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a woman holds bridge pose with a weight held overhead

Regular movement is key for spinal health, but prioritizing specific exercises can help ensure that you do the right types of movement. “The best form of exercise is body-weight control and strength,” ­Eric Goodman, DC, says. “You can move into any other movement or resistance you’d like once you master your own body weight to the best of your ability first.”

He suggests the following exercises to help you control your body so you keep your spine aligned in any range of motion. You can take what you learn from these exercises to make your strength training and cardio workouts safer and more effective.

“If you’re not doing the act of alignment first, you’re likely going to [have to] correct injuries at some point,” he explains. “If you do that alignment from the get-go, you’ll be in a preventive place the entire time you’re getting stronger.”

For all the exercises, practice what Goodman calls “decompression breathing”: With each inhale, breathe deeply into your rib cage to actively lift and widen it in all directions. Visualize your vertebrae extending away from each other as you lengthen your spine. With each exhale, aim to maintain this feeling of vertebral separation.

Consult a physical therapist about targeted treatment if you have moderate back pain that doesn’t improve after two weeks. If you have already been diagnosed with an underlying spine condition, continue working with your healthcare provider before attempting these exercises.

Similarly, if back pain prevents walking or causes pain at night, see a medical professional before doing these exercises.

Lunge Decompression

illio lunge decompression
  • Begin in a split stance with your legs stride length apart (or slightly farther).
  • Point both feet forward and lift your back heel a few inches off the floor.
  • Distribute your weight evenly between your front and back leg and pull your front heel and back toes toward each other.
  • Expand your ribcage; think about elevating your ribs away from your hips.
  • Engage your abdomen.
  • Pull your chin back, breathe your chest up, and lengthen the back of your neck.
  • Scoop your arms overhead, keeping them in front of your ears.
  • Keep your weight evenly distributed between your front and back legs.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Hip Hugger to Platter Hands

illio hugger to platter

Hip hugger:

  • Stand tall and let your arms hang at your sides, palms facing forward.
  • Press the pinkie side of each hand against the sides of your thighs.
  • Keeping your hands pressed against your thighs, pull your elbows back. Spread your hands and rotate the thumbs back.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.

Platter hands:

  • From hip hugger, bend your elbows to 90 degrees so your forearms touch your sides.
  • Extend your forearms forward so the sides of your hands come together in front of your chest, palms open and thumbs pulling away from one another.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds, or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.

Supine Decompression

illio supine decompression
  • Lie on your back with your legs long, big toes touching, and heels slightly apart.
  • Flex your feet so your toes point up, and squeeze your inner thighs together.
  • Expand your ribcage; think about elevating your ribs away from your hips.
  • Engage your abdomen.
  • Scoop your arms overhead and back, keeping your arms in front of your ears.
  • Expand the back of your ribcage by reaching it toward the floor and away from your hips.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.

Internal Leg Trace

illio internal leg trace
  • Lie on your back with your legs long, big toes touching, and heels slightly apart.
  • Flex your feet so your toes point up, and squeeze your inner thighs together.
  • Place one heel on top of your opposite ankle and rotate your top hip to bring your knee and toes across the midline of your body.
  • Keep your pelvis stable.
  • Trace the top heel up your bottom leg, stopping just below or just above your kneecap.
  • Bring the inside of your hand to meet the inside of your top leg.
  • Press into your top leg, applying roughly five to 10 pounds of pressure.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Kneeling Founder

illio kneeling founder
  • Kneel on the ground with knees hip width apart and feet slightly wider.
  • Flex your feet so your toes press into the floor.
  • Hinge your hips back, keeping your weight over your knees, chin back, and chest up.
  • Scoop your arms in front of your chest, fingertips touching. Try to push your hips even farther back.
  • With your fingertips still touching, lift your arms overhead.
  • Keep your arms in front of your ears, your chest lifted, and your chin back.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.

Anchored Back Extension

illio anchored back extension
  • Lie on your stomach with your legs long.
  • Flex your feet so your toes press into the floor. Bring your big toes together, heels slightly apart.
  • Bend your elbows into your sides and let your palms rest on the floor beside your head.
  • Keeping your neck neutral, lift your head a few inches off the floor.
  • Rotate your thighs inward.
  • Lift hands, wrists, and elbows off the floor.
  • Inhale and expand your ribcage. Aim to elevate your ribcage away from your hips.
  • Continue to engage your abdomen on the exhale to maintain body length and elevation.
  • Hold the pose for 45 to 60 seconds or approximately five to 10 deep breaths.

This was excerpted from “Back On Track” which was published in the January/February 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Illustrations by: Kveta
Lauren
Lauren Bedosky

Lauren Bedosky is a Twin Cities–based health-and-fitness writer.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. These are a very interesting fusion of yoga and Pilates. I hope you’ll You Tube them individually or as a series. Your spine is the core of your core and I have been told: “You are only as old as your spine.” As I have developed various spinal issues over my seventy years I can attest to the truth of that statement! Thanks for sharing this. Jim

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