Strengthening Your Back With the Total Gym
Do you or someone you know experience low back pain or avoid exercise because of back pain? Low back pain is considered one of the most common chronic pain complaints and it can seriously impact your ability to workout. Ironically, the best way to assist with controlling back pain and associated muscle spasms is to strengthen and stretch the supporting structures of the spine. The Total Gym is the perfect modality.
One of the great features of the Total Gym is the ability to vary how gravity effects the body. In other words, floor exercises such as the planks, roll ups, and back extensions become easier to perform and more effective on the Total Gym than the floor.
Total Gym Exercises for a Stronger Back
The following exercises are excellent exercises to strengthen, stretch and stabilize the back, while capturing the essence of Total Gym’s incline.
1. Roll Up: The focus of this exercise is spinal mobility. Facing away from the tower, straddle and push the glideboard up the rails and sit at the lower 1/3 of the board. Place the feet on the struts or squat stand. Arms can be out in front shoulder level. Slowly roll the spine onto the glideboard. Focus on tucking the pelvis underneath as you roll back onto the glideboard, thus increasing spinal flexibility. As you roll up, initiate the movement with the head lifting and looking at the feet, then roll the upper, middle, lower spine off the glideboard into a forward flexed position. Be careful not to lift straight up, which can increase pressure to the spine. Stay reaching for your feet and focus on breathing into the sides and back of the ribcage for 1-3 breaths. The higher the incline, the easier the exercise. Repeat 5-10 times.
2. Seated Hip Hinging: The focus of this exercise is strengthening the low back and abdominals. Facing away from the tower, straddle and push the glideboard up the rails and sit at the lower 1/3 of the board. Place the feet on the struts or squat stand. Arms can be at shoulder level out in front. Keeping a neutral pelvic position with the spine straight, gently push the glideboard back with your sit bones as your hinge forward a few inches. Be careful not to round your back. Hinge back to the start position, then hinge a few inches backward keeping the spine straight. Careful not to over arch the lower back. While hinging backward, you can tuck the hips slightly under to avoid this. The higher the incline, the easier the exercise. Repeat 5-10 times.
Progression Arms Overhead
3. Lateral Flexion: The focus on the exercise is strengthening the muscles along the sides of the trunk, such as quadratus lumborum and obliques. Facing away from the tower, placed your feet on the squat stand/ struts and lie onto your back. Turn onto your side. Ensure you are one hands distance away from the side edge of the glideboard. The legs can be scissored and/or stacked on top of one another or the bottom leg can bend and hook onto the top thigh. With the hands across the chest, lift the upper body off the glideboard. Note you can use the upper body to assist. Ideally you lift straight up and down; however you can add some rotation toward the sky to increase the difficulty and engage the obliques. The higher the incline, the easier the exercise. Repeat 5-10 times.
Variation with rotation
4. Plank: The focus of this exercise is on total core strengthening. Remove the squat stand and enter into a hands and knees position. In hands and knees position, keep the elbows slightly bent and creases facing forward, and the shoulders pulling away from the ears. First, focus on rocking forward into a kneeling plank position, you may need to move the hands slightly forward. The next progression is lifting the knees up into a plank position. Your hands can be on the glideboard or wrapped around the sides of the board. To progress, move the hands slightly down the glideboard, and push the board away from the bottom while moving into a plank position. With the board open, you can maintain a plank pushing it up and down, and/or lift a leg. The higher the incline, the easier the exercise. Repeat 5-10 times.
5. Bridging with Pullover: The focus of this exercise is to strengthen the entire back and buttocks and help build the coordination between these muscles. Attach the arm pulley to the glideboard. Grasp a handle in each hand, straddle the glideboard while facing away from the tower. Sit toward the lower one third of the glideboard and lie onto you back, then gently put the feet on the board. With your arms straight, reach them to the sky. Pull the hands down toward the mid-thigh as you lift the buttocks off the glideboard. Then return to the start. With time, you can reach the arms back toward the tower. There are many variations on this exercise including: keeping the hands reaching for the sky and only lifting and lower the buttocks, performing a one legged bridge, and holding the bridge position and only move the arms. The higher the incline, the harder the exercise. Repeat 5-10 times.
While doing these back-strengthening exercises, avoid placing excessive pressure on the neck. It should help to focus on pressing through the feet and keeping the knees and hips aligned. The last thing you need is neck pain to go with the lower back pain!
