By Scott Danberg, MS, Director of Fitness at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa
Many of the people I coach at Pritikin are surprised to learn that there are many functional exercises that can be performed just about anywhere, and these exercises can greatly strengthen our back muscles.
When we use the word "functional" in the fitness world, we’re referring to exercise that works all three primary planes of body movement. When we exercise in all three planes, we get major improvements in balance, coordination, and agility. Functional exercise not only improves our overall movement, it helps prevent falls and injuries.
Too often at the gym, the traditional exercise machines we’re using emphasize just one primary plane of movement: forward-to-back. The other two primary planes, side-to-side and rotational motion, get short-changed. The chess press, for example, is just front-to-back. So are leg curls.
By no means am I telling you to disregard your gym machine workout. I simply want to stress that it’s important to complement the popular front-to-back machine exercises with side-to-side and rotational exercises.
Take a look at the three functional exercises below. They can strengthen your back and prevent back injury. What’s more, they can be done anywhere that you have a few feet of floor (or grass) to stretch out on.
Best of all, you will be surprised at the serious results these three simple movements can produce.
Functional front-to-back plane exercise:
Single Arm/Leg Back Extension
- Lie down on your stomach.
- Simultaneously, raise the left leg while raising the right arm. Meanwhile, keep your head down to prevent straining of your neck.
- Repeat this exercise for 1 to 3 sets, 10 to 15 repetitions per set. The amount of repetitions should be based on feeling the "good burn" of the exercise while maintaining good form. You should feel the muscle contraction, or "burn," diagonally along the full back.
- Repeat the motion but with the opposite sides: Right leg with left arm.
Functional front-to-back and rotational plane exercise:
Rotational Band Row
- Begin by stepping on one end of a medium-weight resist-a-band with the right foot and wrapping the other end of the band around the left hand. Maintain a straight back while slightly bent at the waist.
- Simultaneously, lift the left hand in a rowing motion, as if you’re rowing a boat, while rotating at the waist to the left.
- Repeat this exercise for 1 to 3 sets, 10 to 15 repetitions per set. The amount of repetitions should be based on feeling the "good burn" of the exercise while maintaining good form. You should feel the muscle contraction, or "burn," in the mid-back and waist.
- Repeat the motion but with the opposite sides: Step on band with left foot, and complete your rowing motion with right arm while rotating at waist to the right side.
Functional side-to-side plane exercise:
Band Pull-Down with Side Bend
- Begin by holding a medium-weight resist-a-band in both hands, overhead, and arms wider than shoulder width apart. Maintain good upright posture.
- Keeping the left arm overhead and motionless, simultaneously pull the band down along the right side of the body with the right arm while bending at the waist to the right side.
- Repeat this exercise for 1 to 3 sets, 10 to 15 repetitions per set. The amount of repetitions should be based on feeling the "good burn" of the exercise while maintaining good form. You should feel the muscle contractions, or "burn," primarily in the mid-back and waist.
- Repeat the motion but with the opposite sides: Right arm remaining overhead and motionless while simultaneously pulling the left arm down and bending to the left side.
Knee, shoulder, or back pain? Old injury bothering you?
If you are planning a visit to the Pritikin Longevity Center, and you have pain, particularly pain that gets in the way of your ability to exercise, consider talking to your sales coordinator about signing you up for a Biomechanical and Musculoskeletal Evaluation upon your arrival.
The Biomechanical and Musculoskeletal Evaluation is conducted by Frank Musumeci, a biomechanical consultant for 25 years as well as certified personal trainer and senior strength training specialist. Frank has helped many guests at Pritikin get past pain so that they can get back on the road to fitness and great health.
"Pritikin is the first wellness center in the U.S. to incorporate preventive orthopedic care with preventive cardiovascular care, and the results are amazing," says Frank. "Just think about it. You can have a superb nutrition plan and all the motivation in the world to exercise daily, but how do you sustain cardio exercise if you have orthopedic discomforts limiting you?"
The Biomechanical and Musculoskeletal Evaluation is a thorough assessment of posture, alignment, gait, muscle strength, range of motion, flexibility, and any pain or discomfort you feel in your daily activities, plus a customized exercise program for cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, and flexibility based on your unique needs.
Your evaluation will help you:
- Address chronic discomfort/pain with therapeutic exercise
- Decrease the stress on your body
- Improve functional strength
- Develop postural control
- Enhance the appearance of your muscles
- Build a stronger back
- Slow any degenerative process in your joints and muscles
- Reach your fitness goals without injury and pain
Frank Musumeci also lectures at Pritikin on the role of exercise in managing and preventing back, shoulder, and neck pain. He sums up his work at Pritikin as "the perfect fusion of orthopedics and fitness."