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Written by July 11, 2011

Gina Cortese-Shipley, MS

Associate Director of Education
The Cooper Institute

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back
exercise
injury
sitting
strength
Don’t forget about your back

Are you exercising your back enough? Chances are, you’re not! Fitting exercise in is a challenge for many of us and when we do, we tend to focus on the muscles that we can see which are on the front of the body—or what I like to call the “mirror muscles”. But this can cause our body to be imbalanced which can lead to poor posture and even musculoskeletal issues, particularly in the back. Coupled with the large amount of time many of us spend sitting at the computer or driving in the car, the likelihood of having back problems increases. As a matter of fact, back pain is quite common in our society. Eight out of ten people will experience back pain at some point in their life.1 It is the second most common neurological aliment in the United States (only headache is more common), costing Americans at least $50 billion each year.2 Exercising this region of the body is not only a way to treat low back pain; it is also a way to prevent it from occurring. And having a stronger back will also allow you to carry out many activities with greater ease. There are many ways to work this part of the body. Described below is one such example. One of the great things about this exercise is that it doesn’t require any equipment and really can be done anywhere—at home, at the gym, even at work!

Alternating Arm and Leg Raise

Starting Position: Kneel on the floor placing your knees shoulder-width apart. Lean forward bending from your waist and place your hands on the floor creating a “table” position so that your legs and arms create a 90 degree angle with your torso. Your arms will come straight down from your shoulders and your fingers will be pointing forward. Your head and torso are in a neutral position.

Action: Pull your belly button toward your spine and raise one arm and the opposite leg until they are parallel to the floor. They will be extended straight out with only a slight bend in your elbow and knee. Hold until your muscles fatigue and you can no longer hold this position.

Finish Position: Lower your arm and leg back to the table position. Repeat with your other arm and leg extended.

Tips: Keep your hips square to the floor. There is a tendency to raise the hip of your leg that is extended.  Do not drop your head or arch your lower back. Keep them in a neutral position. You can place extra cushioning such as a towel under your knees for added comfort. Be careful not to raise your leg above parallel. As an easier option, only raise your arm and leg slightly off the floor.

For an interesting twist on this exercise, try out this variation. You will need a BOSU which is a piece of equipment that has a hard flat surface on one side and an air filled, rubberized dome on the other. If a BOSU is not available, a balance disc would have a similar effect. Keep in mind that this variation is a little more challenging so be sure to “master” the floor version first.

Alternating Arm and Leg Raise with BOSU

Starting Position: Kneel on the BOSU placing your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your elbows. This will be similar to the position in the previously described exercise except your knee will be on the BOSU versus on the floor.

Action: Pull your belly button toward your spine and raise one leg so that it is parallel to the floor. At the same time, raise the opposite arm until it is parallel to the floor. Hold until your muscles fatigue and you can no longer hold this position.

Finish Position: Lower your arm and leg back to the table position. Repeat with your other arm and leg extended.

Tips: The tips are the same as the floor version of this exercise. Also, the toes of the bottom foot can touch the floor for added support if needed.

Try adding these exercises to your routine and let us know if it makes a difference in how you function in your everyday life! What other exercises do you like doing for your back?

1NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (June 2011). “Back pain.” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/backpain.html#cat57. Retrieved June 30, 2011.

2NIH: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (June 20011). “Low back pain fact sheet.” http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm. Retrieved June 30, 2011.

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