Before we start this type of training I should tell you that it is not going to give you super powers and it will involve no flying. (You’re a bit disappointed, aren’t you?) You will see from the pictures why it picked up the name ‘Superman’, though admittedly it is a very loose connection.
Why exercise the muscles?
After the 5 previous posts on the subject of stretching for a healthier back, you will already be starting to lengthen all the appropriate muscles. When you lengthen your muscles you are making them longer than they used to be. The benefits of this are that they put a lot less pressure on the bones they connect to. The downside is that at their new length they are much weaker as they are not use to working within this new range of movement, and the co-ordination is just not there. This is why we now need to train these muscles to get them strong and functional at their new improved lengths.
What is the “Prone Superman” good for?
The prone superman works directly on your lower back on the erector spinae (the small muscles that run along either side of your spine). It also works on your shoulders and glutes (buttock muscles).
The following pointers will help you get the most from all your training, but especially the exercises in this series:
1. Slow movements require the muscles to work for longer and this is what we are looking for. It also makes it safer, as fast movements can put too much stress on the muscles.
2. Each movement should take a total of 3 to 5 seconds from start to finish. The smaller the movement the less time it takes, but always keep it slow and controlled.
3. As with the stretching, remember to breathe, as holding the breath can put excess stress on the heart. Breath out on the contraction of the muscles and in on the relaxation of the muscle. (There are arguments for different styles of breathing but in my book the most important thing is that you are breathing and it’s nicely slow and controlled).
4. Always use a mirror where possible; this is not for vanity reasons but it is so important that you get the technique absolutely correct. Incorrect technique is no use to anyone however many repetitions you can do.
5. Don’t do these exercises just before bed as it can wake you up, which is not what you want just before sleep. Instead do them in the morning and if you can, through the day.
6. These exercises are not a cure for bad backs but more of a preventative routine. They have been known to aid people with bad backs who do have muscular problems, however, if you do have a bad back it may not be just muscular. It is always best to get it checked out with your doctor first to dismiss other possible causes and make sure that the exercise routine is suitable for you.
7. When doing the exercises and stretches one after the other you should always do the stretches after the exercise.
For this exercise you will, of course, need yourself and a stretch mat or some comfortable flooring.
To start this exercise off you will need to lie on your front, arms out in front of your head and legs straight out behind you (as in the diagram). The movement requires you to raise alternate leg to arm. So when you raise your right leg you raise your left arm. Then when you raise your left leg you raise your right arm.
When raising your leg do so from your buttock and not your knee and raise it straight up without the foot rotating out and without the knee bending. (The mirror is good to check this bit). With your arm, raise it from the shoulder joint and not the elbow and raise it straight without bending at the elbow.
Raise the alternate arm and leg at the same time and hold at the top of their range of movement for 1 second and then slowly lower. Now use the opposite arm and leg and do the same. Repeat this movement until you have completed 20 slow and correct movements on each side: a total of 40.