There is no more important group of muscles than this. The Erector Spinae is a skeletal muscle that runs all the way up your spine, aligning it properly, protecting it from strain, and helping it bear your weight. While the traps and lats are mostly concerned with arm movement, the back muscles you will train here form the core of your torso itself. They'll keep your back straight, your head up, and your posture good and healthy. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.
Exercises for Strength
Lay flat on your stomach on the floor. Now lift your straight legs and head just as high as you can, hold if you like, lower and repeat. It's that simple to begin with, but there are a million variations. Anchor your feet and lift just your chest. Anchor your chest and lift just your feet. Extend your arms forward for more difficulty, and perhaps hold a dumbell plate. Lift one shoulder and the opposite leg and alternate. Work in static holds to tire yourself out, or try rocking your body back and forth while holding it as still as possible.
Combine this exercise with the plank pose for a simple and healthy beginner's workout, or for an intermediate warmup.
This is one of my absolute favorites. Like a regular locust pose, but anchor your feet and lift your torso in an arc from side to side, forming a rainbow shape with the motion of it. Touch the floor to one side, up to the middle, then down to the floor on the other side. Enjoy.
This exercise can be dangerous is not one to test your limits on. Stand with your knees slightly bent and your torso close to horizontal. Now take hold of a dumbell loaded hammer-style ( --||||-- ), and lift with your straight back to bring the weight up and stand. For safety's sake keep the weight close to your body and use less of it, since it's better to train endurance in this area anyway.
Inverted Leg Lifts
Once you've mastered the Shoulderstand or Headstand, try slowly lowering your legs until they're parallel to the floor, then slowly straightening them upward again. Add ankle weights for a nice challenge, and don't forget to breathe.
Stretches for Flexibility
The basic forward bend is described on the Hamstrings page.
Standing 3-Point Stretch
Start by standing with your feet as wide apart as is comfortably possible. Bring your head down toward the floor, touching your elbows or head to the floor if possible. Try to avoid rounding the lower back as you stretch. Now bring the head back up and then down toward the left knee. You can also try linking both hands behind the left knee and lifting your shoulders straight upward, thus aiming a stretch at your right upper back.
Sit down on the floor with legs as wide as possible. To maximize your width, either push one leg forward and out followed by the other, or start from standing with wide legs and lower yourself backwards onto one hand, bring the other back to join it, and then lower yourself down. Begin by reaching straight forward midway between your legs, bending from the lower back without rounding it. You can push on the floor behind you or pull on your toes to deepen the stretch, but you won't be strengthening your abs in an interesting way. For the other four points of the stretch, reach way over toward one leg, the other leg, then midway between your leg and the centre on both sides. For one last variation, sit up and revolve your torso towards one leg, then stretch out your side by reaching toward the other leg.
Back Stretch from Rock Pose
From Rock Pose, place one hand's fingers under the opposite shin. Now bend your elbow to pull the first hand's matching shoulder down and towards the opposite leg. You should feel a stretch arced more or less equally over your entire back.
Half Tortoise Pose
Sit with your legs spread as with the Five-Point Stretch, but allow your knees to bend a bit so your torso can bend farther down. Slide your hands under your knees from the inside and take hold of your feet, then use your hands to pull yourself down into the stretch.
A classic pose from Hatha Yoga. Stand with your feet one leg's length apart, turn your first foot to point straight to one side and your second to point 60° from the first. Push your hips straight sideways away from the first foot to stretch out that leg. Now lower your torso sideways as you reach down to that first foot or shin with its matching hand, and reach the other hand up to the sky. Look up toward the second hand if your neck doesn't mind. In the final pose your entire body should be aligned in a plane, as if you were between two panes of glass.
Probably my favorite original pose. Sit down with your legs straight in front of you. Keeping the knees together, turn the left knee inward and bring the foot back to be grasped by your left hand. Bend the right knee a little, and take hold of that foot with your right hand. Now lower your head and use the right hand to pull your torso forward and slightly left. You can also enter this stretch from Lateral Cobra Pose, simply by bending one knee and extending your torso toward it.
Static Holds for Endurance
Stand with your legs at hip width, or spread wide for a varitaion, legs slightly bent. Now hinge forward from the hips and make you back parallel to the ground and as flat as comfortably possible. To add some difficulty, extend your arms forward and flat as well, holding a dumbell for the greatest challenge.
Lay supine on your back with arms at your sides. Bend your knees and point them upward as you bring your feet to the floor just in front of your hips. Now slowly lift your hips upward, allowing one vertebra at a time to lift off the floor - this'll help build mobility in the spine. Once your hips are lifted and your thighs are basically parallel to the floor, relax your glutes and use your lower back to hold the pose. Your arms can stay at your sides, or you can link hands under your back, push your shoulders back and flare your upper chest into acome into a Yoga Mudra-like pose. Come out of Bridge Pose the way you came in, one vertebra at a time.
Bound Angle & Forward Bend
Holding a Forward Bend or Bound Angle Pose can be a challenging and highly functional workout for your paraspinal muscles. Try gently rocking your tailbone back and forth in one of these poses to get a good burn going in the most functional place possible.