Written by Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD, CPT
The superman exercise is an effective and efficient exercise for people of all fitness levels. It targets your lower back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and abs.
What’s more, it complements other core exercises — such as leg raises and sit-ups — that mostly focus on the abdominal muscles in the front of your body.
That said, you may wonder how to do it properly and safely to ensure you’re targeting the right muscles without hurting yourself.
This article reviews the superman exercise, its benefits, how to do it, and some common mistakes.
Though you may not become a superhero doing this exercise, you’ll definitely have a super strong core after adding it to your fitness routine.
Despite popular belief, your core is more than just your abs. It includes the front abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques), lower and upper back muscles, and other surrounding muscles (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
In particular, the superman exercise targets mostly the erector spinae muscles of your lower back. The erector spinae muscles include the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis, which play a key role in back extension (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
This exercise also targets the glutes, hamstrings, upper back and shoulders, and abdominal muscles.
Collectively, this move supports a stronger core. And that’s important for activities of daily living (like bending, squatting, lifting), athletic performance, good posture, and the prevention of lower back injury (5Trusted Source).
Fortunately, the superman is easy and safe to perform for people of all exercise levels. One note of caution: People with chronic back injuries should avoid this move or speak with a healthcare professional first.
The superman exercise targets the lower and upper back, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles.
- Spinal support. This move strengthens the erector spinae muscles that provide support to the spine.
- Posture. Strong back muscles can prevent postural deviations that lead to poor posture and discomfort, such as kyphosis (“hunchback”).
- Injury prevention. A strong core is important for reducing strain on the lower back, which can lead to pain or injury over time.
- Stronger legs and buttocks. In addition to targeting your core, the superman targets the glutes and hamstrings.
- Accessibility. This exercise requires no equipment, only your body and the floor. This makes it a budget-friendly exercise for everyone.
The superman exercise is convenient, accessible, affordable, and easy to perform for all exercise levels. That’s why it can be a great move to add to your routine.
The superman exercise strengthens the erector spinae muscles and other surrounding muscles to support the spine, promote good posture, and reduce risk of injury. What’s more, it uses no equipment and is easy to perform.
The superman is a move that you can easily try today. Here’s how:
- Lie on the floor in a prone (belly down) position, with your legs straight and your arms extended in front of you.
- Keeping your head in a neutral position (avoid looking up), slowly lift your arms and legs around 6 inches (15.3 cm) off the ground or until you feel your lower back muscles contracting.
- Aim to lift your belly button slightly off the floor to contract your abs. A good way to picture this is to imagine you’re Superman flying in the air.
- Hold this position for 2–3 seconds. Be sure you’re breathing the entire time.
- Lower your arms, legs, and belly back to the floor. Repeat this exercise for 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
It’s important to lift only as far as your body feels comfortable. Though you may be able to lift just a few inches off the ground, you’ll still get in a great workout. If you find this move too difficult, try lifting only your arms off the ground.
What’s more, avoid lifting your head or hyperextending your neck, which can lead to pain or discomfort.
Correctly performing the superman exercise will ensure you’re targeting the right muscles. Be sure to pay attention to how your body feels to prevent injury.
Though the superman is safe for most people, avoid these common mistakes to effectively target your muscles and prevent injury:
- Moving too quickly. This move is intended to be slow and deliberate. Be sure to slowly lift your limbs and hold the position for at least 2–3 seconds before lowering.
- Not breathing. It’s important to breathe throughout the entire exercise to fuel your muscles with oxygen and stabilize your core. Try inhaling as you lift and exhaling as you lower.
- Looking up. This puts excess strain on your neck and upper back. Instead, keep your neck in a neutral position and your chin slightly tucked.
- Hyperextending your lower back. While back extension is required for this exercise, avoid overdoing it. Focus on lifting your arms and legs no more than 6 inches (15.3 cm) off the ground, maintaining abdominal engagement, and trying to lift through the thoracic spine.
- Pointing your toes. Though tempting, pointing your toes (plantar flexion) overworks your legs rather than your back. Instead, keep your toes in neutral position or just slightly pointed.
- Bending your knees. Keep your legs straight and focus on engaging your back, core, and glutes.
- Overextending your arms and legs. Extending your arms and legs too much can put excess strain on your lower back. Keep a slight bend in the elbows and knees as you lift and lower your arms and legs.
- Exercising on a hard surface. It’s best to exercise on a yoga mat or soft surface, such as carpet, to avoid bruising or hurting your hips.
Avoiding common mistakes will not only give you a better workout when performing the superman exercise, but will also help protect you from injury.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the superman that provides similar benefits, there are a few exercises you can try.
1. Bird dog
- Start on all fours. Align your knees with your hips and your shoulders with your hands. Keep your neck in neutral position.
- Extend your right arm forward and your left leg back while leaving your other arm and leg on the ground for support.
- Hold for 2–3 seconds, then alternate sides.
- Perform 10–12 reps on each side.
- Start lying facedown, with your feet hip-distance apart and your elbows bent with your palms flat by your shoulders. Inhale.
- Ensure your core is engaged (imaging your belly button being pulled towards your spine) and press into your hands gently to lift your chest off the mat as you exhale.
- Try to use your back muscles to do most of the work, rather than overusing the arms.
- Slowly lower back down with control on your inhale.
3. Standing superman
- Start in standing position, with your feet hip-width apart.
- Slightly bend your knees and reach forward with your left arm.
- Next, place most of your weight on your left leg and slowly lift your right leg off the ground. Ideally, try to lift it until it is parallel with the ground.
- Hold this position for a count of 5 seconds. Concentrate your eyes on the ground to help keep you balanced.
- Return to standing position and switch sides.
- Do 8–12 reps on each side.
Only perform this move if you have good balance. It’s also best to try this move with a spotter or near a stable structure to prevent falls.
4. Superman with elbows bent
If you notice a lot of strain in your neck and shoulders or lower back when attempting the superman exercise, try this variation instead:
- Begin by lying facedown on the floor, with your legs hip-distance apart.
- Bend your elbows and place your hands, palms down, underneath your forehead. Inhale, and draw the belly button to the spine.
- Exhale to lift only your upper body off the floor, keeping your legs down and the back of your hands glued to your forehead. Gaze out under your thumbs.
- Inhale as you lower down.
Alternative exercises to the superman will give you similar benefits but may be more accessible if you feel pain in your neck, shoulders, or lower back.
While the superman is generally safe for most people, it may not be suitable for those with chronic lower back pain or recent injury to the lower or upper back, abdomen, hamstrings, or glutes.
Furthermore, those who are pregnant shouldn’t perform the exercise after the second and third trimester because it puts excess pressure on the belly. In the first trimester, speak with your healthcare provider before starting this move or any new exercise.
For most people, as long as you’re performing the superman exercise correctly, it’s safe and effective.
Though safe for most people, those who have chronic back injuries, are currently healing from an injury, or are pregnant should avoid the superman exercise or consult a healthcare professional before trying it.
This move targets your lower back (erector spinae muscles), abs, glutes, hamstrings, and upper back.
Collectively, this helps provide spinal support, reduces the risk of back injury, and helps you carry out regular activities of daily living, such as bending and lifting.
While the superman is safe for most people, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you have a history of back issues, are injured, or are pregnant.
Furthermore, be sure to pay attention as you execute the superman exercise to ensure you’re doing it safely and correctly.
If you’re looking to strengthen your core, give the superman a try — it’ll counteract the computer slump and leave you feeling strong and mighty.