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ACSM is fortunate to be the go-to source on sports medicine and exercise science for several national and international media outlets. You can find some of our most recent coverage below, or you can view archived articles.  

Best Back Exercises for Various Populations

by User Not Found | Aug 01, 2011
Strengthening moves customized to exercisers, athletes, and the workplace

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Back-strengthening exercises are crucial in maintaining functional movement and preventing back injuries for all populations, according to an expert presenting today at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 12th-annual Health & Fitness Summit and Exposition.

Michael R. Bracko, Ed.D., FACSM, explained and demonstrated easy-to-perform back exercises, and included modifications for three different groups: exercisers, athletes, and those in the workplace. He says that back injuries don’t discriminate among the three populations.

“The back is probably the most commonly injured part of the body for all people,” said Bracko. “We can help prevent back injuries through not only strengthening the back muscles themselves, but also by working muscles that surround and support the spine, such as the abdominals.”

Bracko’s recommended these exercises, starting with one set of 10 repetitions, three days per week, for each. After three weeks, try two sets of 15 repetitions, three or four days per week. After three weeks, perform two to three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions every day as part of a regular exercise program.

For regular exercisers:

  • Bird dog: Start on all fours. Lift the right arm and opposing left leg simultaneously, holding straight, as high as you can lift each. Smoothly bring back to ground. Do 10 reps on each side.
  • Front plank: Begin lying flat on your stomach. Bend arms at the elbows to support your upper body, centering the elbows under the shoulders. Lift body off the ground, using abdominal strength and toes to hold a “bridge” position, keeping the back straight. Hold a straight back for 10 counts.
  • Side planks: Lie on your side, with bottom arm centered under the shoulder. Lift hips off the ground, and hold with a straight back for 10 counts. Repeat on opposite side.

For athletes and sport performance:

  • Advanced bird dog: Follow the same instructions as above, but hold a five- to 10-pound weight in your lifting hand, and/or wear ankle weights.
  • Front plank: Follow the same instructions as above, but move elbows as far forward as possible to challenge the abdominal muscles.
  • Side planks: Follow the same instructions as above, but hold a 10- to 15-pound dumbbell on your top hip.

In the workplace:

  • Standing cat/camel: Stand up, and place your hands on your thighs or knees, keeping knees bent. Arch your back up like a camel, hunching the shoulders, and then alternately curve down like a cat, looking up toward the ceiling. You can also lean on your desk instead of your legs, if preferred.  Move the spine through a “pain-free” range of motion.
  • Standing bird dog: With feet shoulder width apart, stand approximately two to three feet away from a wall. Lean on the wall, keeping your back straight. Extend your right arm straight up from the wall, and lift your left leg straight back/up. Lift arm and leg as high as possible, then return smoothly back to desk and ground. Repeat with opposite side. Do 10 reps on each side.

Workplace exercises are crucial, Bracko says, because although a desk job may seem relatively easy on the body, maintaining a sitting position for long periods of time strains the back and spinal discs. Workers should also try to get up and move around at least once every 50 minutes.


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National and Regional members are dedicated to promoting and integrating scientific research, education and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health and quality of life.

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