6. Seated Horizontal Abduction: The focus of the exercise is working the muscles between the shoulder blades. With the arm pulley attached to the glideboard, grasp the handles and straddle the glideboard facing the tower. Place the hands on the glideboard, anchoring/stabilizing the board, then sit at the top third of the board. The feet can stay on the floor or lift up. Keeping your hands shoulder-level and elbows straight, pull the arms straight back forming a “T” position. Maintain good posture by siting up straight, avoid tucking the hips under and leaning back. The higher the incline, the harder the exercise. Repeat 5-10 times.
7. Prone Shoulder Extension: The focus of this exercise is on strengthening the back of the arms and upper back. With the arm pulley attached to the glideboard, grasp the handles and straddle the glideboard facing the tower. Place the hands on the glideboard, anchoring/stabilizing the board, then lie onto the glideboard with your chest at the top edge of the glideboard. The legs may be straight and together, straddling the glideboard or frog position. Reach the arms toward the tower. Keeping the arms straight, pull the arms straight back toward the ship. To help stretch the front of the body, the exercise can also be performed with palms facing up. For an additional challenge, gently lift the head and upper back off the glideboard as you pull the arms back. Avoid letting your shoulders rise up toward the ears and overarching your lower back. The higher the incline, the harder this exercise will be. Repeat 5-10 times.
8. Hands and Knees Opposite Arm and Leg Reach: The focus of this exercise is to increase core strength while adding a balance challenge. With the arm pulley attached to the glideboard, grasp the handles and straddle the glideboard facing the tower. Place the hands on the glideboard toward the top 1/3 and then bring the knees onto the board. Focus on keeping the spine straight, tailbone slightly toward the thigh, and the core engaged. Start by reaching one leg straight back and up. Switch legs. Then, turn the attention toward the arms. Keep the shoulders away from the ears and reach one arm first for the tower then pull straight back toward the hip. Eventually, you should be able to do both at one time. Start pulling the right arm back as the left leg reaches back then switch sides. Repeat 5-10 times per side. This exercise can first be done without the arm pulleys. The higher the incline, the harder the exercise.
9. Child’s Pose: The focus of this exercise is to stretch the back and help alleviate back pain. From the hands in knees position described above, sit back onto the heels and allow the arms to be straight. Feel the stretch in the sides and back of the ribcage. Note this stretch can also be done with or without the arm pulleys. If low kneeling is painful, you can sit facing the tower then lean forward into the stretch. If the pulleys are attached, the higher the incline the greater the arms will be assisting the stretch. Stay for in Child’s Pose for 5-8 breaths.
10. Low Level Plyometric Squats: The focus of this exercise is core muscular endurance. Facing away from the tower, straddle and push the glideboard up the rails and sit at the lower 1/3 of the board. Place the feet on the squat stand. Roll onto your back. The hands can be by your sides or holding onto the bottom edge of the glideboard. Start by squatting and then transition to alternating one leg squats and move into a jumping action. The head may be lifted or supported on the glideboard. To help keep the core fired up and the abdominals engaged, make the movement small with the board moving slightly, then move to a more dynamic larger movement. The incline recommended is the lower 1/3 to 2/3 of the tower height. You will have to vary the inclines to discover which one helps you focus more on the core versus more on strengthening the legs. Be mindful of excessive arching of the back or straining of the neck. Repeat for 30-60 seconds.
11. Pull Ups with Upper Back Extension: The focus of this exercise is on strengthening the back. With the LAT bar down or wing attachment in place, straddle facing the tower. Push the board up the rails and lower your chest at the top edge of the glideboard. Reach the hands for the LAT Bar/Wing attachment. Focus on pulling the shoulder blades down the back and lifting just the head and upper back up as you bend the elbows into the sides. Watch for the hyperextension of the neck, keep your gaze slightly down and forward. The incline height is toward the lower 2/3 of the tower. Repeat 5-10 times.
12. LAT Stretch: Facing the tower, kneel toward the top right corner of the glideboard. Reach across the body toward the left rail. Sit back toward your heels and feel the stretch along the left side of your trunk. Repeat on the other side. Stay in the position and take 5-8 deep breaths. To intensify this stretch, reach the hand for the LAT Bar/Wing attachment and pull the board up the rails. As you sit back onto your heels let the board to move down the rails and feel the stretch. To exit this stretch, shift your weight forward then move out of kneeling.