Good workouts can leave us feeling like superheroes. So what better way to increase your chances of feeling mighty than with an exercise aptly named after the most famous superhero of all?
The superman exercise is a workout move with no equipment needed that anyone can do from beginner to advanced. To find out exactly what it is and why you should be incorporating it into your workout regime, we spoke to WeStrive App trainer Mo Jamjoom and Foundation Fitness director Cathal McCrory-Savage.
Meet the Expert
What is the Superman Exercise?
If you’re thinking that this exercise must involve something like flying, you’d be right--to the extent possible without, you know, actually flying. But, rather, it mimics the motion of that, safely from the ground.
Mo tells us that the superman workout move is “is a floor exercise where you simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the ground while keeping the core engaged. It is a form of a back extension that combines an activation of your core muscles that include the low back muscles, the erector spinae and multifidus, scapulae (depending on the progression/regression), and glutes.”
Having a hard time picturing it? Think of laying on the floor on your stomach, reaching your arms in front of you and stretching your legs up behind you, and pretending to fly. That’s pretty much it! Then, the motion is turned into an exercise through the act of reaching out and flexing those flying muscles, then pausing and relaxing them, so you’re again flat on the floor on your stomach and repeat.
Because this exercise focuses on your back, it’s great for improving your strength and stability in that area. This is important not just for working out but for life at large. Cathal says that, “The movement helps strengthen the lower back and core while also helping us develop the motion of hip extension.” In turn, this new strength “will transfer to everyday life and get us out of the habit of extending from the lower back when we go to lift something, keeping our backs safe!” In addition to fitting into a workout, Mo adds that the superman exercise is “a great warm-up exercise due to multiple variations to increase or decrease the intensity.”
Lower back pain is a common occurrence for adults, especially as we age. There is an abundance of home remedies for back pain, and one of the best ways to reduce your risk of pain and your daily-life-related back pain is to increase your strength in that part of your body. Increasing your back strength also provides you with more stability in general, making you less prone to injure other body parts.
How to Perform
- Begin by lying face down on the floor. Then, place your arms overhead, meaning they’re in front of your body rather than at your sides. You may be tempted to arch your lower back, but Mo recommends you refrain from doing that.
- Tuck your pelvis in and under as much as possible from this position, and brace your core and glutes, gearing up for the move.
- All at once, lift your arms, chest, and legs several inches off of the floor. Mo suggests you keep your head in a neutral position.
- Hold for several seconds.
- Slowly lower yourself back to your starting position, resting all body parts on the floor.
- Repeat the movement, ideally ten to fifteen times. Cathal says that “high reps generally work best here,” so aim for more reps over longer holds.
This exercise has plenty of modifications to help you work into it. Here are our trainers’ favorites.
- Lift fewer parts at a time. Choose either your legs, chest, or your arms, and lift those only. Repeat as you would with the full-body version. Cathal suggests you begin “with the upper body and place your hands on the floor to assist with the position.”
- Bend your arms. Mo says that this modification will “help if it is difficult to maintain straight arms due to the decrease of leverage on the shoulder and scapula muscles.”
- Place your hand behind your head, similar to the position of a sit-up.
- Alternate between upper and lower body lifting. This is similar to starting with one part only, but instead of repeating the same part, you’ll alternate through them as you do repetitions.
- Alternate diagonally. That means you’ll lift your right arm and left leg, then your left arm and right leg.
- If you’re looking for a more challenging version of the superman move, Mo recommends weights. He says to “use dumbbells for the upper body and/or ankle weights for both upper and lower body extremities.”
This workout move is considered generally safe for exercisers of all fitness levels. There are several situations in which this might not be the right exercise for you, though. Mo says that, “Exercisers should avoid the exercise or modify it if they have tightness in the hip flexors, and/or history of back pain with back extension.” That’s because “the tightness in these muscles would limit the range and effectiveness of the movement because there is a high chance the back will try to compensate for the lack of range and imbalances.”
Cathal tells us that you’ll be safest with this move if you “don’t rush through the reps, and keep the glutes engaged.” Engaging your glutes will help “avoid overusing the spinal extensors.” Lastly, he suggests making sure always to keep your face facing down towards the floor. That will ensure you stay in a safer position and don’t hurt your neck.
If you have an injury that makes you feel like you’d need to work up to this move, Cathal recommends a back extension or bird dog exercise as an alternative one, to begin with. However, if you try the move and find that you experience discomfort with it, Mo suggests that you “stretch, modify, warm up, and/or speak with a health professional to help guide you to pain-free exercise.”
The superman exercise strengthens your back while giving you the childlike sensation of flying. It’s safe for people of all fitness levels, but it should be avoided by anyone who deals with excessive back pain or has a back injury. It has many variations and modifications. They enable you to start slow with it, and there are also modifications to make it more difficult once you’ve become proficient. The superman exercise can’t turn you into a superhero, but it can help you feel like one!