The superman exercise will not enable you to jump over tall buildings in a single bound nor grant you the ability soar through the air at the speed of light. However, it will give you the power to better prevent injury to your back, improve your posture, and build a better mind-muscle connection to your lower back.
If you’re looking for a bodyweight exercise to strengthen your posterior muscles, look no further than the superman exercise. We are going to walk through how to perform the movement, those three major benefits that come along with it, and some programming tips for how you can incorporate it into your training.
How To Perform The Superman
The superman seems like a pretty simple movement, but it can be fairly easy to do improperly. Straying from correct form on this move can lead to a tweaked lower back or a lack of any beneficial gains. The margin between beneficial movement and just flopping around on the ground is slim so here is how to do it right:
First, lay face down (prone) comfortably on the mat, forehead flat on the ground, and keep your arms and legs outstretched. Second, raise your hands and feet approximately four to five inches off the floor — or however high you can go — while keeping your core on the ground. Third, hold this raised position for three seconds and then lower your hands and feet slowly back to the floor.
That is one repetition. Repeat that is a slow and controlled fashion for as many reps as your programming calls for. In terms of arm placement, the goal is to be fully extended forward as shown in the video above. If you are not yet flexible enough to do that, it’s okay. Simply bend the arms at the elbow and hold them up as though you were performing a reverse flye or hold them straight along your sides.
3 Benefits Of The Superman Exercise
It’s a great exercise to be used in warm-ups for injury prevention and muscle activation purposes. You can perform it on the floor, but it will be more comfortable on a mat, carpet, or turf.
1. Improved Lower Back And Glute Strength
The superman strengthens the erector muscles that run along the spine. They play an important role in spinal stability and preventing unwanted movement in the lower back. This is handy when your spine is under heavy loads while squatting and deadlifting.
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Functionally, supermans are an isometric hold. It is a targeted movement focusing on the muscles in the mid and low back, as well as the glutes. As such, the goal is time under tension. You should feel a burn in those areas, but nothing painful. Keep in mind that during the concentric portion of the movement, your shoulders should be down and back, and you should extend your reach (both arms and legs) rather than collapse them. A way to cue yourself for proper position is to think of supermans as the opposite of a hollow hold from a positional standpoint.
2. Improved Posture
We live in an internally rotated society. We hunch over our computers and smartphones for hours at a time, we sit for a large portion of our days, if we aren’t mindful of our posture, we may slouch even when we’re on our feet. The superman helps extend and rotate your spine and neck, potentially undoing damage from this poor posture that has been reinforced naturally over time.
Strong spinal erectors play an important role in maintaining good posture and keeping a neutral spine during heavy loaded movements. This makes supermans a great exercise to incorporate into your warm-ups and/or accessory routines.
3. Adaptable Bodyweight Exercise
The superman movement is a great exercise to teach beginning lifters what extension of the back and glutes feels like. Developing the extension movements of hips, hamstrings, and lower back are vital for strong big three lifts and supermans can be done safety of the floor to help hone in on muscle awareness.
[Related: The Benefits of the Bird Dog Exercise And 4 Variations To Try]
Supermans also happen to be useful for strength, power, and fitness athletes for injury prevention purposes. One of the likelier obstacles keeping supermans from being a consistent part of your training is that it can feel awkward. The range of motion is relatively small, the contraction itself isn’t all that taxing, and it’s not a movement that has direct application to anything — it’s not like any functional movement involves performing a superman the way picking something off the floor utilizes a squat.
It is, however, a move that can strengthen your squat and other larger movements. The superman is one of those moves where it may not seem as though it is generating any benefits, but it is. Trust the process.
Although the range of motion is low and the movement itself is pretty tame once you’ve learned to do it correctly, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to spice it up. Below of some of the more valuable variations you can try out once you’re feeling up to it.
[Related: Getting Stronger Isn’t Complicated. It’s Difficult. There’s a Difference.]
Isometric Hold and Rock
Isometrics are a great tool to use when a movement causes you pain. They keep the muscles under longer periods of tension to help strengthen them for heavier loads. Of course, the movement itself should never cause anguish — if it does, stop what you’re doing and reassess your form.
For the isometric hold and rock, you maintain a contracted superman position and then rock forward and backward. As previously mentioned, this is reminiscent of a hollow rock, except in prone rather than supine. The rocking can help improve your body control, core strength, and I find it to be rather fun.
It is worth noting that as you rock, you have to maintain tension in the mid and low back and glutes. It will cease to fulfill time under tension if not. A useful visualization to help prevent that is imagine that you are actually superman flying through the sky and the turbulent winds are pushing you up and down.
Isometric Hold and Roll
The isometric hold and roll is actually a combination between a superman and a hollow hold. It trains the anterior core along with the posterior core and is great segue to more advanced movements found in bodyweight training and gymnastics.
The movement starts in a superman. While maintaining the tension, roll over until you have essentially flipped into a hollow hold. Once that transition is completed in a controlled fashion, roll back over into the superman. That is one repetition. Be mindful that the engagement goes from the back and glutes to the core smoothly.
There is no rest period during the motion. Try to shoot to complete an entire set without taking any breaks, although if you need to rest, simply lower your body in the position you’re in (either superman or hollow hold) and then reassume that same position and continue when ready.
Muscles Trained And Form Tips
The superman trains the following muscles:
- Lower And Upper Back
- Erector spinae
- Quadratus lumborum
- Glutes and Hamstrings
- Rotator cuffs
- Posterior deltoids
- Teres minor
The Superman exercise when done correctly improves your ability to contract and relax the muscles responsible for extension (lower back, glutes, and hamstrings).
It is imperative to keep your neck neutral and to avoid jerky movements of your limbs. If you’re feeling pain in your neck, check your head position to make sure you’re not hyperextending it. Concentrate on lifting and lowering all four limbs with control.
Don’t bend your knees and elbows. Keep them straight, but remember to properly focus on the muscles being trained. Furthermore, because you’re lying prone, it’s important to breathe in and out to keep up airflow and to stabilize your core region.
The superman exercise is one of those exercises that’s often neglected because it seems too simple to work and lifters by-pass it for more complex exercises. However, the superman and its variations can strengthen your posterior muscles without the need for elaborate equipment.
Feature image via Clinique Hygie’s Instagram page: @cliniquehygie