The superman exercise is a great bodyweight exercise to prevent injuries to your lower back, improve your posture, and build a better mind-muscle connection to your back and glutes. When it comes to exercises that can be done almost anywhere that target often neglected muscle groups like those in the lower back, the superman exercise lives up to its name to save the day.
Superman is stronger when surrounded by other members of the Justice League and that’s pretty much what these variations are. They shouldn’t entirely replace the original, but can be an exciting change of pace that can also get the job done.
Let’s hop into the phone booth and remind ourselves what the superman exercise is and how to do it properly. Then, we’ll take a look at variations to incorporate into your training.
The Superman’s Exercise
To jog your memory, here’s a demonstration showing how the superman is performed for isometric holds or repetition-based training. It is a fitting move for lifters at pretty much any level as a foundational movement that can improve fitness, strength training, and gymnastics.
[Related: 3 Benefits Of Superman Exercise]
5 Superman’s Exercise Alternatives
Here are five superman exercise alternatives to further build your posterior. If the original superman causes any pain or discomfort or if you’re looking for exercise variety to develop hip and lower back strength for other athletic movements, sub in the following moves in their place:
1. Stability Ball Reverse Hypers
This first variation is one of the more optimal choices if you lack mobility or suffer from shoulder pain. It puts a lot of emphasis on the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The stability ball elevates the movement (literally) and can help guide you to correcting hitches in your form, especially too much movement from your lower back — hyperextension could lead to pinches or tweaks that should be avoided. It’s tough to hide form errors from a stability ball.
Grab a weight bench and place a stability ball on top of it. The ball should be small enough that when you lay on top of it, you can grip the bench. While maintaining balance, lift your feet off the ground, and, while keeping your legs straight, raise your heels until your body hits parallel to the bench and lower back down — that’s one rep.
Repeat this process for the designated number of reps. Try not to let your toes touch the floor between reps. The burn should he palpable in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings towards the top of the rep.
2. Reverse Chinese Planks
The reverse Chinese plank takes posterior training to the next level. It’s an advanced isometric exercise for the entire posterior chain, particularly for the glutes and lower back muscles. Using only your upper back and heels for support, it’s entirely on the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings to stop you from hitting the floor. Check it out:
Using two boxes or weight benches, place one under your shoulders and the other under your heels while lying supine. Your mid-back down until your heel touch the bench will not have any support. The goal is to maintain a parallel plank position to the floor by engaging your posterior chain. This is a static hold.
When you’re ready to increase the resistance, hold a weight plate or dumbbell near your hips (best to have someone help you load it). You should instantaneously feel the need to fire up your glutes more to maintain the plank.
3. Back Extensions
Back extensions are done from either a 45-or 90-degree angle, trains the same muscles (from a different angle) as the superman and is a similarly effective exercise for the strength and muscle development of the lower back and glutes.
Unlike the standard superman, this can be loaded with plates, barbells, dumbbells, or resistance bands. When you perform this exercise, try out each kind of resistance source so you can get a feel for each one. Your form should stay the same regardless of which you use, but there are noticeable differences in practice.
For example, a resistance band will wrap underneath the base post and will have a higher resistance at the top of the rep and far less at the bottom. A weight plate or dumbbell will apply the same resistance throughout the entire movement.
4. Barbell Good Mornings
[Related: 5 Tips To Fix Your Funky “Good Morning Squats” From Home]
The barbell does puts stress on the lower back, hips, and requires good shoulder mobility — so be sure you can perform these with proper form (work with very light weight until proper form is achieved). If shoulder mobility or back pain is an issue, it might best to lean more on the other alternatives listed above. Good mornings need to be mastered with lighter loads before increasing intensity and range of motion.
5. Stability Ball Hip Extension With Curl
The shifting around of the stability ball requires the lifter to dial in their form. Any deviation in the hip extension or curl will cause you to fall off the ball. Check out the video below where you will see how I perform the movement and hit three distinct positions to ensure form is correct.
First things first, while laying semi-supine, place a heel on the stability ball. From here, engage the glute, roll the hip forward, and assume the plank position with the other leg remaining bent.
Once you have control, bend that straight leg by contracting that hamstring to draw the stability ball towards you. Don’t relax the glute at any point though this — it should stay engaged the entire time. Perform the eccentric motion back to the plank. Once there, lower your hips to the ground until your butt touches the floor and immediately come back up into the plank without rest. To recap those three moves:
- Establish control of the plank with your heel on the stability ball.
- Pull that stability ball toward you using your hamstring. Then return to the plank position.
- Lower the hips down until your butt touches the floor and repeat from step 1.
Unlike the superman exercise, this trains your hamstrings in two ways, hip extension, and knee flexion. This increased time under tension of the hamstrings and glutes helps build and strengthen them. Additonally, doing it one leg at a time strengthens imbalances between sides and highlights where weaknesses are.
The superman exercise is great bodyweight movement, no doubt about it. But if you have an extended posture, lack shoulder mobility, or just need some variety in your posterior chain training, these alternatives are available to strengthen and build muscle on your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
Try them out for yourself — adjust and iterate accordingly — and your bigger lifts might get a bit bigger.
Feature image via Shutterstock/Bojan Milinkov