Improve Your Balance With This Back-Strengthening Sequence
Computers have offered us exponential freedom in how we work, how we communicate and how we create, but they’ve wreaked havoc on our bodies. We sit interminably in front of our screens and slowly slump, victims of a crumbling postural state that has given birth to our modern epidemic of back, neck and shoulder problems.
Feeling like a collapsing lower-case "c," I vowed that before I sat down to my computer, I would work out every morning and include an abundance of exercises for the back body. After just a week, I am standing taller, feeling stronger and much more conscious to take computer breaks throughout the day.
These six exercises will help promote better posture and give you an equal balance of strength from front to back. When performing these exercises, keep the abdominals drawn in to support the lower back, and remember that form and control always trump speed and reps. So work precisely, pay attention to the feeling of each movement and take a break if you’re feeling uncomfortable in the lower back.
Back Extension Warm Up
This is a great beginning exercise, as it helps open the front of the shoulder and promote mobility of the upper (thoracic) spine.
Starting position: Lie on your stomach with hands interlaced behind back, elbows bent, left ear on mat, legs together.
Exercise: Inhale, lift the chest off the floor and extend the arms up and back; hold this position for one breath, then turn the right ear to the mat, bend the elbows and rest the chest to the floor; repeat 10x, alternating the resting head position with each rep.
Tip: Focus on rolling the shoulders back and reaching the chest forward. Shoulders tight? Grab a hand towel with both hands to open up your grip.
Do: 1 set of 10
The three different positions target every muscle fiber in the back, from hips to shoulders.
Start: Lying on stomach, legs bent at 90 degrees with knees slightly apart and heels together; arms long at sides with palms facing up; neck long, eyes on floor.
Step 1: Lift the chest, arms and legs off the floor, and from here pump the arms and legs upward 10x, drawing the shoulder blades down and hugging the arms toward the body.
Step 2: Place arms in a ‘goal post’ position, keep knees bent but open heels into parallel; pump the arms and legs upward 10x.
Step 3: Reach the arms overhead, palms turned in, and extend the legs hip-distance apart; from here, pump the arms and legs upward 10x; rest, then repeat entire series, steps 1-3.
Tip: Imagine you're pressing your limbs through water, creating a sense of resistance. Keep the torso still (no bobbing or bucking); instead, pump the arms and legs higher than the torso.
Do: Two sets of 10
Single Leg Circles
This forearm plank works the shoulder stabilizers, spinal muscles and the posterior hip — challenging and effective!
Start: Forearm plank position
Exercise: Lift the right leg up, keeping it long and straight; from here, make dinner-plate sized circles with the leg, circling 8x in each direction; place the right foot down and repeat the circling action with the left leg; rest, then repeat entire series.
Tip: Keep the knee straight and draw the circle from your hip joint, not your toes; keep the stomach strong so the pelvis doesn’t rock or drop — stability is key.
Do: Two sets of eight each direction
Reverse Tabletop Knee Pull
This one is deceptively difficult to do well! Get those hips high and give it your best shot!
Start: Reverse tabletop position, with hands directly below shoulders and knees directly over hips; hips lifted as high as possible.
Exercise: Exhale and lift the right knee into tabletop position without dropping or rotating the hips; inhale and place the foot down; repeat with the left leg, and alternate right to left 10x (5x each leg); on last rep, keep leg lifted and pump the hips higher 10x with the supporting leg.
Tip: If your wrists are uncomfortable when your fingers point toward your hips, then rotate the arms so that the fingertips point to the side or to the back.
Do: Two sets of 10 (alternating legs)
This is my favorite exercise, a combination of a kneeling push up and an Upward Facing Dog — strengthening and opening at the same time!
Start: Lying on stomach, knees bent and slightly apart, feet pressed together; hands placed on mat at the base of the rib cage, elbows bent and pulled into the waist.
Exercise: Inhale and lengthen the head and chest forward into a back extension as you press your hands into the floor and extend the arms (similar to a yoga ‘Up Dog’ posture); exhale and slowly roll the spine back down, bending the elbows into the waistband as you lower down.
Tip: Keep the elbows pulled tightly into the ribcage both on the way up and down; if the elbows sway out, the work will shift into the front of the shoulder - we want to stay in the back!
Do: One set of 10
After all that back work, this rest pose will be a welcome pleasure. Enjoy.
Position: Bend the knees and sit back on the heels, placing the forehead down and lengthening the arms forward on the floor; rest here for eight long breaths, guaranteed to feel great on the lower back.
Tip: Separate the knees slightly to make room for the ribcage, and focus on breathing slowly into the back of the lungs, which helps stretch out the back and develops greater lung capacity.
Photos by Katrina Wittkamp