7 Exercises to a Bulletproof Back

Emily Beers

Coach

Vancouver, Canada

Coaching

Based on both my own athletic experiences and from working with clients for 10 years, I can say with certainty that back pain is one of the most commonly grumbled about annoyances.

 

For some, it’s chronic lower back pain, for others its rib-induced sharp pain around their shoulder blades, and for others still, it’s recurring back spasms that keep them out of the gym and in bed on muscle relaxants for days at a time.

 

 

I personally have suffered from all of the above. Rib injuries, likely due to years of hyperextension during my gymnastics days, were a common occurrence for years, and my lower back lit up from time to time.

 

Once I hit my late 20s, back spasms entered the equation. One time, I was so immobile and in so much pain that I let a friend slip me some unknown muscle relaxant. I didn’t even ask what was in it, but it was shaped like a little yellow house.

 

God bless that little yellow house! (It put me to sleep for 12 hours, but I woke up and the back pain was gone).

 

I digress. I’m relatively anti-drug and didn’t want to rely on pain meds to be pain-free, so I decided to spend some time investigating ways to take care of my back once and for all.

 

And if you’re looking to get started right away, here are seven exercises to work into your warm-up or cool down. I recommend going through these seven movements two or three times, three days a week.

 

Use Intent

I want to give you the most important piece of advice: Perform these exercises with intent!

 

What do I mean by performing with intent?

 

So often, I see people going through accessory work—be it banded movements or isometric holds—without much care in the world. It’s as if they see the warm-up or post-workout recovery work as the easy stuff they do at the end of their workout.

 

As a result, they rush through it in a totally unfocused way, because they’re already thinking about what they’re going to eat once they’re done.

 

 

When you do these movements right, they will be as hard, or even harder, than your “workout.”

 

Three tips for performing with intent:

 

  1. Don’t rush.
  2. Follow the prescribed tempos.
  3. Build tension in your body during each movement.

 

Basically, what I mean is care more. And try harder.

 

Ok, we’re ready for the movements.

 

1. Single-Leg Raise and Hold

Stand on one leg. Raise the other leg as high as you can while keeping your raised knee straight. Can you get it to 90 degrees? Squeeze every muscle in your body as you’re doing this and stay stiff as a statue.

 

Start with 10 seconds per leg and work your way up to 20 seconds per leg.

 

 

2. Superman Hold

Lay prone. Keep your legs straight and raise your feet, shins, and knees off the ground, as well as your arms, head, and chest. Raise them as high as possible. Point your thumbs to the sky as if you’re giving the sky a thumbs up. Stay as tight throughout your body as you can.

 

Start with 20 seconds and work up to a 40 second to 60-second superman hold.

 

 

3. Overhead Dumbbell Hold

Stand with perfect posture. Keep your rib cage down, your spine neutral, and your bum cheeks squeezed together. Then press and a DB or KB in a perfect overhead position. You should feel the muscles in and around your shoulder blades working overtime if you’re doing it correctly.

 

If you can’t do this with weight and maintain the correct position, try it without weight and fight for as good of a position as you can.

 

Start with 30 seconds per arm and work up to 60 seconds per arm.

 

 

4. Bent Arm Dumbbell Hold

Similar to the above: Stand with perfect posture and hold a DB at a 90-degree angle with your knuckles facing the sky. Keep the DB directly in front of your body at eye level. Don’t let your elbow drop as you get tired. Go as heavy as you can while maintaining perfect positioning, and where you can feel your back on fire.

 

Start with 30 seconds per arm and work up to 60 seconds per arm.

 

 

5. Turkish Sit-Ups

This is basically the start of a Turkish get-up, but you stop at the top of the sit-up. Similar to the above to exercises, your shoulder blades will be working double time, and in this case, your entire core will be feeling it.

 

Start by laying flat on your back with a DB pressed out with a straight elbow, like at the top of a bench press, in the right hand. Bend the right knee so the right foot is flat on the ground. Use your left arm to help sit you up to the top of a sit-up. Ensure the weight remains directly over your center of gravity the whole time.

 

The movement ends when the DB or KB is directly over your head like at the top of a shoulder press and your body is sitting straight up like at the top of a sit-up. Then slowly control the weight back down the way you came. Think about taking 3-5 seconds to sit-up and 3-5 seconds to lower.

 

Start with 8 reps per side and work up to 20 reps per side.

 

 

6. Barbell Rollouts

On your knees (with your knees on a mat for comfort) and a barbell (loaded with weights on both sides) in front of you, roll the weight as far away from your body as you can while keeping your body in a perfect hollow body position.

 

You may find these really hard and won’t be able to roll the bar that far away from you. That’s OK. Over time, you’ll be able to push the barbell further away from your body until your body is almost parallel to the floor all the while maintaining a straight body position. Think about taking five seconds to roll the bar out and five seconds to roll the bar back.

 

Remember, only go as far as you can while maintaining a good body position. If your lower back gives out and collapses, you have gone too far.

 

Start with 5 reps at a time and work up to 10 or 12.

 

 

7. Loaded Sumo Stance Good Mornings

In a sumo stance with a moderate weight on your back, send your hips back as far as you can while maintaining a perfectly neutral spine. Keep your shins perpendicular to the ground and your shoulder blades squeezed together. Keep these slow and controlled. As you stand back up again, squeeze your bum cheeks together, hard.

 

For this exercise 10 to 15 reps per set is a good number to aim for. As you get comfortable with these, add more weight.

 

 

Good luck bulletproofing that back!

 

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