Back Up Your Health

Imagine a virus going around that causes pain, and stops you from driving, picking up your toddler, shopping for groceries, and exercising.

Now imagine a medicine that prevents this virus. You would take it, right?

This pretend “virus” is back injury. It is real and happens to people every day when they trip and try to catch their balance, roll out of bed, bend over to pick up a bag, take a kickboxing class, or perform a dead lift. The medicine I prescribe to avoid “catching” the virus is a few exercises for the upper and lower back. I will explain two easy ones here today.

Lower for Living:

Strengthening your lower back muscles is important for people who don’t exercise on a regular basis, but equally as important for those who do exercise but overlook the lower back. If you have a bad lower back, you can’t do those crunches, bicep curls, lunges or daily living activities.

Upper for Posture:

The upper back exercises are important as well, especially if you sit at a computer or hunched over a desk much of the time. It is equally important if your exercise routine includes pushups and bench presses but not working the opposite muscle group – the trapezius and rhomboids. Hunched posture can cause painful knots and strains, chiropractor bills and give the wrong first impression.


Airplane – This exercise will work but upper and lower back. The airplane (pictured below) is performed by lying on your stomach with arms extended out to the sides at shoulder level.

1) Lift your head, chest, arms, knees and feet off the floor, leaving just your torso on the mat. It is also important to keep looking at the floor, not cranking your head up to look at the wall in front of you. Keeping your gaze on the floor keeps the neck in line with the spine. Hold for 3 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.

2) Next, speed up the move to 15 faster singles, not pausing at the top.

3) Finally, hold the arms, legs and chest up to the top of the move keep the legs and chest lifted, and “flap your wings” by moving the hands up and down for 10 repetitions. As a bonus, this exercise also tones your tush!

Stretch – That completes one set. When done with each set, do a cat stretch on all fours and drop the head while rounding the back up to the ceiling.

Balance Reach – To perform the balance reach (pictured below) stay on all fours on hands and knees.

Keep looking at the floor as you reach your left leg up and straight behind you, as you lift your right arm straight in front of you. Hold the leg and arm up for a count of 3 and release. Straighten and lift your right leg and light arm simultaneously, hold for 3 and release to complete one repetition. Continue to gaze at the floor throughout the move. Do 10 reps for one set and finish with a cat stretch.

Back it Up

Before I became a trainer I didn’t realize the importance of working my back as much as working my abs. I ask you to add these moves to each workout you do. In the future I will do a column on more challenging back exercises like wheel pushups, stability ball back extensions and airplane supermans, but for now I put these exercises and others on my DVDs to help others from falling prey to a back injury.

So take this advice from someone who went through a back injury and could not do normal daily tasks… and take your medicine.

Fitness – Fit it in!


Fitness on the Road, Part 2

In my first column about how to stay in shape while you’re traveling, I covered 10 moves that can be done anytime, anywhere. Now, the rest of the routine for a full hour of this cardio-sculpt no-equipment travel workout. Print this out, stuff it in your suitcase, and you’ll be ready.

Following steps 1-10, jump into a lunge position:

11) Alternate forward lunges landing heel then toe. Be sure to step far enough away that your front knee does not pass the toes. The knee should stay directly above the ankle. Right and left equals one repetition. Do 12 front lunges and then 12 alternating back lunges for the quads and glutes.

12) Cardio interval. Jump rope (pretend to hold the rope and swing it for extra biceps work) for 1 minute or count to 100. Alternate from one leg at a time to feet together and hopping. Maybe hop twice on one leg at a time. Have fun with it. For all cardio intervals in this workout, march in place for at least 20 seconds after to get your heart rate back down to a comfortable level.

13) Plank push-ups. Get back into a plank position and this time alternate a full push-up with a 10 second right side plank and another push-up with a left side plank. That equals one repetition. Do 10 of these (20 push-ups in all).

14) Cardio. Stand up and do 20 jumping jacks with the right foot in front, 20 with the left foot in front and 20 alternating and crossing feet.

15) Glute raises. Lay on your back with feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Lift hips up and squeeze the glutes while pressing through your heels. Lower hips back to the floor for one repetition.  This is called a bridge. To make this a more intense workout, lift the right leg to the ceiling and keep it there, pushing off the ground with left foot to lift hips up and down for the first 30 reps, and then switch legs.

16) Jump rope for a minute again, using different leg combinations.

17)  External oblique side crunches. Lay on your back with shoulders flat on the floor and hands behind the head. Bend your knees and drop them off to the right side. Move the knees up to hip level so the body forms the letter “L” from knees to hips to head. Crunch the chest to the ceiling for 40 each side. Repeat on the left. The more intense version of this is to extend your right arm out from the shoulder and lift both knees off the floor as you lift up onto your elbow.

18) Jumping jack cardio interval for 1-2 minutes.

19) Internal obliques. Lay on your back again and put your hands behind your head for support. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. Focus on lifting the right shoulder, not the elbow (we want to keep the chin lifted and neck long while looking at the ceiling) to the left knee. Bring the left knee in toward the right shoulder at the same time.  Release back to the floor for one rep. Do 30 on the same side and then switch to the other elbow and knee combo for another set. A more challenging version of this is to extend both legs and lift one to the ceiling and lower the other towards the floor in a scissor motion. As you lift the right leg to the ceiling, reach the right arm to toward your left toes (pictured) repeat on the other side and do 20 alternating scissor crunches.

20) Do a cardio interval again with one minute of jumping rope. (For different and more intense cardio intervals, visit for demos. You’ll find them on the 30 minute Military Wife Workout DVD. It’s convenient to play on a laptop or in your guest room and you can buy weights that fill with water and then empty for light packing.)

21) Upper and lower back. We worked the abdominals quite a bit, so now it’s time to work the opposing muscles in the back. Lay face down with arms long and extended out at shoulder level, forming a “T” with your body. Lift the head, chest, shoulders, hands, legs and feet off the floor. Lower down and repeat the move 20 times.

22) Final cardio interval of Jacks, and jogging for 2 minutes.

23) Do a 5 minute cool down with the same moves in the warm up.

24) Stretch (see home page for a quick and free stretch video) hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, hip flexors, inner and outer thighs, glutes, triceps, pectorals, trapezious and rhomboids (upper back), and lower back with standing rolls or cat/cow.

25) Remember to hydrate during and after your workout, and leave these columns in your travel bag for your next FIT trip!