If you’re still scratching your head, unaware of what “tummy time” even is, don’t worry. Tummy time is simply the phrase used for placing infants on their bellies (while supervised and awake). The idea is that by being on their stomachs, they’ll have to use their back and neck muscles to lift their heads up off the floor. In doing so, it helps strengthen their little bodies.
But, as it turns out, tummy time can benefit adult bodies, too.
According to a study published in Biology of Sport: A Quarterly Journal of Sport and Exercise Sciences, the authors found that performing lying back extensions three times a week for 10 weeks improves spinal extension range of motion. In other words, alert tummy time enhances mobility—something that dwindles as we age if we don’t focus on stretching and strength training.
The key word here is alert. After all, simply lying flat on your stomach to sleep won’t do anything for back strengthening. But, if you switch from lying on your back while scrolling, reading, or using your laptop to doing so on your stomach, your back can reap the rewards. That's the beauty of it: You don’t even have to be focused on working out. It’s all about embracing the functional movement.
“While lying on your stomach to work on your laptop or scroll through your phone sounds very simple, it actually takes advanced range of motion and strength,” says American Council on Exercise (ACE) expert Lauren Shroyer.
Where tummy time for babies is designed to help them develop a stronger spine, for adults, it’s aimed at making the spinal structure less stiff. “Adults, especially those of us who sit most of the day, tend to have a rigid spine,” Shroyer says. While simply flipping over during your daily tasks can lead you in the right direction, she says that adopting a strengthening routine is also beneficial.
Before setting an unattainable goal, however, Shroyer says to embark on this back-strengthening adventure with a sense of progression. For example, instead of starting off the bat with lying back extensions, she suggests working through a series of cat-cow stretches, spinal twists, and bird-dogs. Then, once you can perform 15 repetitions of each without great difficulty, move on to lying back extensions, and eventually supermans.
Strengthen your back the right way with these form tips:
“Like any exercise, you want to execute an appropriate progression before launching into an advanced exercise; this decreases the risk of injury and/or compensation with other muscles,” she explains. “The muscles along the spine are endurance muscles, so the ideal program includes three sets of 15 reps. However, for those starting out, sets of fewer reps is just fine; you can build up as you get stronger.”
With that in mind, Shroyer points out that if you’re on your stomach and you find that your back hurts, you may be moving too quickly. “If you are in this position and feel fatigue, aching, or pain in the low back or neck, it is an indication that you are compensating and the position isn't improving your posture as intended,” she says. Pull back on the exercises and tummy time, and consider getting the advice of a physical therapist to make sure you’re engaging the right muscles.
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