Preventative care for your body can be focused anywhere from the immune system to your skin. What you might not realize is that preventative care is necessary for the musculoskeletal system, too. It's not all about gains and toning — exercise is about overall health and functionality. One of the biggest issues women deal with is back pain. There are so many causes of back discomfort, like posture, too much sitting, pregnancy, a weak core, ill-fitting shoes (ditch those heels!) and more. Before it gets to the point where you're horizontal on the couch for a few days, frantically Googling chiropractors and back doctors, incorporate some super basic back exercises into your day. Starting right now.
Renowned spine surgeon, Hooman Melamed, MD, suggests getting your heart rate up to a steady, aerobic level first and pairing that with some stretches for a solid 15-minute workout. Hold the stretches for about 30 seconds. If you're dealing with back pain already, use machines at the gym — they're easier on the joints and you have more control over the movement. Finally, find a Pilates class (try a mat class or click here to get familiar with the reformer). These classes will put an "emphasis on core and trunk muscles and neuromuscular feedback to protect your back, hips, knees and ankles," Dr. Melamed explained.
Certified personal trainer and back strengthening expert, Chandler Stevens, agrees with the cardio warmup. Then, if you're up for it (and doc approves), it's time to deadlift.
"Although it can be a bit controversial, when performed properly the deadlift is perhaps the most powerful rehabilitative movement there is for back pain," Stevens said. "It strengthens all of the stabilizing muscles of the midsection, keeping you from re-injuring your back, and it sends a powerful message to the nervous system that you can control your torso (the nervous system is responsible for pain after all). As a perk it gives one major metabolic boost."
1. Romanian Deadlift with Free Weights: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and dumbbells against your thighs. Slide the weights down as you hinge at the hips, moving them behind the heels where you shift all of your weight. The back should be slightly arched or flat — never rounded. Stevens recommends doing five sets of five with your best form. Get more details here.
2. Bear Crawls: If you feel good with the deadlifts, Stevens recommends moving into some bear crawls for five rounds of 30-second periods (check out below). See more on the move here.
Since the body works as one unit, pulling this when you're pushing that, you've got to focus on the abdominals — the opposing muscle group. The following three core exercises are recommended by orthopedic surgeon, Jonathan Oheb, MD:
3. Stability Ball Sit-Ups: Sit down on the ball and roll your back onto it as you walk the feet forward. Keeping both feet entirely on the ground, stretch your back over the ball and rest your fingertips behind the head or at your temple. Exhale and crunch upward, pressing the spine into the ball. Respect your range of motion. See more here.
4. Bicycle Crunch: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, elbows open. You can try it like Skinny Mom founder Brooke does below, or put your feet on the floor. You can also cross one leg over the other and repetitively crunch the elbow to the opposite side, like Dr. Oheb recommends. See what it looks like on the BOSU ball here.
5. Leg Lifts: Any time you can lie on your back and focus on the lower abdominals and hip flexors, you're doing your back a huge favor. This simple single leg lift exercise can be completed on your elbows or lying on your back. Pull the navel into the spine, exhale on the lift and inhale as you lower. See more here.
Dr. Oheb emphasizes the importances of stretching the hamstrings. Every day! You don't have to touch your toes, but the forward fold is the idea. You can also stretch them from a seated position or standing up and creating flat back, resting the hands on a barre or countertop. Respect your range of motion here so you do not compromise the back even more. Read why stretching isn't the only way to prevent back pain here.
If you're at the gym, you can hop onto a machine that will work the upper back. Samantha Clayton, former Olympic athlete, personal trainer, wife and mother recommends using the seated cable machine:
6. Cable/Band Row: Pull the cable or band into your chest just at the bra line. Retract the shoulder blades together, keeping the chest lifted. Brace the core. Start with a lighter weight to master form, then increase to a moderate resistance for 10 to 12 reps for three to four sets.
No gym? No problem. Samantha recommends using a resistance band around a pole to achieve the same effect:
You can also try a few Skinny Mom favorites that will add to your functionality as well as tone and shape the muscles. Remember, form is key! You have to begin somewhere.
7. Superman Rows: Lie on your belly and stretch your arms out in front of you. Keep your nose to the mat. Lift the arms a few inches as well as your nose, but stay focused on the mat. Bend the elbows backward so you can feel your shoulder blades come together. Inhale and reverse the arms. Don't press your belly into the floor, and if you feel like you have to, you're lifting too high. Imagine there's a tiny grape under your belly button and you can't squish it! See more on the move here.
8. Stability Ball Reverse Fly: Belly on the ball and weights (or no weights) in your hands. Bring the weights together under your chest with a slight bend in the elbow, then exhale and open them out to the sides. You'll feel the shoulder blades come together. At the same time, don't let the lower back arch to help you lift. Go as far as you can with good form. Inhale and release. Get more out of the move here.
Depending on your back's abilities, you can incorporate dynamic stretches like the hip crossover or iron cross, which both apply a supine twist. You can also try the yoga-inspired legs on the wall pose or the crowd favorite, child's pose.
Disclaimer: The content of the Skinny Mom blog and website, including text, graphics and images, are for informational purposes only. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have. Do not disregard professional medical advice. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone.