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The Right Moves

Backing Your Torso With Strong Support

May 01, 2000|KAREN VOIGHT

As a dancer I was taught that all movement starts with a strong "center." This means that your torso acts as a bridge to link your upper body with your lower body.

When your torso muscles are strong, they can hold your spine steady while your arms and legs are free to move. If you look at someone with this type of strength, you'll see that they have good posture and that they move with a sense of confidence, poise and control.

At the gym, most weight machines are designed to provide passive support for your torso and back while you work other muscles in your chest, the biceps and triceps in your arms, and the quadriceps and hamstrings in your legs.

But what happens when you get off the machine and want to use these muscular arms and legs in sports, aerobics and activities that involve lifting, pulling and pushing heavy objects? You need your trunk muscles to be as strong as your limbs. Plus, you need them to have enormous endurance. Whether you are sitting, standing or moving, the muscles around your spine are constantly working.

Without a strong trunk, your body is more vulnerable to injuries, and fatigue sets in faster. Your spine can easily slip out of correct alignment if the muscles are not trained to stabilize it.

So, instead of relying exclusively on external back support such as weight machines, weightlifting belts and those lumbar cushions, incorporate this extra exercise into your fitness program. It will develop the strength you need in the stabilizing muscles of your trunk. Doing it regularly will help your body become more in balance and better equipped to handle the stress and strain of everyday movement.

* Begin by sitting upright on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Straighten your arms behind you, resting lightly on your fingertips. Lift your chest up and away from your knees. Check that you have a natural curve in your lower back and your abdominals are pulled in to support your spine.

* Without rounding your back, walk your hands farther behind you and rock backward on your buttocks until you can raise your feet off the ground. Bring the tops of your shins parallel to the floor. Use your abdominals to stay balanced in this position and keep your chest lifted. Stay in this pose for three to five breaths, then lower your feet to the floor.

* Once you are able to maintain this exercise for five breath cycles, challenge yourself by bringing your arms forward, reaching past your knees toward your feet. Move one arm at a time. Remain long and lifted throughout your torso. Make sure you don't roll backward or let your chest drop when you extend your arms to the front. Complete three to five breaths in this more advanced pose and lower your feet to the floor.

Practicing this exercise will improve your posture, which will give your body a more streamlined appearance. You are also likely to notice that your agility, coordination and balance will take a turn for the better. We can all benefit from what dancers know: Developing strength from the center out gives you the foundation you need to move with power and grace.

* Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose column runs the first and third Mondays of each month. Her latest videos are "Ease Into Fitness" and "Yoga-Sculpt." She can be reached by e-mail at


* Joan Voight, a San Francisco journalist, contributed to this column.

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