watch your back

Simple upper-body strengtheners to help prevent back pain and promote good posture


Strong upper-back and shoulder muscles can help you prevent backaches and maintain good posture throughout your pregnancy, says Danielle Spangler, a Los Angeles-based certified trainer specializing in prenatal and postnatal fitness. Those muscles also are important after the baby arrives. “Women tend to hunch forward when they breastfeed, even with a nursing pillow,” says Spangler, who is the mother of a 6-month-old girl, Lilly. “If your back and shoulders are weak, you won’t be able to combat the forward pull.” Over time, a rounded stance could lead to chronic pain and injury, she adds.

Spangler recommends the following exercises to strengthen your upper back and shoulders and stretch your chest muscles. The moves can be done throughout all three trimesters. Do them every morning and once or twice during the day, gradually building up to the recommended number of sets and repetitions. At the end of each workout, be sure to stretch your shoulder and chest muscles.

1. ELBOW SQUEEZE Stand with your back against a wall, feet approximately hip-width apart. Place your fists on your temples and open your elbows wide until they’re flat against the wall. Slowly bring your elbows toward each other, keeping your back against the wall [A]. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your shoulders relaxed and flatten your elbows against the wall [B]. Do 3 sets of 20–30 reps, resting 30–60 seconds between sets. Opens chest and shoulders and stretches upper back.

2. FLY COMBO Sit erect on the edge of a chair, knees bent and aligned over your ankles. Hold a light- to medium-resistance band or tube in front of you at shoulder height, arms straight, palms down, hands about 6 inches apart. Keep your shoulders relaxed and pull in your belly so you don’t slouch. Next, pull your arms apart and bend your elbows down toward your waist; band will end up near your breastbone [A]. Straighten arms to return to starting position and repeat for 12–15 reps. After the last rep, lower arms so the band is at chest height. Squeeze shoulder blades together, bending elbows out and back [B]. Straighten arms and repeat for 12–15 reps. Repeat the entire sequence two more times, resting 30–60 seconds between each set. For more resistance, bring hands closer together, choking up on the band. Builds strength and endurance in upper-back and rear-shoulder muscles.

3. THUMBS UP Holding a 2- to 4-pound dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise your arms to the side at shoulder height, thumbs pointing down. (If you like, you don’t need to use weights; make loose fists instead.) Keep your shoulder blades down and together, neck and upper back relaxed and torso tall. Rotate from the shoulders to bring your thumbs up and back as far as they will go. Return to starting position (thumbs down), then repeat. Do 2 sets of 20–30 reps, resting 30– 60 seconds between sets. To progress, add 2 or 3 reps at a time until you reach 40 reps. Increases endurance of deep upper-back postural muscles and stabilizing shoulder muscles, making it easier for you to hold your arms up for a lengthy period of time.