The alternating superman is a very effective exercise to work your entire posterior chain. This is a bodyweight exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime.
How to Perform the Alternating Superman
- 1Lie face down on the floor.
- 2Stretch out your arm and legs in a starfish manner.
- 3Arch your body as you lift your left arm and right leg off the floor, stretching your arms forward.
- 4Contract your lower back and hold the top position for a count of three (keep your neck relaxed).
- 5Lower to the start position and repeat.
- 6Do the same number of reps on either side of the body.
TIP: I recommend doing 10 reps on each side of the body. At the end of your set, you will feel an intense pump in the lower back muscles. Rest for 60 seconds and then do your second set. You should do a total of 3 sets on this exercise.
Primary & Secondary Muscles Targeted
The main target muscle is the erector spinae at the lower back but this move will also hit the rear deltoids, trapezius, lats and glutes. This is also an effective core exercise that will strengthen the rectus abdominis muscles.
The alternating superman exercise is quite a rare core move in that it strengthens both the abs and the lower back, which are opposite to each other. The main area of emphasis is the erector spinae which is a long sheath of muscle that runs from the neck all the way down to the hips. The top three-quarters of the muscle are not visible, being hidden behind the latissimus dorsi and trapezius muscles. Its key function is spinal flexion, though it also rotates and bends the torso.
Secondary muscles that are activated throughout the alternating superman action are the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings. Stabilizer action is performed by the deltoids and trapezius.
Even though the alternating superman is a relatively simple bodyweight exercise, it is often performed incorrectly. Here are the four most common mistakes and how to overcome them:
Bent Arms and Legs
When your arms and legs are bent as you lift them, a considerable amount of the pressure is taken off the erector spinae. This is not what you want. To keep the target on the erector spinae, your arms and legs should be fully extended with your arms reaching forward as you lift them from the ground.
The key to really stimulating the lower back is to hold the top position of the exercise. However, many people fail to perform this contraction, simply going up and down in a rhythmic manner. Be sure to hold the contracted position for a count of three to really feel the muscles of your lower back and the sides of the waist.
If your body is not aligned properly as you lie face down, you will not be able to work each side of your body equally. Overbalancing to either side will put too much strain on one side. This will compromise your ability to evenly stress the erector spinae muscles.
HOLDING THE BREATH
A surprising number of people hold their breath when they perform the alternating superman exercise. This is not a good idea. Natural breathing will keep your core stable and keep a steady supply of oxygen flowing to your muscle cells. Remember, also, to keep your neck relaxed.
Pointing the toes while performing the alternating superman exercise is quite natural. However, doing so will relieve the pressure on your erector spinae and transfer it to your hamstrings. Avoid this tendency by keeping your feet perpendicular to the floor, remembering to keep your arms and legs straight.
The alternating superman is itself a variation of the basic superman movement. In the original exercise, you lift both arms and legs at the same time. This works both sides of the erector spinae muscle at the same time, while the alternating version provides unilateral tension on each side of the erectors spinae individually.
A more advanced version of this superman exercise involves holding a weight plate in your hands as you raise your arms and legs. Be sure that your arms are fully extended to keep the pressure on the lower back. You will not have to use a very heavy weight to maximally work the erector spinae muscles with this one.
Another Great Lower Back Exercise
Here's another exercise that specifically targets the erector spinae muscles of the lower back. It's called the seated torso extension. It can be done with or without weight, just like the alternating superman. Here is how to perform the weighted version:
- 1Sit on a bench with your knees together.
- 2Put a light dumbbell on your thighs, holding it by the ends.
- 3From an upright torso position, round your spine as you curl your head down toward your knees.
- 4Hold the fully contracted position for a 2 count.
- 5Slowly return to the start position.
The combination of the alternating superman and the seated torso extension makes an excellent lower back superset workout. Go back and forth between these exercises for a total of 4 supersets, with a 60-second rest between each one.
What Actually Is the Lower Back?
Technically, there is no such thing as a lower back muscle. What people generally refer to when they talk about the lower back is the erector spinae muscle. However, as we have noted, this muscle actually runs the entire length of the back. The erector spinae muscle, then, is more correctly a full back muscle. The first 6-7 inches of the erector spinae, originating from the pelvis, are constructed of fascia. From there, the muscle is flat and has limited potential for growth.
Of course, many people experience pain in the lower back. Performing exercises such as the alternating superman and the seated torso extension strengthen the entire erector spinae muscle, which can fortify the lower portion of the muscle against back pain.
Often lower back pain experienced by gym goers is the result of poor exercise performance with too much weight. The number one exercise that leads to lower back pain is the squat. To avoid this, be sure to check out our in-depth squat guide.