Health

Sitting All Day Kills Your Back. These Exercises Will Help.

Published On 07/13/2016 Published On 07/13/2016
Woman doing back exercises
Oren Aks/Cole Saladino/Thrillist

If there were a support group for perpetual ass-sitters, I hate to think how many members it might have. If I had to take a rough guess, I'd say "a lot." Sadly, many jobs and daily activities come with a requisite giant chair and a corresponding invisible sign that says, "Sit your ass here. Don't worry, it'll grow into the chair."

And as disconcerting as expanding asses are, a much less-discussed negative byproduct of all that sitting is all the slouching that goes along with it. Over time, weakened back muscles and shortened hip flexors lead to poor posture and back pain. Which in turn lead to more sitting, aching, and complaining, which lead to more sitting.

Oh, the continuous cycle.

Luckily, it's possible to counteract many of the negative effects of sitting by simply… you guessed it, moving. In fact, a regular workout routine that incorporates back-strengthening exercises two to three times a week may be all you need to keep your posture straight and your back pain-free. It could help with that expanding ass, too. Choose two to three of the following exercises to incorporate into your weekly routine.

Modified pull-up or full pull-up

Pull-ups are one of the all-time greatest hits for targeting the major muscles of your back, shoulders, biceps, and core. If you can muster the strength to do a full pull-up, fantastic, have at it. But if you're not quite there yet, a modified pull-up is an excellent way to develop your lats, traps, and rhomboids.

Start by standing directly behind a sturdy bar that's positioned somewhere between navel and chest height -- Smith machines are great for this exercise because you can adjust the height of the bar and "lock" it in place. Grasp the bar, your palms facing forward, and position yourself under the bar so your arms are extended and you're "hanging" under the bar, your shoulders positioned below your palms. Step your feet forward as far as you can, your heels on the ground, so your body forms a straight, diagonal line from heels to head. From this position, tighten your back and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and pull your chest toward the bar. When your chest is within a few inches of the bar, reverse the movement and carefully lower yourself back toward the ground.

Perform two to three sets of six to 10 reps, so the last one or two repetitions of each set are difficult to complete without assistance.

Seated cable row

Yes, I'm actually suggesting you do more sitting. The seated cable row is an excellent option at the gym because it reminds you to focus on posture when you're in a seated position. Start with a light weight to master your form, then add weight so the last one to two reps of each set are difficult to perform without assistance.

Use a cable attachment that allows you to position your hands a few inches apart, your palms facing in. Sit on the bench and grasp the attachment in both hands, your arms extended roughly in line with your navel. Place your feet on the foot supports, your knees bent, then press through your heels, extending your knees slightly (though not all the way) to push your glutes back farther on the bench.

From this position, engage your core and sit up tall before leaning back slightly, pulling your shoulders back and retracting your shoulder blades -- make sure you don't round your shoulders or hunch your back. Keeping this posture throughout the exercise, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the cable attachment straight back toward your navel as you bend your elbows, pulling them to your sides. Hold for a second before reversing the movement and extending your arms. Don't lean your chest forward as you extend your arms; your torso remains fixed throughout.

Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

Renegade row

The renegade row combines a dumbbell row with a high plank, ultimately improving core strength and posture as you isolate each side of your back unilaterally. Start with a lightweight set of dumbbells, and once you've mastered the exercise, increase the weight.  

Start in a high push-up position on a mat -- your legs spread wider than usual for support -- as you grip a dumbbell in each hand, your palms facing inward. Tighten your core and make sure your body forms a straight line from heel to head.

From this position, shift your weight to your left side, supporting more of your weight with your left palm as you lift your right hand from the mat. As you do so, squeeze your right shoulder blade toward your spine and bend your elbow, drawing the dumbbell straight up toward your chest in a row. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbell back toward the mat, stopping just before you touch down. Perform 10 to 12 reps to the right side, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat on the left side. Complete two sets of 10 to 12 reps per side.

Reverse dumbbell fly

The reverse dumbbell fly is surprisingly hard, so start with a weight lighter than you think you need. This exercise targets your rear deltoids (the backs of your shoulders), the most criminally overlooked of the shoulder muscles.

Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand, your palms facing inward. Tighten your core and press your hips back, tipping your torso forward from your hips to a roughly 45-degree angle. Keep your neck aligned with your spine and draw your shoulders back to emphasize good posture. Allow the dumbbells to hang freely from your shoulders, with a slight bend in both elbows.

From this position, keep your torso fixed in place as you draw your shoulder blades toward your spine as you lift your arms out laterally to the sides as if you were flying. Your arms should remain relatively straight, with just a slight bend at the elbows as you lift the dumbbells outward. Reverse the movement and return the dumbbells to their starting position.

Perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Bird-dog extensions

To work on the stabilizing muscles of your erector spinae as you strengthen your core, you can't go wrong with the bird-dog exercise. Start on your hands and knees on the ground in a tabletop position -- palms under shoulders, knees under hips. Draw your navel toward your spine as you tighten your core. Make sure you keep your neck aligned with your spine -- don't crane or drop your neck.

From this position, lift and extend your right arm straight out in front of your right shoulder as you simultaneously lift and extend your left leg straight behind your left hip, ultimately pointing your toes and fingers in opposite directions. Hold the position for a second before lowering your palm and knee back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Continue alternating sides for the duration of the exercise, performing 15 to 25 repetitions per side so the last two to three repetitions feel challenging. Complete two sets.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who happens to be a card-carrying member of "Perpetual Ass-Sitters Anonymous." She does lots of back exercises to make up for the addiction. Connect on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.

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