Scott Laidler’s Top 5 Back Strengthening Exercises

by Scott Laidler

As society becomes increasingly reliant on technology, many people are leading sedentary lifestyles and spending more hours sitting hunched over laptops than they do moving. Moreover, as great as technology is, the provision of instant remote communication has reduced the need to get out of the office and walk to meetings, and has even increased working hours, meaning that people often struggle to make it to the gym and contributing to the dramatic increase in the number of reported spinal and musculature-related health problems. 

‘Sitting at desks and leaning over laptops for hours on end are well-known causes of back, neck and shoulder pain’ says Harley Street Spinal Surgeon, Dr. Martin Knight. ‘People are spending hours sitting hunched over and increasingly less time moving around. This means that many important muscle groups are not being sufficiently exercised and consequently associated symptoms such as deteriorated back strength; poor posture; musculature problems; internal organ movement; poor blood circulation; and poor lymphatic function are becoming common problems, when, in reality, they needn’t be’

‘To put it into perspective, when you travel by plane you are advised to exercise during the flight to encourage blood circulation and to avoid incurring Deep Vein Thrombosis – something that can be caused by sitting in the same position for long periods of time. If this is the case for one plane journey, it is easy to see why it is important to practice similar exercises in the office, as this is the place where you put your body at risk daily.’

Here are my top 5 back strengthening exercises to help improve posture and protect against back pain.

1. Superman

Why? One of the best exercises to strengthen your upper and lower back muscles at the same time, as well as glutes and hamstring muscles.

How to: 

  • Lie face down on a mat, arms outstretched above your head and feet hip-width apart.
  • Simultaneously raise your arms, legs, and chest off of the floor, lengthening the spine.
  • Pause, exhaling while holding the contraction.
  • Lower and repeat. 
  • Perform 3 sets of 8 reps.

2. Glute Bridge

Why? Glutes are an all too often neglected body part. This simple bodyweight exercise will help you activate them, making your body work the way it was designed to and relieving a lot of pressure from your lower back.

How to: 

  • Lay flat on a mat with the soles of your feet resting on the floor.
  • Raise your glutes off the floor by driving through your heels.
  • Continue the movement until your lower and middle back are also raised, extending your hips vertically towards the ceiling. 
  • Use your upper back and your heels to support your weight.
  • Pause, then lower back to the start position in reverse movement.
  • Repeat
  • Perform 6 sets of 20sec holds.

3. Kettlebell Swing

Why? A classic exercise for all over posterior strength and muscular endurance. Essential for maintaining good posture and allowing your back to comfortably carry weight. 

How to: 

  • Stand over the kettlebell. It should be central and in-line with your feet. Your feet should be hip-width apart, chest up, and shoulders back and down. 
  • Squatting down, lift the kettlebell with palms facing towards you. Keep your arms long and loose. Hold your core.
  • Drive the movement through your heels, exploding through your hips to send the weight swinging upwards to chest height. (Remember: Keep your arms extended, while engaging your glutes.)
  • Swing back to the neutral beginning position.
  • Repeat.
  • Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.

4. Single Leg Deadlift with Dumbbell
Why? To complete this exercise the torso, hip and pelvis must remain stable, thus strengthening the core and back muscles to resist the rotational forces put on the body.

How to:

  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand, allowing it to hang at arms-length in front of your thigh. 
  • Lift the opposite leg several inches off the floor behind you. 
  • Keeping your core strong, slowly hinge at the hips and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. 
  • The dumbbell should travel down towards the floor as the lifted leg stretches out behind. (Remember: Always keep your toes pointed down towards the floor.) 
    (Tip: If you need to, hold the other arm out to the side for balance.) 
    Return to starting position. Repeat.
    Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.

Too easy? Use 2 dumbbells

5. McKenzie Press-Up

Why? McKenzie’s method of exercise is used worldwide as treatment for back pain and back related problems. This exercise helps strengthen the back as well as increasing the range of flexibility.

How to:  

  • Lay face down on a mat, hands placed under your shoulders and feet hip-width apart.
  • Begin the movement by raising your chest off the floor and straightening your elbows.
  • When at maximum movement, pause, lengthen your spine and breath out to see if you can achieve more.
  • Throughout the movement, ensure that your hips remain on the floor and your legs relax into the ground.
  • Slowly return to beginning position. Repeat. 
  • Perform 10 reps.

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