Life in the 21st century is not back-friendly. Back exercises are so important, and yet most of us neglect them. Instead, many of us spend hours and hours every day hunched over PCs, laptops and smartphones, which does our backs no favors. Sitting for long periods at a time, which those with desk jobs have no choice but to do, puts pressure on the spinal discs, potentially leading to all kinds of problems.
In fact, back problems are one of the most costly health problems Americans face. According to the American Chiropractic Association, 264 million work days are lost a year because of back issues. That’s two days for every adult full-time worker. Add to that the fact that back pain costs Americans an estimated $50 billion in healthcare costs every year, and it’s easy to see why keeping your back healthy is so important.
The problem is that the back is the one area of the body many of us forget about when exercising. We’re so busy focusing on getting great abs or a better butt that we skip back workouts, forgetting that we use our backs in almost every movement we make. And when they’re not in great shape, that can have a serious impact on the quality of our day-to-day life.
So we know that back health is important, and back exercises are especially important. But which back workouts should you be doing to keep your back toned and healthy?
Back Exercises Are Actually Easy
The good news is that exercising to keep your back healthy is not something you have to spend hours in the gym to do. You actually don’t need any special equipment either. There are some very effective bodyweight back exercises you can do almost anywhere. And besides keeping your back healthy, these moves will make a big difference in the way you look on the beach next year, as a toned back looks just as good as it feels.
But if you, like many people, have never exercised to specifically work on bettering your back, then you may not be sure where to start. To help you get started, here is the best back workout I have to help you tone and sculpt your back. As an additional plus, all of these workout moves call for nothing but your own bodyweight to assist you!
Bodyweight Back Exercises
1. Low Planks
Get on the floor and lie flat on your stomach. Bend your elbows under your shoulders while keeping your forearms flat on the floor. Be sure to keep your legs extended with the balls of your feet resting on the floor.
Then lift your hips and thighs until your body is parallel with the floor. Make sure that you keep your whole body in a straight line and that your core is engaged. Keep your pelvis tucked in and don’t let your lower back sag. Hold this for 30 seconds.
2. High Planks
Get on all fours and your hands and knees. Keep your hands shoulder width apart, bend your elbows, and place your knees under your hips. As with the lower plank, keep your pelvis tucked in and don’t let your back sag!
Then extend your legs with the balls of your feet resting on the floor. Engage your core and keep your body in a straight line. Pull your shoulder blades down and in. Hold this for 30 seconds.
3. The Superman (or Supergirl)
Just as the name implies, make like Superman. Lie flat on the floor with your arms extended in front of you and your palms facing downward.
Then slowly raise your legs and upper body to form an arch, ensuring that your chest and knees don’t touch the floor. Keep your chin tucked in and don’t overextend your neck. As you extend your arms forward, you can bend them slightly at the elbows. You can also vary the tension by lowering or lifting your legs and upper body slightly at the same time. Repeat this 20 times.
4. Reversed Snow Angels
No, you don’t have to head outside to do this one, but who knew that something as fun as making a snow angel – albeit a reverse one – could be an effective bodyweight back exercise?!
To get started, lie on the floor on your stomach with your feet together and your arms extended in front of you. Keep your fingers extended so that you are once again in a superman flying style position. Lift your head and chest up until your nose is just off the floor. Keeping your legs straight, raise your feet off the ground.
Move your arms, keeping them straight down your sides until they touch your torso. Then slowly move back into the starting position. As you perform repetitions, you’ll really feel your lower back AND your glutes being engaged. Repeat this 20 times.
Download our free bodyweight exercise cheat sheet and try out these 30 simple fat-burning, muscle-defining exercises.
5. The Bridge
You might remember this one from your first grade gym class! To begin, lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms on the floor and then bend your knees so your heels are under your knees.
Slowly raise your hips in the direction of the ceiling. When you are fully extended, hold the pose for ten seconds. While holding the pose, squeeze your glutes – butt muscles – together as well. Also, pull your naval in towards your spine and make sure that your shoulders are relaxed with your shoulder blades still on the floor. Lower your hips and repeat the exercise. To make the move more effective, don’t touch the floor in between reps. Repeat this for 10 reps.
6. Alternate Limb Raises
Get on the floor on all fours. Keeping your hands directly under your shoulders, bend your elbows and align your knees under your hips. Try to ensure that your body forms a straight line and that you pull your shoulder blades down and in.
Keeping your back as straight as possible, extend your right arm forward and your left leg back. Feel the back of your right arm and shoulder as well as the back of your left leg tightening. You’ll probably feel the glute burning a little bit as it fires up! Hold the pose for between five and ten seconds and then lower yourself back into the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Then repeat each side for a total of 10 on each side.
7. The Stick Up
This simple exercise does a lot more for your back than you might imagine. To start off, you simply need to stand with your back against the wall with your arms raised above you in a “stickup” position.
Staying still with your back still pressed to the wall, bring your arms down slowly, counting down to four to do so. As you move your arms down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Hold your arms in the lowest position for one second and then repeat the exercise in reverse, again taking a full count down to four. Repeat this 20 times.
Other Ways to Get a Healthier Back
If you want to keep your back healthy – and keep all eyes on you when you leave the room in that LBD – there are other ways to do so in addition to the highly effective back workout demonstrated above.
Swimming is great for you, as it helps strengthen the spine in a weightless environment. Squeeze the glutes and focus on really moving through the water, as it serves as the resistance. Also, any sport or exercise that builds a stronger core will help as well, since part of the core is the lower back and glutes. So by learning to engage the lower abs and front of the core, you’ll also learn how to engage the opposing muscles in the back of your body, which is essential for creating that perfect look.
While you’re in the office, try to make a serious effort not to slouch over your desk. Sit up straight, just like your mother always told you to. Also, try to maintain that good posture whenever you look at your phone to avoid straining the muscles at the top of your spine. Before you know it, your own back may become the center of attention!
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