Is the back the new core?

strong back woman

Photo: flickr.com/lululemonathletica


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.

Alison West

Alison West tailors yoga for back care, pain, and posture


“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.”

Tim Driscoll Backbone and Wingspan

Tim Driscoll, founder of Backbone and Wingspan


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.”

Brynn founder of the Refine Method

Jinnett, founder of the Refine Method, with her signature pulleys


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


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9 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. June 29th, 2011 at 8:41 am

    the back has always been a core piece of the core! this definitely isn’t new to pilates, or yoga, or ballet/dance

  2. June 29th, 2011 at 8:58 am

    I JUST finished reading Foundation. It was eye-opening. I take Refine Method classes and most of the book’s claims (which are supported by a lot of evidence) are exactly what Brynn at Refine promotes as well. I expect more exercises to follow … although I wonder what the opinion is of those who disagree.

  3. June 29th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    i’m with @pao. even though the headline may indicate differently, a great teacher in a movement discipline will know to balance those together. the headline makes it seem like, “all of a sudden, yoga and pilates teachers have discovered there’s a back!”

    there is a reason why doctors may mention yoga and pilates as a supplement to attend to back issues…

  4. June 29th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I just added strength training to my routine along with yoga and running because I’ve realized how important it is to have overall strength and flexability and give all your body parts equal importance to acheive balance.

  5. June 30th, 2011 at 12:10 am

    I read this and didn’t learn a thing; I know the back is important, have back pain, and would have loved at least one or two exercises that would have made this worth reading.

  6. July 1st, 2011 at 9:46 am

    It is unfortunate that the article was so brief because knowing Driscol’s “back” work, he is certainly working on a deeper level in regards to the back than many instructors/ facilities out there. His work is above and should be looked into to learn the desired exercises one hoped to het from this article.

  7. July 6th, 2011 at 10:51 am

    […] AdviceGOOD FoodWellness WireWednesday, July 6, 20116 ways to relieve lower back painSince the back is the new core, we turned to our friends at Self.com for these simple moves to avoid injuring this important body […]

  8. July 9th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    For “Me”: We offer classes and workshops all the time, if you would like to learn how to work with not only your back but your whole body to support a strong, healthy back.

    32 W 28th Street NY NY 10001

    And we love to teach workshops elsewhere.

  9. August 18th, 2011 at 9:05 am

    […] a lot about this topic in the last few months, and it’s starting to get a bit of mainstream attention as well.  I just read a fab article in the LA times about just this very thing, in which Neal […]

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