Just Do It: 5 Moves to Strengthen Your Back
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Just Do It: 5 Moves to Strengthen Your Back

The best exercises build both sets of muscles that support the spine -- large, superficial muscles and inner support ones. The exercises below, vetted by Sheila A. Dugan, MD, and Chicago physical therapist Vonna Karoghlanian, build both groups. Do them twice a day. (Always check with your doctor before beginning this or any other new exercise program.)

Tummy Tuck

Targets: Deep abdominal and lower back muscles, pelvic floor

A. Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, neck and lower back straight.

B. Slowly pull lower abs up toward spine. Hold 20 seconds, breathing easily, then let go, 3 times.
You're doing it wrong if... neck and lower back sag.


Balance Builder

Targets: Postural muscles along spine

Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, abs pulled toward spine. Lift right arm along ear, parallel to floor, thumb up. At the same time, slide left leg behind you on floor, lift slowly, parallel to floor. Hold 3 to 5 seconds, 10 to 15 reps per side.
You're doing it wrong if... low back arches, head drops below shoulder, hips are uneven.

Core Strengthener

Targets: Pelvic stability, coordination, core strength

A. Lie on back, knees up and bent at a 90-degree angle, arms straight up. As you breathe out, gently tighten abs.

B. Keeping lower back flat on floor, push right leg out, then left leg, alternating in a gentle bicycling motion. Do as many times as you can while you count to 60.

C. As you get stronger, add arm movement: as one knee moves toward chest, move the same-side arm back above head. Alternate sides as you count to 60.
You're doing it wrong if... lower back pops off the floor.

Tush/Hip Stretch

Targets: Glutes, piriformis (muscle below hip joint)

A. Place right leg on chair. Cross lower left leg over right thigh; gently push left knee away with left hand to feel a mild stretch in your tush.

As glutes and hips loosen, do this instead:
B. Grasp back of right thigh and pull leg to you, using left elbow to push left knee away. Hold 30 to 60 seconds, each side.
You're doing it wrong if... lower back isn't flat on floor, hips even.

Hamstring Stretch

Targets: Muscles and tendons along back of thigh

Lying on your back, place a strap or towel over arch of left foot. Extend left leg up, toes flexed, hips anchored to floor. Gently straighten leg as much as possible as you pull it toward you. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
You're doing it wrong if... your knees lock.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2008.