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Home > Exercises > Superman Exercise

Superman Exercise

Setup

Lie on the ground face-down, arms crossed above your head so you can rest your forehead on your forearms (rather than having your nose smushed into the ground).  Alternatively, just keep your head raised and looking forward when in the setup/rest position. Your legs should be straight out behind you.  A soft surface, such as carpet or a yoga mat is preferable.
superman exercise setup
Execution

  1. When you’re ready to begin a set, lift your head and stretch your arms out in front of you
  2. Contract your back muscles such that your feet and chest lift off the ground as high as you can get them, keeping your arms parallel to one another and pointed straight ahead
  3. Hold the contraction for as long as you can (typically 30-60 seconds for an untrained body)
  4. Repeat once or twice as desired, no more often than every other day

superman exercise execution

Tips and Variations

  1. To increase intensity of the superman exercise, you can add a concentric element to it by contracting and then relaxing (e.g., do 3 sets of 30 repetitions) rather than simply holding the superman exercise position for an extended period.
  2. To decrease the intensity of the superman exercise, you can either do the superman exercise without shoes on or leave your arms resting by your side (i.e., only lift your chest), or both.
  3. Some advocate doing what’s called the “alternating superman exercise” or the “contralateral superman exercise.”  I think this changes the nature of the exercise dramatically and sacrifices some of the beneficial joint mobilization aspects of it.

Muscles Workedmultifidi muscles

  1. In laymen’s terms: back, neck, butt, hamstrings, and shoulders
  2. Specifically:
    1. Erector Spinae
    2. Quadratus Lumborum
    3. Multifidi
    4. Transversus Abdominus
    5. Gluteus Maximus
    6. Hamstrings
    7. Deltoids



Background

The superman exercise is, in my opinion, the single best exercise someone with back problems can do.  The superman exercise, unlike other back exercises, strengthens the entire portion of the erector spinae and all of the multifidi all the way up and down the spine.  Additionally, the superman exercise necessitates that every vertebrae move relative to one another, thereby making the superman exercise a good vertebra joint mobilization.  The superman exercise is also the single best exercise someone with excessive kyphosis (a condition detailed in Desk Jockey: What Sitting all Day is Doing to Your Body) can do because the strengthening of the erector spinae muscles will, over time, reduce the forward curvature of the thoracic spine acquired from years of idle sitting. 

In terms of safety, many back exercises are technically less safe than the superman exercise because they involve certain technique meaning that, if performed improperly, it’s easy to hurt oneself (e.g., the good morning or the deadlift).  With the superman exercise, it’s impossible to do wrong and, on top of that, you are literally lying down as you perform it so there is much less compression on your intervertebral discs. 

Another great aspect of the superman exercise is that it requires zero equipment; you can do it anywhere.  All of the foregoing characteristics of the supermanintervertebral discs exercise also make it a great exercise for the elderly, a population which, as we all know, suffers disproportionately from musculoskeletal dysfunction.  Now, just because the superman exercise is a very safe and therapeutic exercise doesn’t mean the superman exercise should be taken lightly – the superman exercise is very intense, and is a lot harder than it looks.  Needless to say, do not perform the superman exercise if you’re pregnant as the superman exercise puts pressure on your abdominal cavity.

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Desk Jockey: What Sitting all Day is Doing to Your Body
  2. Plank Exercise
  3. Thoracic Stretch

Last Updated: 6/1/2011
Originally Posted: 6/1/2011