Muscle area: Erector Spinae
This group of muscles and tendons runs parallel to the spine, from the pelvic region to the shoulders. Because they’re not as easy to see as abdominals or biceps, Al-Jabbar says the erector spinae region tends to get passed by during workouts.
Why They’re Important
Not only do the erector spinae muscles maintain your posture, they also support your torso. However, they weaken over time—especially if you work at a desk, where constant sitting can put stress on your back. In addition, people who have good posture (chest held high, shoulders back) are less prone to pulled muscles than slouchers. The stronger these muscles are, Al-Jabbar says, the less chance you’ll suffer from back pain or posture problems in the future.
Exercise 1: The Superman
Reps: Eight to ten reps.
On a flat surface, position yourself on your hands and knees, hands shoulder-width apart, and spine straight.
Raise your right arm and left leg so they are parallel to the floor. Keep your spine completely straight and stable. Hold this position for five seconds. Switch arm and leg, and repeat—that’s one rep.
Al-Jabbar says this is one of the best back-rehabilitation exercises to include in your workout two or three times a week. And not only will it strengthen your back muscles, but your abs, gluts, quads, calves, triceps, and shoulders will get a workout, too.
Exercise 2: The Cobra
Reps: One to two sets of eight to ten reps.
On a mat, lie on your stomach with your arms by your sides and palms on the floor.
Using your abdominals, lift your upper body from the waist so it is up off the floor. At the same time, lift your hands and turn your palms away from your body so they’re facing outward. When your hands rotate, your shoulder blades should pinch together (a pencil should fit between your shoulders, Al-Jabbar says). Hold this pose for five seconds, then release.
Exercise 3: Squat Row
Reps: Two sets of ten to 12 reps
This move requires a weight machine outfitted with cables, but it’s worth a trip to the gym.
Attach a rope handle to a low-pulley cable. Face the weight stack (if you’re a novice, start out with a low weight). Stand up tall and lean back slightly. Hold the handle with both hands, then squat as if you are sitting down into a chair. Keep your spine straight.
As you stand, pull your elbows behind you until your wrists are in line with your ribs, pinching your shoulder blades. Release and repeat in a smooth, fluid motion.
This full-body exercise will not only strengthen your back muscles, it will get your heart racing, too. Al-Jabbar says when you finish a set, you’ll notice a difference: “You’ll feel much more stable every step you take, and you’ll feel as if you’re an inch taller.”