Photo Credit: Getty Images
If you are one of the estimated 31 million Americans suffering from back pain, this resistance band workout -- created exclusively for iVillage by back pain specialist and physical therapist Yoav Suprun, DPT -- can help. Doing this workout up to three non-consecutive days a week can improve posture and alignment and counteract the stress we put on our spine, says Suprun, owner of Sobe Spine in Miami Beach, Fla. The result? Less neck and back pain.
The workout is based on the McKenzie method, which combines physical therapy and specific directional exercises (such as the extension of the spine) that focus on the function and movement of the back to centralize pain and facilitate self-healing. Suprun recommends that anyone suffering from back pain first be evaluated by a McKenzie-trained therapist in order to ensure this program is appropriate for your body. (And always check with your doctor before you start any exercise program).
“A strong back and good posture are very important to help avoid back or neck pain, and these exercises will help you not only to strengthen your spine but also increase your awareness of your posture throughout the day,” says Suprun.
Warm Up: Standing-Back Extensions
Target: This joint-specific move helps with lower back pain and stiffness.
How to do it: Place your hands on the back of your hips and keep your knees straight as you gently bend back as far as possible. Do up to six repetitions, trying to extend slightly farther back each time.
Target: This movement helps develop strength in the deep abdominals and spinal rotator muscles that help support and stabilize the spine.
How to do it: Anchor the center of the resistance band securely around a doorknob. Hold the ends of the band and step back until your arms are fully extended and there is tension on the band. Brace your abs in tight and rotate your torso to the left, keeping your arms centered in front of your body as you twist. Return to the center position. Do 15 repetitions and then repeat on the right. Aim for three sets of 15 reps on both sides. Make it easier by standing closer to the band’s anchor point or harder by stepping farther away.
Target: This exercise opens up the chest and improves posture. “We slouch all day, which separates the [shoulder] blades and contributes to neck and back pain,” says Suprun. “The retraction of the shoulder blades during this exercise helps develop the upper back strength needed for supporting good posture.”
How to do it: Anchor the center of the resistance band securely around a doorknob, extend your arms out straight and step back until there is tension on the band. Pull your abdominals in and bend your elbows, pulling the ends of the bands to the outside of your ribcage. Hold for one count and then slowly release back to start. Do three sets of 15 repetitions. Make it easier by standing closer to the band’s anchor point or harder by stepping farther away.
Single-Leg Stance Lateral Raise
Target: The single-leg stance (SLS) lateral raise provides a healthy challenge for the spine, as your core and glutes have to kick in to help you balance while also strengthening your shoulders.
How to do it: Put your left foot onto the center of band, holding on to one end with your right hand. Engage your abdominals and bend your right knee, lifting the right foot slightly off the floor. Lift your right arm up to shoulder height (arm should be fully extended, elbow soft, not locked) with the palm facing down. Hold for one count and lower. Do three sets of 15 repetitions on both sides. Make this easier by giving your band more slack or harder by standing on the band closer to the end you’re be lifting.
Target: This pelvis extension exercise strengthens the glutes, which are important in providing trunk stability.
How to do it: Start on your back with knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Pull the resistance band tight over your pelvis. Press your arms down into the floor and draw your abs in. Lift your hips up as high as possible. Hold for one count and then lower. Do a total of three sets of 15 repetitions each.
Trunk Extension with Arm Abduction
Target: This move works the erector spinae, which are muscles that support the torso. The extension motion, or bending backward, is a direction we rarely move in on daily basis.
How to do it: Start facedown with legs hip-width apart and arms extended in front of the body about shoulder-width apart, holding onto the band. Extend your spine and lift your arms, chest and thighs off the ground as you pull your arms wide, increasing the tension on the band. Slowly lower and return to start. Be sure to focus your eyes on the floor to keep your neck in line with your spine during the exercise. Do a total of three sets of 15 repetitions each.
Resisted Opposite Arm and Leg Reach
Target: This balance-challenging core move helps develop stability and strength in the muscles of the torso, back and glutes.
How to do it: Start on all fours. Place the ball of your left foot in the handle of one end of the band and hold onto the opposite end with your right hand, palm facing down. Straighten your right arm and left leg, lightly touching the ground. With your abs in tight and your spine as steady as possible, lift your right arm and left leg up, pulling the band tight. Hold for one count and then lower. Do three sets of 15 repetitions on both sides. If this is too tough to do with the band, start first using your bodyweight as resistance.
Target: This exercise targets a large muscle in the back called the latissimus dorsi (in Latin, it means the “widest of the back”), which assists with arm extension and helps with posture.
How to do it: Secure the band at a point a few feet above your head (such as the top edge of a sturdy door) and hold the ends of the bands evenly. Step away from the anchored point until there is tension on the band and raise both arms overhead with palms facing away from body. Press your shoulders down and pull down on the band, bending your elbows to the sides. Extend your arms to return to the starting position. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.
Standing Hip Extension
Target: Challenge your balance and strengthen your core, glutes and the back extensor muscles that line up both sides of the spine with this standing-hip extension exercise.
How to do it: Stand on the band with your right foot and tuck the ball of foot into the handle on one end. (If your band doesn’t have handles, tie the end around your foot instead.) For more resistance stand closer to the end, farther away for less. Keep your hands on your hips. Extend your left leg behind your hip, tapping your toes lightly on the floor. Keep your chest lifted and draw your abs in to help stabilize the spine. Lift your left leg up behind your hip as high as possible. Hold for one count and then lower. Do three sets of 15 repetitions on both legs. If you need help balancing, hold onto a chair or wall with your right hand.
SLS Biceps Curls
Target: Sculpt your arms while firing up your core and glute muscles in this single-leg stance biceps curl exercise.
How to do it: Stand with your left foot in the center of the band, balancing on the left leg with your right knee bent and foot lifted. Hold both ends of the band evenly. Brace your abs in tight and curl your arms in towards your body, your palms facing up. Hold for one count and then lower. Do two sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Target: Another great move for building postural support for the spine, this exercise helps develop the upper back, shoulders and core muscles.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms extended straight in front of the body and the center of the band anchored around a doorknob. Brace your abs in tight and raise your arms overhead with palms facing away from the body into a letter ‘Y’ shape. Lower your arms. Next, open your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, making a letter ‘T’ shape, then return to start. Finally, open into a letter ‘I’ by extending arms up directly over your shoulders. That’s one repetition. Try three sets of 5-8 repetitions each.
Target: Build core strength and improve the activation of your abs with the extended start position of this plank variation.
How to do it: Lie face down with your upper body propped up on your elbows, hands in fists and toes tucked under. Lift your hips and thighs off the floor. Take a deep breath in and lower your hips just a few inches away from the ground (without touching down), arching through the lower back. Exhale, bracing your abs in tight (imagine trying to touch your belly button all the way to your spine) and lift your hips up in line with your shoulders. Hold for one count then lower to just above the floor. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.
Target: Realign your neck and spine to prevent tension or pain. It’s also a helpful exercise to do during the day if you catch yourself slouching over a computer or while texting on your phone.
How to do it: Stand comfortably and pull chin back (as if trying to create a double chin) and then release. (Don’t push your chin forward again. It will return to neutral naturally.) Repeat 15 times in total.
Cool Down: Standing-Back Extensions
To finish the workout, repeat one more set of standing back extensions. Place your hands on the back of your hips (in the small of the back) and keep your knees straight as you bend back. Do up to six repetitions, trying to extend slightly farther back each time.
All photos by Vanessa Rogers Photography at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach