What’s that in the sky? It’s not a bird or a plane — it’s your new favorite calisthenics movement. It might not seem as exciting as Clark Kent’s alias, but the Superman is an exercise you might just want to add into your routine if it’s not already there.
This bodyweight staple is a low impact and beneficial way to build strength and stability throughout your body and can assist in movements like the bent-over row, back extension, deadlift, and hip thrust.
Since you only need your body to perform this exercise, it’s easily accessible, and you can do it anywhere. So if you don’t have a gym at your disposal, try the Superman for some whole body burn.
- How to Do the Superman
- Benefits of the Superman
- Muscles Worked by the Superman
- Who Should Do the Superman
- Superman Sets and Reps
- Superman Variations
- Frequently Asked Questions
We might not be able to teach you how to fly, but we can walk you through how to perform this exercise on the ground. All you need is your body and maybe an exercise mat.
Step 1 — Get Horizontal
Luckily, the first part of this move is pretty simple. Lie face-down on the floor.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your gaze on the floor to help keep your spine neutral and avoid extra strain on your neck.
Step 2 — Extend Out
Again, this part is pretty simple. Stretch your arms straight up above your head and keep your legs straight, so your entire body is parallel to the floor.
Step 3 — Lift Off
Squeeze your low back and glutes to lift your arms, legs, and upper back off the floor. There should be a visible arch in your body from your feet to your fingertips. Hold the position for time.
Coach’s Tip: Think about “reaching out” with your hands and feet at all times.
Aside from the pose, the Superman has several benefits that may not be as obvious as looking good in spandex. This exercise benefits the spine, posture, and helps build strength. Below are the reasons why you should be doing the Superman.
Since the Superman works the back muscles, it helps create support for the spine. Spinal support is important because it may help prevent injury and low back pain. A study from 2017 suggested that regular and proper exercise could prevent back pain by up to 45% when the muscles around the lumbar spine are strengthened. (1) The Superman is a fantastic low-impact way of reinforcing a bulletproof back.
Weak abdominals and a weak back can both cause poor posture, so by strengthening these muscles, you may be able to correct or prevent a hunch. Luckily, the Superman targets the core and the muscles in the posterior chain, which include the erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, and more. Building muscles in these areas should help you stand tall and proud.
When you lift weights, your muscles contract and lengthen against resistance. However, isometric strength — the ability to hold a static posture against pressure — is important for performance as well.
[Related: Four Benefits of Overhead Carries]
The Superman might not give you x-ray vision or super speed, but it will allow you to work several different muscles in your body. Many of these muscles are essential in keeping your body stable and helping prevent injury.
The erector spinae — or lower back — is important for spinal flexion, extension, and overall stability. If you want to someday deadlift a superhuman amount of weight, you have to start at the basics. The Superman is a fantastic introductory exercise for the lower back.
Aside from the aesthetics of strong glutes, the primary functions of the glutes are internal rotation and hip extension and abduction. They also help us run, squat, and even stand up from a chair. These are important muscles to strengthen because if they are weak, it may cause injury. Some literature suggests that athletes with stronger hip abduction are less likely to be injured versus those with weaker hip abduction. (2)
The hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension and when stretched and strengthened, may help low back pain and poor posture. Strong hamstrings aid in beneficial exercises like the deadlift and can help improve overall performance is explosive exercises like sprinting or jumping.
Everybody wants abs because they look great, but there are several benefits to having a strong core besides contributing to the ultimate beach bod. Core strength aids in spinal stability in exercise and everyday life. It is essential when performing exercises that allow for heavier weights because it helps keep the trunk stable so your muscles can produce power.
If you’re after a heroic physique, an exercise like the Superman should be a no-brainer. That said, there are specific populations that can probably get some extra value from the movement. Below are just a few groups that should be incorporating this exercise.
The Superman on the floor closely resembles the movement gymnasts perform on the bars called tap swings. Tap swings aid in swinging from bars or dismounting. This movement goes from the hollow position to the arch position just like the Superman, so performing the Superman can help strengthen these muscles used and help control the movement.
