Exercises for a Healthy Back
by Angie Miller
Does back pain hold you back from fitness activities that you enjoy? If so, you’re not alone. Americans spend more than 86 billion dollars each year treating back pain symptoms, according to current research. Occasional back discomfort isn’t foreign to most of us, but chronic back pain can cause severe limitations in daily living activities as well as physical exercise. Certain risk factors, such as muscle imbalances, poor posture, obesity, stress, and excessive sitting can increase our risk for lower back pain. Whether we have jobs that require us to work at a computer all day, or be on our feet, more than likely all of us could benefit from exercises that build a strong, healthy back.
The four exercises below are designed to stretch and strengthen the back, as well the surrounding muscles, such as the abdominals, muscles of the pelvis, and gluteal muscles. The exercises are easy to perform, but very effective, whether you’re a novice or an advanced exerciser.
Recommended Repetitions: Approximately 8-12 repetitions per exercise. Hold each repetition for approximately 10 to 30 seconds.
When you’ve mastered that, you can increase your repetitions, and/or your hold time.
Safety Tip: If you've injured your back, have chronic back pain, or other health conditions such as osteoporosis consult your doctor before doing these exercises.
Exercise #1: Cat Stretch-
How to Do It: Start in a quadruped position with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Back should be flat and head in line with your spine. Breathe in through your nose, and as you exhale drop your head and look back toward your knees while rounding your upper back toward the ceiling.
Tip: Hold each repetition for 10 to 30 seconds.
Muscles Targeted: Erector Spinae, Trapezius
Exercise #2: Opposite Arm/Leg Extensions-
How to Do It: Start in a quadruped position with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Back should be flat and head in line with your spine. Extend your right arm out in front of you, then your left leg out behind you. Keep your arm and leg in a straight line with your spine.
Tip: Avoid lifting your arm and/or leg too high. This can cause your lower back to sway.
Tip: Your gaze should be down, but avoid lifting or dropping your head.
Tip: Create an invisible belt around your waist, so you co-contract your abdominals and lower back for a strong, stable center.
Tip: Hold on the extension for 10 to 30 seconds.
Muscles Targeted: Erector Spinae, Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, Rectus Abdominis
Exercise #3: Pelvic Tilt-
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Bend at your elbows with your hands behind your head, letting your fingertips rest gently behind your ears. Breath in, letting the natural curve of your spine bring your lower back off the mat. As you exhale, tilt the bottom of your pelvis toward the ceiling, pulling our abdominals in and pressing your lower back against the floor.
Tip: Hold the tilt for about 10 to 30 seconds.
Muscles Targeted: Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominis, Hip & Pelvic Stabilizers
Exercise #4: Bridge-
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Arm rest gently at your sides. Inhale through your nose. As you exhale lift your hips off the ground, pressing your pelvis up toward the ceiling. Stop when your thighs and back are in a straight line.
Tip: Avoid hyperextending through the hips. This can cause your lower back to arch.
Tip: Keep your gaze up toward the ceiling and your neck neutral. Avoid tucking your chin into your chest.
Tip: Hold the bridge for 10 to 30 seconds.
Muscles Targeted: Erector Spinae, Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings
Wishing you a healthy back and a Happy Holiday.
Angie Miller is the star and creator of the Bedroom Body™ Workout and other top selling exercise DVD’s. Passionate about fitness and education, Angie teaches at Northern Illinois University and is a Certification Specialist for the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). She is a freelance writer, group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and proud mom. Learn more about Angie at: http://www.angiemillerfitness.com