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4 Exercises for a Healthy Back

By Staci Amend
November 19, 2014

When beginning any exercise regimen, it’s easy to focus on the things we want to change—whether it’s adding some tone to our upper arms, or subtracting a bit of jiggle from our thighs. But remember: like your core, your back is essential to nearly every movement you make throughout the day. A strong back is literally your foundation for a healthy body. Here are four simple no-equipment exercises to help you get started!

1. Cat/cow
On an exercise mat or carpet, come to your hands and knees—your knees should be under your hips, and the crease of your wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Start with your spine in a neutral position. Gently exhale, and tuck your tailbone under and use your abdominal muscles to arch your spine upwards. Lengthen your neck and allow your head to reach toward your chest. Hold for 10 seconds. Next, as you gently inhale, tip your tailbone toward the ceiling, increasing the arch in your back. Allow the belly to stretch toward the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat sequence 5–10 times.

2. Superman
On an exercise mat or the carpet, lie on your stomach on a mat or the floor with your legs stretched out behind you. Reach your arms in front of you with your palms facing each other. Relax your neck and align your head with your spine. Exhale. Activate your core muscles to stabilize your spine, then slowly and steadily float both your arms and legs a few inches off the floor. Keep arms and legs activated, and be sure not to over-arch your neck or back. Hold briefly, then inhale as you lower back to your starting position. Repeat 5–10 times.

3. Seated side-saddle stretch
Sit on the floor or exercise mat with your legs in a wide straddle position. Adjust your leg position so that you are able to sit without slouching, and make sure your head is aligned with your spine. Bring your arms to your sides with your elbows slightly bent so that your forearms are vertical to the floor. Engage your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine. As you exhale, slowly bend sideways, bringing the lowered elbow down toward your hip. Keep your head aligned with your spine, knees straight and feet strong with the toes toward the ceiling. Bend to the point of tension, but do not bounce or push to a point of pain. Hold for 15 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat 5 times on each side.

4. Elbow plank
On an exercise mat or the carpet, lie on your stomach in “sphinx” position, with your elbows close to your sides and directly under your shoulders, palms down and fingers facing forward. Activate your core muscles and contract your thigh muscles to straighten your legs as you slowly lift your torso and thighs off the mat. Keep your hips level with the floor; do not allow your low back to sag or your bottom to lift. Continue to breathe, keeping the core strong while holding this position. Hold for 5–10 seconds, then slowly lower your legs and torso back down to the floor. Repeat 5–10 times.

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