Baby got back: 6 ways to a strong back
You’ve mastered the perfect pushup, you know spin class = sculpted stems and your a.m. yoga routine has given you some pretty awesome abs. You think you’ve got every base covered when it comes to your bod...but what about your back? Just because you can’t see it in your reflection doesn’t mean it isn’t equally important.
It’s actually quite key. Having a strong back and good posture can prevent you from developing a ton of injuries down the road. And because you spend so much time at your desk hunched over a laptop, on the couch checking out Netflix or staring at an iPhone screen, you may be sending your spine straight for serious trouble.
So right now (yes, now) is when you should be prioritizing your posterior, says Dr. Justin Park, an orthopedic spine surgeon at The Maryland Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “Taking care of your back and developing healthy habits while you’re a teen sets the precedent for having fewer issues as an adult,” he says.
Not to mention that a seriously strong back is just as important as the rest of your bod. And strengthening your back helps keep you fit all over, whether you’re carrying a heavy backpack around school or running a 10K. Ready to get your back in gear? Here are six hacks to do just that…
1. Fab up your form
It’s no shocker that proper posture is super important, but we’re not just talking about standing up straight. Instead, it’s about maintaining the natural curves in your upper and lower back.
While a superior stance starts with a strong back and core (see our workout), there are ways to instantly perfect your posture. Try this three-second fix: Roll your shoulders back (focus on gently squeezing your shoulder blades together), lift your chest and tuck in your abs.
You also can download an app like PostureZone (free on iTunes and Google Play), where you can upload a pic for an expert assessment and tips. Plus, there’s a setting where it will remind you at certain intervals throughout the day to check your posture. See ya, slouching.
2. Avoid iPhone body
Yes, it’s a thing. Because your head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds, even just tilting your head down 15 degrees puts about 27 pounds of pressure on your neck. And when you’re doing that for hours as you scroll through Insta? Not good.
While limiting your tech time is a no-brainer for relieving some of that pressure, Dr. Jessica Shellock, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Texas Back Institute, also recommends holding your phone at eye level to keep your head in a neutral position. Better yet? “Make a phone call instead of a long text exchange.” (Much better for your friendship *and* your form, TBH.)
3. Check your chair time
Spending long periods with your butt glued to a seat (the average person sits for about nine to 10 hours a day) stresses your back muscles and spinal disks and may lead to serious probs. In fact, staying sedentary—especially if you have poor posture—can actually change your spine’s anatomy.
Set a timer to remind yourself to get moving every 30 minutes. “It’s important to take breaks when working at your desk to avoid musculoskeletal strain,” notes Dr. Park. You also can do your homework at a standing desk (the kitchen counter works, too) or swap your chair for a stability ball to build core strength while you study.
4. Carry correctly
Lugging around a heavy load (we’re looking at you, textbooks!) can throw your muscles off balance and lead to major pain—especially if you’re piling pounds on one shoulder in particular, warns Dr. Park.
Opt for a backpack or a cross-body bag to distribute the weight evenly across your bod. And, if you do use a tote, switch sides often to avoid stressing your spine. Pay attention to poundage, too: Experts advise carrying no more than 10 to 15 percent of your own body weight.
5. Pick a p.m. pose
Stomach sleepers, be warned: The way you lie on your mattress matters. Sleeping on your tummy compresses your lower back, which strains the ligaments in your spine. And turning your neck to the side at an unnatural angle only worsens your alignment.
For a spine-approved snooze sesh, sleep on your back—it allows your head, neck and spine to rest in a neutral position. You can even place a pillow under your knees to ensure proper alignment. Sleeping on your side with your legs straight is another good option as it keeps your back elongated.
6. Watch your weight
Being at an unhealthy weight comes with a plethora of probs—including putting extra stress on your back, which increases your risk of injury. Dr. Shellock notes that it’s especially an issue as a teen, since your body is still growing and developing.
Concerned? Talk to your doctor—he or she can help you figure out the best weight for you. And even if you are a healthy weight, make sure you’re exercising regularly and eating a balanced, nutritious diet. Now who’s got your back? You!