We believe it was the ancient prophet Sir Mix-A-Lot who once decreed that "baby got back." Though his version of "back" was slightly different from the kind that lugs around books, a healthy overall back is the cornerstone of great posture and injury prevention. Keeping your back in good shape can help you avoid the leading cause of pain in the U.S. And a toned back looks great, too, especially under a glorious going-out top. To learn how to strengthen and tone both the lower and upper back, the Cut teamed up with Pure Barre instructor Sarah Wingo, who led three series of muscle-building workouts.
Step 1A: These first three exercises are designed to target both the upper and lower back muscles. First, lie stomach-down on the floor or mat, and position your arms behind you and parallel to the ground. Lift your chest and legs slightly off the ground. Imagine there is a pencil in the upper midline of your back, and squeeze and release this imaginary pencil in quick, tiny pulses for 30 seconds.
Step 1B: After you've completed the pulses, hold your arms in their original position, and lift your legs a few inches off the ground. Pulse your legs up and down for 30 seconds, and release. Be sure to extend the back of your neck forward and long to avoid any muscle stress.
Step 1C: Finally, reach your arms forward and simultaneously "swim" your legs and arms for another 30 seconds. Repeat steps 1A through 1C two more times.
Step 2A: Here are a few exercises that really tone your lower back (and also bring your butt along for the ride). Begin in the bridge position, where your back is on the floor or mat, your arms long and down by your side, and your feet turned out slightly and wider than hips-width apart. Lower and lift your right hip for 20 seconds, then repeat the move with the left hip for another 20 seconds.
Step 2B: Now center the hip-lowering and -lifting movements. Assume the previous move's starting position, and lower and lift your thighs, butt, and back for 20 seconds. Repeat steps 2A through 2B to complete the series for a total of three times.
Step 3A: Similar to the last series, the following moves will zero in on your lower back and butt. Come to all fours on a mat, and extend your right leg straight behind you. With a flexed foot, squeeze your butt as you lift and lower your right leg a few inches from its starting position. Continue this motion for 30 seconds before switching legs.
Step 3B: Remaining on all fours, bend your right leg into a 90-degree angle and extend your left arm forward. Lift and lower both the raised leg and arm a few inches in quick, tiny bursts for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat before doing steps 3A and 3B once more.