Exercises you may see in a CrossFit gym resemble that of the Superman, such as kipping pull-ups and the toes-to-bar. Half of the kipping motion performed in these two movements look and feel like the Superman, so performing this exercise can help improve and control your kipping technique.
Any lifter can benefit from the Superman since it helps strengthen the muscles used for various weighted exercises, but beginners in particular can benefit because it helps create body awareness.
Attention to technique is important when lifting, so knowing what extension of the glutes and hips feels like may help in properly performing exercises like the squat and deadlift.
Now that you know the benefits of the Superman, you’re probably ready to soar right into it. Below are training recommendations for the Superman — note that these should be taken as suggestions, and are not the only way to implement the exercise.
You can turn the Superman into an isometric exercise by holding the position at the top. It’s important to stay controlled and to control your body when returning to the starting position.
Start with holding the top position for short five second intervals. Control the descent and take short rests in between each set. As you build your endurance, try to hold the top position for ten or more seconds at a time.
For Strength and Technique
The Superman may seem simple enough, but it’s important to maintain technique to be safe and efficient. Building strength will help improve your form especially as your body becomes fatigued.
Perform eight to 10 reps until you are close to failure. If you start to lose form, make sure to take a rest. Perform three to five sets total.
The Superman requires strength and coordination, which means it may also require progression. Or maybe you’ve mastered the Superman and want more of a challenge. Either way, below are variations to build or challenge your superhero game.
The alternating Superman is a great modification if the regular Superman causes any strain or if those muscles need some building first. Instead of lifting both legs and arms up at a time, you’ll alternate one side at a time, opposite arm and opposite leg. All the cues for this one are the same — keep your neck in neutral and use your glutes and your low back.
Another great modification is the bird dog. This takes strain off the low back because you’ll have more support as you raise your limbs. The bird-dog can also be a reliable, safe option for pregnant women. Start in a tabletop position with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Lift your opposite arm and opposite leg as you squeeze your core, glutes, and back.
If you’re up for a challenge, the swimmer will give you just that. It requires more strength and stability because once your hands and feet are off the ground, they don’t come back down until the reps are completed. Start in a prone position like you would a Superman. Your arms and legs will hover off the ground as you quickly alternate your working limbs.
If you’re devoted to the barbell, a low-level calisthenics exercise like the Superman might feel like your kryptonite at first. However, bear in mind that you don’t always need to stack up the plates to make gains.
Taking your training back to ground level can help you refamiliarize yourself with the basics of human movement. Developing bodily coordination, isometric strength and control, and maintaining a healthy spine are more than good enough reasons to get down with the Superman.
Even Superman asks questions, so it’s okay if you do too. The Superman may be straightforward, but below are some frequently asked questions worth answering.
Will the Superman help me build muscle mass?
Although the Superman is great for stimulating the muscles in your back, glutes, core and hamstrings, you won’t necessarily build major muscle mass doing it. It’s a great functional exercise to make sure those muscles aren’t being ignored, but make sure to add some weighted movements into your routine for muscle mass.
Do I need any equipment for the Superman?
That’s one of the great things about the Superman; you don’t actually need any equipment! If you’re looking for an extra challenge, you can try it with resistance bands or lighter weights, but make sure you’re comfortable with the bodyweight movement first.
Why can’t I hold the Superman for long?
The Superman requires strength and control, and if the muscles activated aren’t strong enough yet, this exercise might seem more challenging. The best thing to do is be patient and practice. Start with modifications if needed, and you’ll be flying in no time.
- Shiri, Rahman, Coggon, David, Falah-Hassani, Kobra. Exercise for the Prevention of Low Back Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2018; 187(5)
- Stastny, Petr PhD, Tufano, James F. MS, & Golas, Arthur PhD. Strengthening the Gluteus Medius Using Various Bodyweight and Resistance Exercises. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2016; 38(3) doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000221
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