Strengthening Your Back – Two Ways To Achieve Your Goals

Brian Housle, MED, MS - Senior Exercise Physiologist

When thinking about how our body functions, and the ways that we move each day – be it for work, for recreation, exercising, or just everyday activities – our backs are extremely important. Any day that we have back stiffness, we don’t feel great. We might need to miss a day of work, or we might not be able to participate in some event that we had been looking forward to for quite a while. Having back weakness might limit the duration of activities that are essential to our lives. That’s why having a quick, basic set of exercises that help to strengthen and stabilize our back muscles is something we all should have in our ‘rolodex’.

 

Some people like the traditional methods of strength training, which can ultimately increase not only strength but muscle mass for those all-important back stabilizers. And others prefer the simplicity of exercises that don’t require extra equipment, yet still want to improve the function of their back. Here are four basic exercises, with an option for traditional resistance methods and an alternative equivalent for Yoga.

 

Bridging

The muscles we emphasize in the bridge (or hip-bridge, glute-bridge) are the glutes, hamstrings and erector spinae group for the back of the body, as well as the hip flexors, rectus abdominis and adductors for core stabilization

 

Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your arms at your sides. Keep your chin pointing toward the ceiling and your abs tight.

 

Step 2: Press your weight down through your heels and exhale as you squeeze your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor. Your body should form a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders. Slowly return to the starting position.  Repeat. 

Strengthening Your Back – Two Ways To Achieve Your Goals

YOGA BRIDGE POSE (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) - Can be performed as a restorative pose (held for extended time) or as a traditional exercise. Begin after releasing Boat. Return feet to the mat and separate the feet about 6 inches apart. Knees are flexed, also about 6 inches apart and pointing in the same direction as the toes. Lie back; place the hands, palms facing down, alongside the body. Scoot the heels in a little closer to the glutes so the ankles are directly beneath the knees. Gently lift the hips upward as high as possible by pressing down and into the floor with the feet. Be sure that the weight is resting on the shoulders and not the neck.

 

Superman

The main muscle targets for this exercise are the erector spinae group.

Step 1: Lying face down, extending body completely with arms ‘overhead’ and legs together plantar flexed.

 

Step 2: Engage the glues and lower back muscles as you raise legs/thighs and as much of your torso as possible off the ground; keep arms and legs extended long.

 

Step 3: Hold the extension for a count of 5, and lower to the ground. Repeat. Gradually increase the length of the hold to 10 seconds for each repetition.

 

YOGA CAT (Marjaryasana) and COW (Bitilasana) POSE – Starting on hands and knees; paying attention that alignment of shoulders/wrists and hips/knees is correct. Spine is in neutral position. Inhale to lift the sitz bones while chest expands toward the ceiling as belly sinks; look straight ahead. Exhale to round the spine, lifting the spine up toward the ceiling while head drops toward the floor.

 

Dead Lift

Quintessential back strengthener, it works the whole body. The legs (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes), the BACK (stabilizers like erector spinae group keep the spine neutral), and other muscles like the trapezius of the upper back and abdominals/obliques to stabilize the torso.

Step 1: Stand with legs almost straight (minimal knee bend) and feet hip-width apart. Bend over to grip the bar or dumbbells, letting the knees bend.

 

Step 2: Straighten the torso/back, keeping the spine long and the focus straight ahead as you rise. Continue to raise until the spine is in an upright and extended position. Slowly return to the start by gradually folding at the hips and knees, until the weight is back to the floor. 

 

YOGA FORWARD FOLD (Uttanasana) – Starting from a full upright posture, exhale as you bend forward, hinging at the hip and not the waist. Continue to exhale and draw the abdominals toward the torso until you are fully folded forward. Focus on drawing the abdominals in toward the torso to create room for the body to fold forward. Inhale as you gradually rise up, stacking the vertebrae as you come to a complete standing upright position.

 

Bent Over Row

This exercise emphasizes the LATS, which are involved in shoulder stabilization and lumbar spine extension. The traditional exercise can be performed by leaning one hand and knee on a bench.

Step 1:  Start with same hand and knee on bench, keeping back flat and head ‘neutral’.  Let the dumbbell hang down, while the shoulder remains heavy.

 

Step 2: Lift dumbbell by raising elbow up, keeping spine sturdy. Lower weight back to start in 4 seconds. 

 

YOGA CRESCENT POSE (Anjaneyasana) – a functional pose that integrates the upper and lower body, focusing on balance and strength. Typically, originated from Downward Dog, step one foot forward between your hands. Bend the front knee to 90o being sure to have heel aligned with knee. Inhale to raise up the torso, swinging the arms up to your sides and overhead. Making sure NOT TO OVERARCH the back, lengthen your spine and reach back through your rear heel, looking up toward the thumbs. Draw the ribs down and in TO your torso, lifting the arms and reaching from the mid-back. Hold for 15 or more seconds. Exhale to release the torso back to the front thigh, and swing the arms back toward the floor, returning to Downward Dog.

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