Pilates exercises for your back work your spinal extensors to strengthen weak muscles and release muscle tension, which helps promote good posture. These simple upper-back exercises are performed lying on your stomach on an exercise mat. Even though your back is the focus, it's important to keep your abdominal muscles pulled in to avoid putting stress on your lower back. If you feel pressure in your lower back, you've probably let your abdominals loosen. Follow the instructions below, or see the accompanying video for a visual demonstration.
One of the Pilates exercises for your back is called Slow Swimming, which is performed on your stomach, with your arms stretched over your head in a narrow "X" position and your legs about hip-distance apart.
- Lift your head a few inches off the mat, but keep your chin tucked in to elongate the neck.
- Remembering to keep your abdominals pulled in, lift your left arm and right leg simultaneously, each about two inches off the floor and hold for just a moment before lowering them back down.
- Alternate this movement with the right arm and left leg, exhaling on the lift and inhaling as you return to the floor.
While Slow Swimming primarily works your upper back muscles, you should also feel it in your glutes and hamstrings. Repeat this exercise several times then rest.
The Breast Stroke, another of the essential Pilates exercises for your back, focuses solely on the upper back.
- Start by lying on your stomach and reaching your hands back toward your hips and resting them at your sides, with your palms turned in toward your body.
- Bring your legs together and turn them slightly out. Slide your palms down your hips as you slowly lift your upper body off the mat, opening up your chest.
- Exhale as you lift up and inhale on the way down, keeping your neck aligned and your glutes engaged.
- Practice this movement a few times before adding the arms. For the full Breast Stroke, bring your hands up by your shoulders, with your elbows bent and your palms on the floor.
- As you exhale, reach your hands up over your head (like a dive), and circle them back around, stretching your hands back toward your toes and lifting through the chest on the inhale. Keep your toes pressed onto the floor throughout; repeat.
After working your upper back muscles with these Pilates exercises, you'll want to give your back a good stretch. Sit on your heels with your knees slightly apart and let your upper body relax forward, resting your arms and forehead on the floor in front of you. This is called the Shell Stretch and it's great for releasing back tension created by the previous extension exercises.
When performed daily, this simple set of basic Pilates exercises, followed by a back stretch, can strengthen your back muscles and make a visible difference in your posture.