Some days, stuck at home, it seems like it’s impossible to get anything done. I start out with the best of intentions, and then…it’s 9 p.m. and I’m in front of the TV, watching True Detective, (which is really very good), while making an ever-deeper impression upon the family room sofa.

Cathryn Jakobson Ramin and her book Crooked

So how to avoid this sense that I’ve accomplished nada?

Small goals. Incremental ones, that add up to concrete and measurable improvement. You’ll note that “incremental, concrete and measurable” are not terms that are relevant to grocery foraging, cleaning up the kitchen or doing the laundry.

So, let’s talk planks. For people who are trying to banish existing back pain or keep it at bay, these isometric exercises are foundational for core strength and back health. Learning to do a perfect plank takes time and commitment, but it’s a worthy goal.

You can do your planks in very little space, with no equipment. It’s nice to have a yoga mat underneath my bony elbows and knees, but that sliver of carpet between the bed and the wall works just as well. (There goes one of my favorite excuses – “sorry, no space” — for failing to move my body.) Currently unnecessary note to travelers: If you have no desire to get close up and personal with your hotel room carpet, and I know I don’t, just place a couple of damp bath towels on the floor before you plank. Post-plank, make sure those towels go out of service.

If you find it easy to plank for multiple minutes, don’t boast about it. It’s likely that you’re planking incorrectly, and instead of protecting your back, you’re setting yourself up for pain. Brief holds, for 20 or 30 seconds, with several repetitions are much safer. If you hold a plank for much longer than this, observes Jeremy James, founder of BACKFOREVER “the muscles begin to fatigue and you’ll start to lean into the joints and ligaments, and that can create long-term damage, over time.”

Related: What is the “Core”

Planking right is all about traction and contraction. Every muscle in your body should be involved. If you look like the Old Gray Mare, with your spine dipping toward the floor – um, no. If your butt sticks up like the highest peak of a mountain range, that’s not right, either.

James describes the safest and most effective way to do a plank as follows:

  1. Lie face-down on your stomach
  2. Squeeze your feet together.
  3. Squeeze your butt.
  4. Engage your core so that you’re protecting your back.
  5. Come up on your knees and forearms.
  6. If there is no pain, lift your knees off the floor.
  7. Here’s the important part: The Press and Pull. Press the forearms down towards the mat and then pull the forearms backwards, towards the toes. Don’t forget to breathe.
  8. Hold for the appropriate time, then bring the knees down to the mat and rest. Never let the pelvis come down first.
  9. Repeat.
  10. Pat self on back.

So, Instead of rearranging my spice cabinet (again, because I’m not sure that I got it perfect on the last go-round, two days ago), I’m going to knock out a set of three planks in the morning and another set of three at night, starting today. If you figure 20 seconds for each plank, with 20 seconds of rest in between, and a little bit of complaining, this will occupy fewer than five minutes, leaving me plenty of time to clean up the kitchen. Again.

Added bonus: My two small dogs, who find it amusing to jump and climb over my prone body when I plank, will also get some much-needed exercise.

To help us navigate these difficult times, we are pleased to welcome Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the widely acclaimed CROOKED: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery, as a guest blogger. In this new series, she’ll provide insight and valuable tips for staying active and pain-free at home.