Who doesn’t want a toned, attractive back? Especially when the summer months loom and you are unenthusiastically facing swimsuit season, or during the holiday season as you eye that glittery, back-baring party dress.
A well-developed upper back gives you that appealing V-shape, which makes your waist and hips look slimmer. (Remember those big shoulder pads from the 80’s—there was actually some logic behind that fashion faux pas.) And a strong back makes good posture possible.
Your mom was right: When you stand up straight, you look 10 pounds lighter.
Give yourself a hug! Feel the winged bones that stick out of your back? These bones are your shoulder blades, or scapula. These bones, along with a few muscles groups, keep the spine erect and stabilize the shoulder girdle.
Try this: Bring your shoulder blades together. Do you feel you chest open as well? See how that improves your posture as well as your general sense of well-being?
The following exercises strengthen the muscles that stabilize the scapula: the muscles between your shoulder blades (the rhomboids), the muscles that depress your shoulder blades (the trapezius) and the muscles that hold it in place (the serratus anterior.)
So pick out a Back Toning Exercise (or three or four), give it a try, and you’re well on your way to a strong, healthy and sexy back.
Back Toning Exercise #1 - The Dart
Lay on your stomach with your forehead on a towel and arms at your sides, palms face down.
“Zip up” your abdominal muscles like you’ve just put on a tight pair of jeans and hollow out your pelvis. Lift your chest and head off the mat, keeping your nose
pointed down and raising your hands up, reaching for the end of the mat and
rotating your thumbs out and up. Work up to 4 repetitions trying to hold longer each time, up to 20 seconds.
Keep looking down and reaching out through the crown of your head. Abs stay zipped up as you feel your shoulders slide down your back.
Back Toning Exercise #2 - Bird Dog
Kneel on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Be sure your elbows are not locked.
As you breathe out, engage your abdominals and extend your right arm and your left leg. Try to hold them level at shoulder and hip height without losing your balance or letting your back arch. Breathe in to return to start position. Alternate 4-6 repetitions on both sides.
Keep the trunk as still and unmoving as you can. Lengthen out from your
tailbone to the crown of your head. Draw your belly button in, but do not round your spine. To keep tension out of your upper body, think of keeping your chest open and neck long.
Back Toning Exercise #3 – Spine Twist
Sit tall on the mat with your legs extended long in front. Your heels and hips are glued together and your feet flexed. Arms extend out to the sides as you reach out through your fingertips.
Inhale to lift up out of your hips. Exhale and rotate from the waist to turn your upper body, as if you’re trying to see your wrist, pulsing two times as if to wring the air out of your lungs. Inhale to return to the center and then exhale before repeating movement to twist the other way. Do three to five sets.
If you have tight hamstrings or less-than-perfect posture, you can sit on a small cushion or rolled mat, which will enable you to sit up tall even with your legs straightened out in front of you. Another variation is to do the Spine Twist while sitting on an exercise ball with knees bent, feet parallel and just wider than hip distance apart.
As you rotate the spine, focus on cementing the body from the hips down, to avoid shifting your hips. Stay anchored from the base of your spine to the very top of your head. Grow your fingertips long from your arms as you twist. Think heavy on the tush, as if you are anchored in cement from the hips on down. Head follows hand. Think tall, taller, tallest!
Back Toning Exercise #4 – Swimming
Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched out overhead and your legs extended long behind you. Draw your shoulder blades down your back to stabilize your shoulders. Think heavy in the torso as you scoop your belly button to the spine.
Hover your limbs slightly off the mat, along with your chest and head. Inhale for five beats as you quickly alternate your arms and legs as if you are swimming, lifting the torso a little. Exhale for five beats and then inhale for five beats as you lift opposite arms and legs in a flutter kick style.
Do the above movement slowly, without fluttering. Lift your right leg off the mat and also your left arm. Hold and then reverse limbs. Another modification is to keep your chest and head lower.
Keep your gaze down on the mat with the back of your neck long. Be sure your hips do not rock side to side as you lower and lift your limbs. Think: “Stable trunk, arms and legs move around the trunk.” Legs lengthen out of your hips.
Time to Rest! The Shell or Child’s Pose Position
Kneel on all fours.
Leaving your hands in the same position, lower your bottom backward onto your heels. Lower your upper body until your forehead is resting on the floor and stretch your hands in front of you as far as you can. This should feel REALLY good.
Try this exercise between the back strengthening exercises to stretch your back, and also at the end of the session.
Jennifer Adolfs is an ACE Certified Advanced Fitness Specialist and Certified Mat and Equipment Pilates Instructor. She specializes in working with people who have musculoskeletal issuses, specifically back and joint conditions. Check out the many articles and her ebooks about how Pilates-based exercises can help you strengthen and tone your back at: www.pilates-back-joint-exercise.com/pilates-ebook.html