Move of the month – back extension!

Written by: Elsie Velazquez cert. personal trainer for Prescription Fitness (Cleveland, Ohio)

According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, 8 out of 10 people will experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime.  This high injury statistic makes strengthening your back to prevent back injury an important priority.

Luckily, even if you don’t have access to a gym and/or gym equipment, you can still work on strengthening your back/spine muscles.   By incorporating the back extension into your routine, you are working the spinal erector muscles, a set of muscles that straighten and rotate the back.

Back extensions can be done in many ways.  When performed on your stomach or face down, the move counter balances the many forward bending exercises we do in real life. The constant forward bending and computer slouching of our day to day activities create weak backs that lead to back pain.  Pain can become so bad that it requires surgical intervention.  I believe that everyone should become familiar with a few back extension exercises they can use to strengthen their back muscles, prevent back pain, and promote uniform muscular development front to back.

Below are instructions for a few easy Pilates back extension exercises. These do not require equipment and can be done just about anywhere.

 Swan Prep

  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs together. Arms along your sides.
  2. Lift your abdominal muscles away from the mat. Inhale.
  3. Exhale: Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in. Extend the body long through your spine and out the top of your head to lift your upper body slightly off the mat.
  4. Your shoulder blades will slide down your back as your arms reach behind you like they are being blown back. Anchor your pubic bone to the mat to protect your lower back.
    Your head is an extension of your spine. Your gaze will be down.
  5. Inhale: Pause
  6. Exhale: Lengthen and lower your body to the floor.
  7. Repeat 3 times.


  1. Lie on the mat face down. Arms close to your body, bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders.
    Legs are usually together, but it is acceptable to do this exercise with the legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles, lifting your belly away from the mat.
  3. Inhale: Lengthen your spine, sending energy through the top of your head as you press your forearms and hands into the mat to support a long upward arc the upper body.
    Protect your lower back by sending your tail bone down toward the mat.
  4. Exhale: Keep your abdominals lifted as you lengthen your spine returning your torso to the mat in a sequential way.
  5. Repeat Swan 3 to 5 times.


  1. Lie on your stomach, legs straight and together.
  2. With shoulder blades settled in your back and shoulders away from your ears, stretch your arms overhead
  3. Pull your abs in so that you lift your navel away from the mat.
  4. Reaching from the center, extend your arms, legs, and spine so far in opposite directions that they naturally come up off the floor. Keep your face down toward the mat.
  5. Alternate right arm/left leg, then left arm/right leg, pumping them up and down in small pulses.
  6. Breathe in for 5 kicks and reaches, and out for a count of 5.
  7. Start with 2 or 3 cycles.


Although the plank exercise is not back bending, it is still considered a back extension. They are great at working the back and front muscles in a balanced way.  What it does for the rest of the body is a bonus!

  1. Begin on your knees. Place your hands on the floor in front of you, fingers pointing straight ahead. Your arms are straight and elbows are not locked.
  2. Engage your abdominals and lengthen your spine, extending energy through the top of your head and down through your tailbone.
  3. Lean forward to put your weight on your hands. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists.
  4. With your abdominals lifted, extend your legs straight behind you. Keep them together and send energy through your heels. Your toes are curled under so that some weight is on the balls of your feet.
  5. Activate your legs (especially your hamstrings) and bring them together, emphasizing the center line.
  6. Hold your position for three to five breaths.
  7. Take a break and repeat up to five times.


It is important to note that some people should avoid the back extension exercise. Those who have a herniated disc should avoid this exercise as it may increase intervertebral pressure. Those who have sensitive spinal nerves should also avoid this exercise unless cleared by a doctor.  I suggest hiring a personal trainer at Prescription Fitness to guide you through this move and help you decide which form in right for you.

If you have any questions please email one of our trainers at