Children are the enemies of your back. They’re worse than yard work. Well beyond the obvious kid carrying (an exercise which the fitness world would immediately reject on the grounds that it provides too much unsupported exertion in one direction), you perform calisthenics to tie their shoes, lift them or lean over them to get them into and out of bed, and frankly, even once they are in their middle years, they are shorter than adults, though still need a fair bit of hands-on maintenance which equals all kinds of bending, stooping, and leaning.
But I am sure you have heard that back health is critically important. It is, and can make the difference between mobility and immobility. Which can make the difference between feeling young and feeling old. Unfortunately, in day to day life, your back, itself, gets very little exercise. The front of your body enjoys it’s share of interesting activities every day. You pick things up with your arms and pectorals (chest) and trapezius (upper shoulder near the neck), you type or write (a fine finger workout), you open and close doors (arms again, and a little deltoid (shoulder)), you walk around, (mostly quadriceps, some limited glutes). Not a lot going on with what’s behind you.
So let’s cut to the chase and offer three leveled back exercises, one for beginners, one is intermediate, one is advanced. No harm in doing them all. Start with the easiest, and puh-lese be sure to engage your abs (feels like sucking in your lower stomach, or pressing your navel towards your spine) and relax your shoulders away from your ears and down your back while you do them. I always like to start by rolling my shoulders to the front (stoop shouldered), up (towards your ears), and then down the back and locking them into that place there throughout the exercise.
Beginner Exercise: Lying face down on the floor, arms outstretched in front of you (if you are very tight in the shoulders, this alone may be challenging. Feel free to separate arms apart as much as you may need to). You now look like Superman(woman) flying. Now (this next part is a little subtle) s-t-r-e-t-c-h your feet as far away from your hands as you can, elongating your spine. From this position raise your right arm and head approximately 4 inches off the floor, while raising your left leg (knee straight) 4 inches off the floor as well (opposite arm and leg), focus your gaze on a point on the floor directly in front of you. Hold for a count of 5. Lower arm and leg. Good. Now lift your left arm and right leg off the ground and hold for count of 5, keeping back elongated. Excellent. Now do this ten times. Aaahhh.
Intermediate Exercise: Lying face down on the floor with arms and legs outstretched (same as the BEGINNER EXERCISE), raise your right arm, head (focusing your gaze on the floor as in the beginner exercise), and left leg 5 inches off the floor. Now (here’s what makes this one intermediate) still keeping the R arm and L leg (and head) off the floor, bring up your left arm and right leg approximately 5 inches off the floor as well. You are now (sort of) balancing on your stomach with all four limbs, and your head off the floor (be sure to keep your shoulders away from your ears-and keep breathing). Now, raise your right leg and left arm slightly higher, then return them to their starting position (never touching the floor) and bring your left leg and right arm a little higher. You are now alternating the height of the opposite arm and leg in a swimming motion. Flutter your arms and legs in this way for a count of 5 and repeat 10 times.
Advanced: Now this last one is challenging in a few ways…and is best done with a ball or off the side of the bed. What we are going to do is a reverse sit up and that requires a prop of some kind so that we can get an adequate range of motion. Let’s describe the ball version because it is a little more complicated. Leaning face down over with the ball at your stomach with your legs outstretched behind you and your toes flexed onto the floor try to support your torso with just your legs in this position. This alone is challenging.
Once you have gotten into a relatively stable position, bend your arms at the elbows and place your hands in front of your forehead, now allow your torso to lower towards the floor (you are a ‘v’ over the ball), and then, with your stomach engaged, raise your torso (feet stay on the ground to support you) back up to parallel to the ground (gaze is on the floor). Lower. Repeat this motion 10 times, or more if you like it, and you feel comfortable. Breathe. Shoulders away from your ears.
For a truly healthy back you should also include at least one abdominal exercise in your routine. Flat abs are cute but more importantly those important muscles give your back the support it requires. A handful of crunches is all you need for a great abdominal workout (if you don’t know how to do a crunch follow this link from The Mayo Clinic for a video on how). It may be awhile before your kids are taller or more willing to get out of bed themselves, so support your back now so that you can walk proudly into an active future once they do!
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