glutes (butt) and thighs while pressing both legs together. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and alternate sides. From a side -ying position, press the right hand into the ground, and fully extend the arm while pushing both legs together and keeping the side of the right foot pressed into the ground. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and alternate sides. Plank-up Start in a standard high-plank position. Drop the right arm down to the right elbow, then drop your left arm down to the left elbow; hold for three seconds. Return to the starting position by placing first the right hand and then the left hand on the ground. Repeat for three to five repetitions. Standing Two-arm Press From Cable Column This exercise is the most effective way to transfer the strength of the plank to a standing position. Use a cable-column machine with the cable pulley at approximately chest height and position the pulley on the right side of the body. Place both feet approximately hip-width apart and press them into the ground. Keep your knees bent, sink into your hips and brace your core as if you were doing a standard plank. Select a weight that will be challenging for six to eight repetitions, grab the handle in both hands and press it away from the body. Alternate sides and repeat the exercise with the left side of your body facing the machine. To increase the level of difficulty bring the feet closer together or use a staggered stance with one leg forward and the other leg back (like a static lunge). All structures require a strong foundation for optimal stability, and the human body is no exception. Improving strength of the deep abdominal muscles helps establish a solid foundation for the human structure. To enhance core strength, reduce low-back pain and flatten the stomach, it is important to use exercises, such as the plank, that co-contract all layers of abdominal fascia at the same time. For specific advice on how to do these exercises or any others, locate an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer in your area.