Welcome to our 3 series of exercises aimed at healing and improving the function of your back, spine and core muscles and commonly used joints. We have 24 exercises based on Pilates and yoga that can help you get rid of discomfort in your back and bring you to your optimal posture.
Readers with limited fitness experience should begin with the fundamental movements given in the first series (exercises #1 through #6) and gradually tackle exercises from subsequent series. As your movement becomes more assured and exhibits more precise control and flow, you can add more challenging exercises.
Understanding Exercise Descriptions
All the exercises in the series are described using the following format:
- Execution. The steps for executing the exercise are provided, starting with the initial position (starting position) along with their associated breath pattern. These steps are accompanied by illustrations for added clarity.
- Targeted and accompanying muscles. The main muscles involved are broken into two categories — targeted and accompanying muscles. In the illustrations, the targeted muscles are illustrated in a darker red, and the accompanying muscles are in a lighter red.
- Make sure you. Instructions are given to help you execute the exercise with optimal technique, like the key joints involved in the movement and the associated muscles responsible for those movements.
- Additional notes. Here we include potential benefits of the exercise. In many cases we also provide info on how the exercise relates to other exercises that share similar challenges. Cautions are also included on exercises that are higher-risk.
- Modifications. In exercises that require a higher ability of strength, flexibility, or coordination, we have included some modifications that can help you overcome those requirements. This way you can achieve successful execution and prevent potential injury.
- Variations. Variations may include a change in the breathing pattern, body positioning, or number of reps than that used in the main exercise description.
Series #1: Exercises to Improve Your Posture and Bring Relief to Your Back & Spine
Our aim with this series of exercises is to give you with an exercise program, which when practiced regularly, will help you get rid of round back and discomfort in the spine and give you an optimal posture. Office workers especially, or anyone who tends to sit a lot will find these exercises very helpful in alleviating problems and symptoms associated with sedentary lifestyle. If your aim is just to remedy the difficulties and fragile back brought by years of prolonged sitting, start from exercise #1 (Cat-Cow) and stop at exercise #6 (Swimming). Only attempt exercises #7 (Stomach Rolls) and #8 (Diving Swan) if you have athletic history (or Pilates experience) and even then be careful and consult your doctor. In fact, before starting any exercise, its prudent to consult with your doctor first if that exercises is suitable for you.
Please make sure to start from Cat-Cow and only after perfecting it work your way up to the more demanding ones to ensure a gradual progression and avoid injury risk. For example, if you are out of shape and just starting out, it may take several weeks before you’ll feel comfortable of advancing to a follow-up exercise.
After you go through the entire program (remember, most people are recommended to stop at exercise #6), you’ll find your favorites and the ones that benefit you the most. Try not to push yourself too hard, a smart stretch is controlled, gentle and continuous. Since you are taking the joint to a point close to its limits, a certain amount of discomfort is normal, but it should not develop into pain. Try to stay concentrated at all times and observe how your body is reacting to each exercise.
- Exercise #1: Cat-Cow
- Exercise #2: Back Extension
- Exercise #3: Back Stretching
- Exercise #4: Heel Kick
- Exercise #5: Double Impact
- Exercise #6: Swimming
- Exercise #7: Stomach Rolls
- Exercise #8: Diving Swan
Series #2: Exercises to Improve Flexibility and Movement Precision of Your Back & Spine
We continue with our second series – exercises aimed at improving the overall flexibility of your back and spine and increasing movement precision. The spine moves in many directions, and the goal here is to achieve finely coordinated movements in all directions. Leading a sedentary lifestyle, many people lack flexibility in their lower backs and have difficulty achieving normal motion. Spinal flexion tends to open the natural curve of the lower back and can help restore healthy flexibility. Different people may have adequate flexibility but lack movement precision. Furthermore, flexibility in your back is important for many sports, including gymnastics, figure skating and dance. Increasing your flexibility can only be accomplished over time and can be a very difficult or very easy task depending on your body type.
This series contains several challenging exercises, some of which involving extreme spinal flexion with the body weight based on the shoulders and neck. While there are benefits to these exercises, many medical specialists warn of their risks. Take extra caution during this series. In fact, we recommend stopping at exercise #6 for most people. Active athletes can continue to exercise #7 and #8, however, make sure to seek medical counsel to see if these exercises or their modifications are appropriate for you. Adequate warm up before exercising is a must, and avoid progressing to more advanced exercises until you have mastered the starting ones.
