Exercises to Help You Build a Stronger Back

Our lives are faster and busier than ever before. Sometimes, our bodies simply can’t keep up with our lifestyle, resulting in aches and pains- especially in the shoulders and back….


The good news is that you don’t have to suffer without a solution… Here’s a few expert tips to build a stronger back from Lisa Bain Popperwell, a registered Biokineticist and Pilates instructor.

Try Pilates

Pilates is a great exercise option for the following reasons:

  • It’s non-impact
  • It’s core based, so you learn to engage larger muscles including the abdominals and glutes – to stabilise you in all repetitive movements
  • It teaches correct breathing – which also activates your stomach muscles, while improving circulation
  • Each movement helps to correct postural imbalances
  • It increases body awareness and strengthens the mind-body relationship, helping you to incorporate new ways of moving and using your body.

3 Of The Best Core Exercises

Four essential back strengthening Pilates moves

Posterior pelvic tilt (targets lower abs)

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and slowly tilt your pelvis so that you flatten your lower back into the floor.  Do this without squeezing your glutes.  Focus on using only your lower abdominal muscles to pull your pelvis up.  Hold this position for 5-10 seconds then release.  Repeat 2 sets of 10.  Once this is easy, do the same exercise but with the legs straightened out in front of you.

Supermans / opposite arm and leg lifts (targets upper and lower back, glutes and abs)

Kneel on your hands and knees with a straight spine (your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips).

Slightly tilt your pelvis to flatten out the lower back and engage the abdominals, then lift your left leg out behind you, keeping your hips level, as well as your right arm out in front of you to form a straight line with your spine.  Hold this position for 5-10 seconds then slowly lower.

Repeat with the other arm and leg.  Perform a set of 10 raises, alternating pairs.  Build up to 2 sets of 10. If you have difficulty keeping your balance in the beginning, modify the exercise by only raising an arm or a leg.

Prone thoracic back extension (targets thoracic back extensors and rhomboids)

Lie face down with your arms out at shoulder level and your elbows flexed.  Squeeze your glutes and perform a pelvic tilt to flatten your lower back (you may feel your abs tighten too).

Keep this position as this inhibits your lower back muscles from working and encourages your upper back extensors to contract.  Inhale and then as you exhale lift your head, chest and arms off the floor (you should feel your mid-upper back working).  Squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold for a few seconds then lower down.  Repeat this sequence 10 times.

Bent over rows with resistance band (targets abs, back extensors, rhomboids and posterior deltoids)

Standing with knees slightly bent, feet split, bend forward from your hips keeping your back straight until you reach an approximately 60 degree angle. Secure the resistance band under your front foot so that you have two equal lengths to hold.

Slightly tilt your pelvis to straighten the back and engage the Abs.  Keep the Abs tight throughout the exercise.  Holding the band lengths out in front of you, inhale.

Exhaling, pull arms up towards you, sending the elbows up to the ceiling, keeping your arms close to your body.  Inhale while slowly extending arms back to the starting position.  Repeat a set of 10-15 reps, building up to 3 sets.

What Is A Foam Roller And How It’s Used

Dos and don’ts for lifting and holding heavy items:

DON’T stoop from the hips or lean your body forward when picking up heavy items. Avoid stretching your arms out, as this makes your back muscles bear the full load.  The further the weight is away from your body, the more strain it places on your spine.

DO keep heavy boxes or items close to your body when you lift them up. Bend at your knees, not at your waist. Squat down, tighten your stomach muscles and lift with your legs.

DON’T lean back or arch your back when holding or carrying items.  Leaning back might make things easier to carry because you end up shifting the weight onto your lower back but this can lead to pain.

DO pull your upper body forward enough to take the excessive arch out of your lower back. Don’t curl so much forward that you round your shoulders or crane your neck. Straighten your body by actively lengthening your spine and performing a slight pelvic tilt (tuck your tail in) and activating your glute muscles.

Lisa Bain Popperwell is a registered Biokineticist and Pilates instructor with her own practice in Johannesburg.  She has a special interest in back and postural related conditions. Call 083 226 1248 or click here to see her website.

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DISCLAIMER: You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider

Lisa Bain Popperwell

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