i amIt’s time for tummy time! If you’ve been looking around confused, wondering if you’ve accidentally clicked on an article about child development, know this: you’re in the right place. That’s right, tummy time is for adults too.
If you’re still scratching your head and don’t know what “tummy time” is, don’t worry. Tummy time is simply a phrase used for keeping babies on their tummies (supervised and awake). The idea is that being on their stomachs requires them to use their back and neck muscles to lift their head off the floor. By doing this, it helps to strengthen their little body.
But, it turns out, tummy time can benefit the adult body, too.
According to a published study Biology of Sport: A Quarterly Journal of Sport and Exercise Sciences, the authors found that supine back extensions performed three times per week for 10 weeks improved spinal extension range of motion. In other words, alert tummy time increases mobility—something that declines with age if we don’t focus on stretching and strength training.
Key word here careful. After all, lying flat on your stomach to sleep will do nothing to strengthen the back. But, if you switch from lying on your stomach while scrolling, reading or using your laptop, your back can reap the rewards. That’s the beauty of it: you don’t even have to focus on working. It’s all about embracing functional movement.
“While it sounds easy to lie on your stomach or scroll through your phone to work on your laptop, it actually requires an advanced range of motion and strength,” says American Council on Exercise (ACE) expert Lauren Schroer.
Whereas tummy time for babies is designed to help them develop a stronger spine, for adults, it aims to make the spine less rigid. “Adults, especially those of us who sit most of the day, have stiff spines,” Schroer says. While simply flipping through your daily routine can get you on the right track, she says adopting a robust routine is also beneficial.
Before setting an unattainable goal, however, Schroer says to embark on this back-strengthening adventure with a sense of progress. For example, instead of starting the bat with a lying back extension, he suggests working through a series of cat-cow stretches, spinal twists, and bird-dogs. Then, once you can do 15 reps of each without too much difficulty, move on to lying back extensions and finally supermans.
Strengthen your back properly with these form tips:
“As with any exercise, you want to perform an appropriate progression before starting an advanced exercise; this reduces 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 repetitions. However, for those starting out, low rep sets are fine; you can build up as you get stronger.”
With that in mind, Schroer notes that if you’re lying on your stomach and you find that your back hurts, you may be moving too quickly. “If you’re in this position and experience fatigue, aches, or lower back or neck pain, that’s an indication that you’re compensating and the position isn’t improving your posture as intended,” she says. Pull back on exercise and abdominal time, and consider consulting a physical therapist to make sure you’re engaging the right muscles.