- Exercise #1: Rolling Over
- Exercise #2: Seal
- Exercise #3: Crab
- Exercise #4: Rocking Chair
- Exercise #5: Extended Legs Back Roll
- Exercise #6: Boomerang
- Exercise #7: Controlled Balance
- Exercise #8: Jackknife
Series #3: Abdominal Exercises for Spinal and Core Movement and Stabilization
In our final series we’ll focus on exercises for spinal and core movement and stabilization with a particular emphasis on the abdominal area and its importance in spinal flexion and core balance. This third series will be a valuable resource for anyone trying to improve their core stability and flexibility, bettering their movement and coordination and considerably lowering the risk of injury of the back, the spine and the abdomen, in both everyday life and athletic undertakings.
The exercises in this series focus particularly on strengthening the abdominals in their function of spinal flexion and also developing the skill of using the abdominal muscles for stabilization. The power and skill of the abdominals and core developed here will prove valuable in all other exercises routines and daily activities.
Always pay close attention to the technique and precision of execution. Failure to do so may not lead to the desired results and may even result in injury. Additionally, some exercises are not suitable for everyone and it’s recommended that only active athletes attempt exercise #8 (Teaser). Please talk to your physician to see which exercise is appropriate for you, and use modifications whenever necessary.
Many of the exercises in this series are closely related. It is highly recommended that you follow the order established here and only advance on the next exercise after you have mastered the previous one.
- Exercise #1: Leg Circle
- Exercise #2: Roll-Up
- Exercise #3: Hundred
- Exercise #4: One Leg Stretch
- Exercise #5: Stretching the Hamstring
- Exercise #6: Double Leg Stretch
- Exercise #7: Crisscross
- Exercise #8: Teaser
Creating a Routine
After some proficiency with the 3 series, you can select exercises from each series that you feel suit you and your body the best and create your own program. This program can be a great way to counteract the damage done from a sedentary life style, and just the thing to help you relax and unwind after a long day at the office.
Concentrating on the exercises and feeling each muscle and joint movement can take your mind of daily problems. Furthermore your body will be in a far better shape and ready for any challenge. Your core will be ready to support your spine, your posture and all body movements.
When creating your program, you should consider whether the routine will have a bias toward muscular strength or endurance. When going for endurance bias, attempt higher number of repetitions with lower resistance (resistance being provided by body weight and gravity). On the other hand, a strength based program will have fewer reps, but the load on the muscle should be greater, and the muscle should be worked to the point of fatigue (and then allowed to recover for 2 or 3 minutes between sets).
Frequency and duration of your program will depend on several factors, like the current fitness level, skill level and general health. When starting, aim for 2 or 3 workouts of 20-60 minutes each per week. As you increase your proficiency, you can perform longer workouts, up to 90 minutes and more frequently.
Body Aware and Important Safety Notes
The focus during execution should be on the process of how the exercise is performed, not just rushing to execute the most advanced movements. Try to master the movements and develop body awareness. Don’t sacrifice form or you risk injury.
In some cases, waiting until strength and flexibility have improved will enable perfect exercise execution, while in other cases it may not. It is not necessary to be able to perform all the exercises to get the benefits. If you are not comfortable with an exercise, simply don’t attempt it. In fact, many medical professionals consider some of these exercises inappropriate or at least high risk for the general population. Of particular concern are exercises that involve lifting both legs off the mat, such as Teaser; extreme spinal hyperextension, such as Stomach Rolls and Diving Swan; and body weight being borne by the neck, such as Controlled Balance and Jackknife.
In the case of the latter, there is risk that a person with low bone density might fracture a vertebra. Furthermore, factors such as genetics, exercise history, eating disorders, or other medical conditions can place even young and seemingly healthy people at risk.
So before beginning this program, check with your physician to see if you need to avoid certain positions, particularly the ones just listed above. Moreover, always listen to your body. If you feel joint discomfort, stop the exercise. If the discomfort is mild, check your form and try some corrections, like performing the exercise with a smaller range of motion, or utilizing any available modifications. If the discomfort is more severe or persists after applying modifications, stop performing the exercise immediately, and get medical advice regarding whether it is appropriate for you. If you are not sure something is right for you, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Enjoy the exercises you can do, and don’t worry about those that are not right for you at this time. After your fitness and proficiency improve, exercises that you originally found discomforting may become some of your favorite exercises.
In preparation for your routine, perform a 5- to 10-minute general warm-up that incorporates repetitive use of large muscle groups, such as brisk walking, so that you elevate your heart rate and internal temperature adequately.