Friday, August 3, 2012

Back Workout

I've been working as a part time teacher at a local tutoring center for the past few weeks.  I enjoy the work very much and, like the students who go there, it keeps me fresh for the upcoming school year.  I've been working mornings since that is when I am at my best, plus I like having the rest of the day to myself.  However, I've really missed being able to sit on my laptop with a cup of tea and be productive in the mornings.  This morning, I woke up early and dressed for work, only to receive a call that my student had called out and they didn't need me to come in.  I was already awake, caffeinated, and dressed, so I decided to take charge of my morning and actually get some work done!

I always loved waking up early(ish) because it makes it seem like the possibilities for the day are endless.  Like, I actually have time to watch the Olympics.  I've been staying up way too late to watch the coverage (why don't they air it earlier?  It happened 6 hours beforehand!!), but this morning is the first chance I've had to plop myself on the couch with my laptop and keep the Olympics running in the background while I get some work done.  The track prelims are happening right now, and lot of these women are from countries I've never heard of, advocating for other women in their country to gain equal rights.  Plus, the sportscasters keep commenting on how this is the first year in which every country participating in the Olympics has sent a woman.  Pretty inspiring.  Especially when these women are running 100M in the time it takes me to run 50M.  I always get so antsy to work out with the Olympics on - all I want to do is run at the track and swim in the pool.  So in the spirit of the Olympics, I thought I would post a workout!

There are a myriad of reasons as to why it is important to have a strong back.  Having good posture not only makes you walk like a supermodel, but it helps prevent injury to your lower back as well.  Plus, many of these exercises will increase your overall core strength, which is incredibly important when it comes to running, climbing, swimming, and, well, any sport really.  To note, I don't like to assume that everyone who reads my blog knows exactly what I'm talking about when I say "lat pull downs" or "hyperextensions," therefore, this post became a little lengthy with all of my explanations.  I also provide adaptations for each exercise so that people of any athletic ability can find a challenge in this workout.  Remember, if you've been experiencing back pain, make sure you speak to a doctor before attempting any of these workouts.

planks - targets arms, shoulders, and back/core
Get into a push up position, but instead of putting your weight on your hands, put it on your forearms.  Keep your core tight and your spine straight; you don't want your belly to be sagging or your butt to be sticking up in the air.  If you've never done planks before, start by holding the position for 30 seconds.

- hold position for longer.
- side plank - rest on one arm and one foot
- go into regular push up position for an extra arm workout

supermans - targets lower back/core
Lie on your stomach with your arms in front of you.  Lift your chest off the floor as high as you can and hold the position for a second.  Do not let your arms touch the floor.  Lower yourself back down.  Start with 10 if you've never done them before and then add on reps as they become easier and you can raise your chest higher off of the ground.

kick backs - targets lower back/glutes
Make a "table" with your body by getting on your hands and knees.  Use slow, controlled movements to kick one leg out behind you, straightening it as you kick back.  Lower your leg so you're back in the table position.  Repeat 10 times on each side if you've never done this before.

- strap on an ankle weight
- use an inflatable disc.  I like to challenge myself this way because I'm kicking back with one leg while trying to keep my balance with the other.  Plus, when you're balancing on the disc, the leg you're kicking back with can't touch the ground, so you're creating a more difficult workout since you're removing the rest periods as you lower your leg back down.  To use the disc, place your weight over your knee right in the center of the disc (this will take some adjusting) and proceed with the workout.  A rolled up towel or yoga mat can have a similar effect if doing this workout at home.  

If you're at the gym: 

hyperextensions on ab machines - targets lower back
Google Images
You probably have walked by this machine dozens of time without knowing its true purpose.  It looks like a very odd machine, but it can provide a fantastic workout for your back.  To use the machine, place your feet against the platform and make sure the pads are resting right under your hip bones, against the top of your thighs.  You want to be able to bend over at the waist without the pads pushing into your stomach.  Bend forward at the waist and keep your back straight!  Pull yourself back up, still keeping your back straight.  To increase the difficulty, do more reps or hold a weight against your chest (like the disc-shaped weights that go on barbells).

lat pull downs - targets shoulders/back
Google Images
I love these next two exercises because they target so many muscles in your back.  However, you're going to need one of these machines.  Set the weight to about 10lbs if you've never used this machine before.  Even if the weight seems a little light, you want to make sure you have the motion/form perfect before you begin to add on weight in order to prevent injury.  Grab the bars and pull them down so you're sitting.  Tuck your legs under the foam cylinders in order to keep yourself from rising up in the seat.  Pull the bar down until it is at your chest, and then let the bar raise up using a slow controlled movement until you are just before the point of your elbows locking.  This is one rep.  Increase the reps (I do three sets of 8) or the weight in order to increase difficulty.

 rows - targets shoulders/biceps
Google Images
Similarly, you're going to need this machine if you're to do seated cable rows.  If you have free weights, I outlined how to do rows with them in this post here.  The cable rows, however, provide for more controlled movements, and you can usually tack on more weight using this machine rather than if you use the free weights alone.  Sit on the bench with your feet against the pads.  Grab the pulleys and scoot back on the bench while holding onto the pulleys until your legs are almost straight.  Keeping your back straight and your core tight, pull the pulleys back until your hands are at your sides, and then extend until just before your elbows lock.  That was 1 rep.  It's incredibly important for you to keep your back straight and your core tight, slouching can cause injury.

And there you have it!  I hope you hit the gym or just find a spot on your living room floor to work on your back/core strength.  P.S. Like that tank I was wearing?  It used to be a super baggy T-shirt!  I'll be demonstrating how I did this next week :)

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