The comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to joke about not getting any respect. If our backs could talk, they might share his complaint. Most of us never give our backs much thought, unless of course they start to bother us. Although we give far more attention to abs, glutes and quads our
backs hold an important place as the primary support for our bodies and most of their daily functions. As anyone who has had back pain can attest, most activities are difficult or impossible when the back is in bad shape. So how do you keep a strong back healthy or nurse a weak back back to health? The exercises below can help. Consult a health care professional before getting started.
The front plank is a great way to strengthen your lower back (and your abs, too). This isometric exercise looks very much like it sounds in that your body will resemble a piece of wood positioned as a bridge. Begin by placing your full body face down on a mat or towel. Bend your arms in front of you as if getting into position for push ups. Clasp hands together in the middle of your body. Raise yourself onto your toes, again like you are going to do push ups. With your abs held in tight and your head aligned with your spine, eyes on your clasped hands, hold this position for at least 15 seconds. As you grow stronger you can hold the position longer. Be careful not to overdo it before your body is ready.
Balance ball push-ups
Looking for a great way to strengthen your upper back and shoulders? Try balance ball push-ups. This seemingly innocent piece of equipment looks pretty harmless at first glance. Don’t be fooled. Using the balance ball takes a little practice for the klutzy among us (namely me). Most fitness centers have balance balls. They are also easy to find and affordable at discount department stores if you’re not up to looking foolish in public. To start, position yourself face down with the balance ball beneath your stomach. Your hands and feet should be on the floor. Move back so that the ball is resting on the upper part of your stomach. Keeping your legs and torso straight, place your hands on the ball –they should be just below your shoulders – and push up. Begin with one set of ten being mindful to exhale as you push up and inhale as you lower your body to the ball.
Prone trunk raises
Also called prone trunk extensions this is an easy beginner exercises for anyone looking to build a better back. Lie on the floor with your arms stretched out in front of you. Raise your upper body slowly up one section at a time. Maintain some awareness of what you are doing as you raise your chest, shoulders and arms from the floor. Take your time and enjoy the feel of the stretch. Now slowly reverse the order and lower your arms, shoulders and chest back to the floor. Remember to pay attention to your breathing as you engage your body. This is a good ender to your back training regimen.
It doesn’t get any easier than this. If you already have back pain a 2004 Spine Journal article has news for you. Simply walking, even on a treadmill, can improve back strength and flexibility and reduce back pain. Try it for at least 30 minutes, 3 or 4 times each week. Not only will you improve your back health, you may even lose a few pounds along with the pains. Extra weight is one of the biggest contributors to back pain.
Lower back rotation stretch
This is a good one if you feel stressed as it helps you release tension held in your lower back. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet firmly planted on your mat or floor. With your upper body still flat on the mat and keeping your knees together, roll them first to the right and then to the left of your body. You will look somewhat like the letter “J”. Aim for two or three rounds holding the position for about 10 seconds to really feel the stretch.
A strong back isn’t only important for runners or fitness buffs. Your back has a starring role in activities from sitting to bending and lifting. Keeping your back healthy and strong prevents injuries, protects your spine and contributes to overall good health.