Is the back the new core?
It used to be that fitness experts touted a strong core as an antidote to the work-week slouch. But lately there’s a been new focus on the flipside—strengthening the back.
And given that more than 80 percent of Americans complain of back pain at some point in their lives, this posterior attention makes sense.
Case in point, the new book Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move With Confidence by Eric Goodman and Peter Park, which lays out a litany of back exercises and the idea that they’re crucial to pain reduction, injury prevention, and overall fitness.
And they’re not alone. The idea is getting attention across disciplines—in yoga, Pilates, and barre.
“Strong abs with a weak back is like a bird with only one good wing,” says Alison West, an alignment-based yoga instructor of 25 years, and co-director of Yoga Union Center for Backcare & Scoliosis.
West, who’s taught many of the country’s top yogis, focuses on spinal symmetry. Her uniquely focused roster is dedicated to classes that safely strengthen and lengthen the spine and open the chest and back. All include poses that can lead to better posture and help reduce pain.
And you don’t have to have contortionist-like flexibility to strengthen the back enough to be pleasantly healthy, West says, who works with yoga newcomers, as well. “A little goes a long way.”
For Tim Driscoll, founder of Backbone and Wingspan, who studied with Pilates guru Bruce King among others, the back is a vital component of complete health that’s often ignored.
“You’d never get your hair cut just in the front and ignore the back,” he says. “A hairstyle is three-dimensional and even architectural—so should be the way you work your body,” he says.
That’s the kind of balance that Driscoll addresses in private sessions. His signature move, done facedown on the Cadillac, gives you practice at stabilizing your shoulder blades, redirecting your breath into your lower ribs, and extending your lumbar spine down through the sacrum.
This interconnected approach helps clients approach their backs in a whole new light, he says. “You become body-conscious in a new way that serves all movement.”
When Brynn Jinnett, founder of the Refine Method, developed her ultra-targeted cardio-resistance workout, she considered a heavy statistic: More than 80 percent of Americans complain of back pain at some point in their lives.
“We took this statistic seriously and have eliminated all exercises that further exacerbate the consequences of life at a desk,” she says.
Jinnett points out that women especially tend to depend on their quads more than their glutes and hamstrings (the angle between the hips and knees is greater than a man’s, which makes the quads work harder). That leads to a tight, overdeveloped front and a weak back.
“Paying attention to the back of your body helps balance this natural tendency to overuse your quads, and produce a body that is visually proportional, strong, and healthy,” she explains.
We’re standing taller already. —Ingrid Skjong