In a go-go-go world be sure to watch your back. From the top of your spine down to your behind, a healthy back matters in your daily life. Along with several smaller muscles, the major back muscles include the trapezius, latissimus dorsi and erector spinae. By effectively strengthening and stretching these muscles you can reap many benefits and prevent one of the most common adult health conditions.
Your back is quite literally the backbone of your body, so healthy back muscles go a long way in giving you a good quality of life. From standing to bending to walking to lifting, many everyday movements involve your back. A strong, flexible back helps you perform daily activities comfortably, efficiently and without injury. Well-conditioned back muscles provide power and stability for other exercises when you’re in the gym and give you pristine posture when you’re sitting or walking down the street. Most importantly, well-conditioned lower back muscles can prevent lower back pain, a debilitating condition in many adults.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, up to 80 percent of people experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and back pain is the most common reason for missing work. Muscular causes of low back pain include a combination of tight hip flexors, hamstrings and low back extensors with weak abdominals. The majority of low back pain is preventable with regular exercise and increased muscular fitness. Most people return to normal activities within a few weeks after an acute bout of pain.
Work both the upper and lower back when you do back-strengthening exercise for a well-rounded workout. The “superman,” or prone back extension, is a simple exercise to work your lower back. To channel your inner super hero, lie faced-own on the floor with your arms stretched out over your head and your legs straight. Contract your lower back to bring your chest and legs off of the floor at the same time. Hold the position for 10 seconds, release and repeat. Your upper back muscles are difficult to work without equipment, but a set of dumbbells gives you many exercise options. Effective upper back exercises include the bent-over dumbbell row. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your knees slightly bent and a dumbbell in each hand. While keeping your back straight lean forward from your hips until your hands hang freely in front of you. Keep the dumbbells together and pull them into your chest while you squeeze your shoulder blades together and point your elbows up and out.
Perform a light warm-up before you stretch your back muscles. Stretching a cold muscle can the limit range of motion and cause an injury. Warm-up your whole body with jumping jacks, jogging, stationary biking or with anything else that gets your heart pumping, then move on to lower back stretches, such as the supine spinal twist. Lie face-up on the floor with your hands out like a “T” and your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. While keeping both of your shoulders in contact with the floor, slowly lower both knees to one side. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then rotate to your other side. To stretch your upper back, pretend you're hugging a huge tree in front of you. Grasp your hands and spread your shoulder blades wide, hold for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat as desired.
Jilana Dennis is a health and fitness writer based out of San Antonio, Texas. Dennis is a nationally certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and holds a B.S in exercise science from Illinois State University.