Strengthen and stretch the too-often neglected muscles sitting just over your shoulder. â€śMost of the time, back problems result from one of three things,â€ť says New York City trainer James Darling. â€śYour core is weak, youâ€™re stressed out and holding the tension in your lumbar area or shoulders, or you have a tight lower body.â€ť
To help strengthen your lower, middle, and upper back as well as your core, Darling has created a 10-minute workout with Pilates-inspired moves from the Hardcore N More class he teaches at Equinox fitness clubs. Do them a few times a week, and within a month youâ€™ll be standing taller and feeling head-to-toe strong.
The Plan: Do 6 to 10 reps of the moves on the following pages, in the order shown, two or three days a week. Youâ€™ll need a mat; 3-pound hand weights are optional.
Total Time: 10 minutes.
What It Does: Strengthens the core
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie faceup with legs straight, arms at your sides, and palms turned up. Lift your head, arms, shoulder blades, and legs several inches off the floor. Hold for 1 or 2 counts, trying to lengthen your arms toward your toes, then lower to within an inch of the floor and repeat.
â€śA healthy back enables you to carry groceries and your kids, do a tough workout, and even have great sex,â€ť says Nadya Swedan, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in New York City. In most of our daily activities, the lower back does the bulk of the work, says Swedan. But the middle and upper muscles are equally important. Pilates, with its focus on stabilizing the spine, is an excellent way to increase the strength and endurance of all these muscles.
What It Does: Strengthens the upper, middle, and lower back, and the shoulders and glutes
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie facedown with your arms extended in front of you, palms facing down. With the tops of your feet glued to the floor, lift your arms, head, and chest and draw your elbows out to the sides until your hands are even with your chin. Keep your head in line with your spine and bring your shoulder blades together. Without pausing, slowly lower your upper body all the way to the floor and repeat.
What It Does: Strengthens the core, legs, glutes, and shoulders
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and get on all fours with wrists aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. Tighten abs and lift knees off the floor. Keeping right knee up, slowly extend right arm forward and left leg back. Hold for 3 to 5 counts, then slowly switch sides and repeat to complete 1 rep. (Knees stay raised the entire time.)
Keep in Mind Elongate your neck, keeping your head in line with your spine, as you reach forward and back. Dropping your head can strain your neck.
What It Does: Stretches hamstrings and strengthens arms, shoulders, abdominals, and upper back
How to Do It: Start in Downward-Facing Dog position with hands and feet shoulder-width apart, hips up, and head aligned between arms. Bend elbows and lower head toward the floor between your hands so that your shoulder blades come together (your body will shift forward slightly). Without pausing, slowly straighten arms and repeat.
What It Does: Strengthens the core, legs, and glutes; stretches the back
How to Do It: Stand with feet hip-width apart and lower into a squat so that knees are aligned over ankles. Place hands on knees and make sure your back is straight. Stay in the squat, draw in your belly button as far as you can as you tuck your hips under, and draw your ribs and pelvis toward each other; your spine will round. Donâ€™t let your shoulders hunch. Hold the tuck for 1 or 2 counts, then return to the flat-back position and repeat.
Keep in Mind: Use your deep abdominal muscles to draw your belly button to your spine; donâ€™t suck in your breath and hold it. Activating them strengthens your core and helps flatten your abs.
What It Does: Strengthens the legs, glutes, shoulders, core, and upper back
How to Do It: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing thighs. Lower into a squat as you lift arms out to the sides in a â€śTâ€ť position, palms facing forward, and bring your shoulder blades together. Straighten legs and lower arms to return to starting position, then lower into the squat again and raise arms overhead in a â€śV,â€ť palms facing each other so that theyâ€™re slightly wider than shoulders (try not to hunch), to complete 1 rep. Repeat from the beginning.