Last time we introduced a back extension exercise here (consider it – Part 1). Certain individuals might find that exercise challenging if they are out of shape and haven’t done any back exercises previously. Since we also want to demonstrate even more challenging exercises that will work on strengthening your back muscles, bringing relief from pain and improving your posture, we decided to first start with a more basic exercise, so that you can progressively work your way up to more complex positions and movements. So if you found our previous back extension challenging, try and perfect this basic exercise first before tackling the more difficult ones coming later. If you have experience doing the Cat-cow pose which we’ll introduce today, you can just proceed here. Beginners stay put, as here is where we start our journey.
Our aim with these planned series of back straightening exercises is to give you with an exercise program, which when practiced regularly, will help you get rid of round back and discomfort in the spine and give you an optimal posture. Office workers and anybody who tends to sit a lot will find these exercises very helpful in alleviating problems and symptoms associated with prolonged sitting. If you are diagnosed with a spinal or back injury, consult with your doctor if this exercise is suitable for you.
The series so far:
- Exercise #1: Cat-Cow (you are here)
- Exercise #2: Back Extension
- Exercise #3: Back Stretching
- Exercise #4: Heel Kick
- Exercise #5: Double Impact
- Exercise #6: Swimming
- Exercise #7: Stomach Rolls
- Exercise #8: Diving Swan
Please make sure to start from the 1st exercise and only after perfecting it work your way up to the more demanding ones to ensure a gradual progression and avoiding any injuries. For example, if you are out of shape and just starting out, it may take several weeks before you’ll feel comfortable of advancing to a follow-up exercise. After you go through the entire program, you’ll find your favorites and the ones that benefit you the most. Remember not to push yourself too hard, a smart stretch must be controlled, gentle and continuous. Since you are taking the joint to a point close to its limits, a certain amount of discomfort is normal, but when this discomfort becomes pain, you may have exceeded your limit, and may be getting dangerously close to an injury. Stay concentrated at all times and observe how your body is reacting to the exercise. Good luck!
Cat-cow pose is a great and balanced exercise for the back, and being both a stretch (cat) and an extension (cow), we think it’s a good place to start our series. The Cat-cow pose develops flexibility in the spine and is one of the exercises often recommended for back pain. Furthermore, it tones and stretches the abdominal muscles as well.
Cat-cow is really a combination of two poses, cat and cow. It is one of the exercises that both Pilates and yoga share and is often done as a warm up exercise. We will use it as a preparatory stage, during which you’ll develop the basis and the skills needed to perform more complex exercises later in our back & spine series.
Initial position. Start with your hands and knees on the exercise mat. Your knees should be directly below your hips and your palms under the shoulders. Keep your pelvis and spine in a neutral (straight) position, by engaging your abdominal muscles to support your spine.
- Pull your abdominal muscles in as you arch your back up like a stretching cat and simultaneously let your head and tailbone drop down toward the floor;
- Return to the initial position;
- Extend the upper part of the spine upwards, supporting it with your abdominal muscles. In the beginning, at this point you can return to the starting position. Later on, as you advance in the exercise, supplement it by moving your tailbone and hips up as well. Make sure your neck is a long extension of your spine and don’t let the head fall back;
- Return to starting position. Repeat 5 times.
Make Sure You
- Gently pull your abdominal muscles in toward the spine and rib cage to keep the pelvis and spine neutral;
- In the Cat pose, pull your stomach in, in order to bend the spine. At the same time slightly lower the tailbone and pelvis by contracting the muscles of the hip and abdomen;
- After the Cat pose, gradually return to the initial position, utilizing the abdominal muscles;
- In the Cow pose, use the spine extensor muscles, trying to pull the head and upper torso up and forward as high as possible, simultaneously working the arm extensor muscles to bend slightly your back and lift your upper body.
The benefit of this exercise is not only in strengthening the back extensor muscles, but also in improving the coordination between the muscles of the back and the abdomen. The utilization of the abdominal muscles (which requires a lot of effort) you’ll pick up here will be of particular importance for the protection of the lumbar spine in the more complex exercises following in the series. The movement of the spine during Cat pose allows you to practice spinal flexion using the abdominal muscles. This creates the conditions for dynamic stretching of the muscles, straightening your back and improving your posture, and brings you in position to add some variety in your exercises, especially those dedicated to spinal extension (as is the next one).
The next part of the program is this back extension.