When it comes to strength training, many people don't pay enough attention to the erector spinae back muscles, which is surprising when you consider how common back pain and injury is. The erector spinae is comprised of a group of muscles and tendons that run the length of and support the spine. They work with abdominal muscles to help support the torso, and they should be strengthened in conjunction with ab exercises. In fact, according to Spine-Health.com, trying to develop strong abs but ignoring the back can increase your risk of back injury.
Weight lifting machines, such as those found in a gym, make it easy to target specific muscles in the erector spinae. The lat pull-down machine has a wide bar that is pulled down from overhead to the chest while in a seated position. Another option is the seated row. Sitting on the machine, you want your feet extended in front of you against the block. Reach forward to pick up the handles. You should feel a stretch through the back. Pull the handles toward your body until the they reach your abs. While doing the seated row, think about pulling your shoulder blades together as you pull the handles. Check with a fitness professional about the amount of weights and repetitions that would be best for you.
You don't need a gym membership or a home gym to work your back muscles. You can use handheld weights to complete a variety of back-focused exercises. Bent-over rows can be done one arm at a time, or if you have a strong core (back and abs), you can do both arms. Bending from the hips, but keeping the back straight, your arms should hang down toward the floor. Pull your elbows up toward the ceiling, focusing on pulling your shoulder blade toward the center of your back. For greater back support, do a one-arm row in which your legs are in a lunge position. You can rest one hand on the forward thigh while you lean forward doing a row with the opposite arm. Do two sets of eight to 15 repetitions. Another exercise is the upright row. Hold two weights close together hanging down in front of you. Pull the weights up toward your chin, leading with your elbows toward the ceiling. Do two sets of eight to 15 repetitions.
Exercise balls not only give options for spot training, but they also provide additional core workout. Because the balls can move, the muscles of the back and abs must engage to help you keep your balance. The lumbar extension on the ball provides additional support over using a machine but a greater range of motion than doing it on the floor. Because of the potential stress on the back, you should only do a lumbar extension if you have no history of back problems. Position yourself on the ball so that your waist is resting on the ball and your feet are on the floor. Your feet should be set wide and support your weight. You can have your hands on the ball, but don't use them them to push. Instead, use your back muscles to lift your upper body. To increase the challenge, you can hold your arms in front of you or behind your head. Hold the extended position for a breath and then release down. For safety, this exercise should be done in a slow and controlled manner. Do eight to 15 repetitions. Another back exercise on the ball is the bridge. Lay on the floor with your feet on the ball. Keeping your knees bent and hands on floor next to your hips, lift your hips off the floor, pushing them up toward the ceiling. Hold for several seconds, and then roll your back, one vertebrae at a time from your neck to your pelvis, back to the floor. Repeat three to five times.
Working the back muscles can be done easily without any equipment at all. To strengthen, you can do a lumbar extension on the floor. Laying on your stomach with your hands flat on the floor next to your shoulders, use your back muscles to lift your head and upper body. Keep your hands on the floor, but let your back do the work. For greater challenge, you can lift the hands off the floor and even extend them in front of you similar to a superman pose. Again, this exercise puts strain on the back, so only do it if you don't have any back pain. Bird Dog Position is another back exercise that also works the abs. Position yourself on all fours, in Cat Pose. Extend one leg behind you and the opposite arm in front of you. The key to this exercise is to maintain equal balance on the knee and hand that remain on the floor. Don't let your body shift so that your knee is providing most of the support. For a greater challenge, while in the Bird Dog Position, lift up the toe of the knee that is on the floor so that you're balanced only on a knee and hand.
While strengthening the erector spinae muscles in important, so is stretching them to increase flexibility and improve posture. Several soothing back exercises are easy and safe (although you always want to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise). The knee-to-chest stretch not only stretches the spine but also the glutes, which help support it. Laying on your back with legs bent, pull one knee into the chest and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat with the other leg and again with both legs at the same time. Another stretch to help with rotation is the a twist. Lying on your back, with your feet on the floor and knees bent, drop your knees to one side. Keep your shoulders on the floor and hold the pose for 15 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
- MyFit.ca: Erector Spinae Workout Exercise Anatomy
- University of New Mexico: Low-Back Stability Training
- Spine-Health: Commonly Prescribed Exercise Ball Workouts for Back Pain
- Spine-Health: Back Exercises and Abdominal Exercise Recommendations
- Sports Fitness Advisor: Over 20 Dumbbell Exercises Complete with Animated Diagrams