Weekend Challenge: Upper Back Extender And Strengthener - Save Our Bones

Back pain is all too common in our modern society. Interestingly, research shows that in certain indigenous cultures, back pain is practically non-existent. This intriguing contradiction inspired some remarkable insights into what, exactly, defines good posture and how the S-shaped spinal curvature came to be accepted as normal.

So we’re going to take a look at this fascinating research on posture and back pain around the world, and how spinal extension plays into the picture, which the Upper Back Extender And Strengthener is all about.

This weekend’s challenge decompresses, flattens, and aligns the thoracic vertebrae to promote the regal posture seen in ancient cultures.

Let’s get started!

Redefining Good Posture

When you think of good posture, you might think of sitting up straight or walking with your shoulders back. But there’s actually a great deal more to posture than just that, since it also has to with with spinal curvature. I’ll explain.

It’s generally accepted that a gentle S-shape is normal – a slight curve inward at the neck, outward at the upper back, then in again for the lower back, and outward at the sacral vertebrae. But this may be a case of the less-than-ideal becoming the “new normal,” as we’ll explore in more detail later.

When a behavior becomes prevalent for many years, it can come to be viewed as normal. This is what’s happening with posture – sedentary lifestyles with hours of sitting, computer screens, typing, and cell phones are just a few of the everyday habits in modern society that encourage a hunched upper back and Forward Head Posture (FHP).

Poor posture can include the lower body, too. Slack abdominals pull the spine forward into a “swayback,” a condition referred to as lordosis if the curve deviates significantly from what’s considered normal.

All of this can add up to a slumped, imbalanced appearance and, unfortunately, back pain.

The Connection Between Poor Posture And Back Pain

When your vertebrae are not correctly aligned and supported by the surrounding musculature, they are in a state of imbalance, and so is your whole body. Always striving for balance inside and out, your body will begin to compensate in other areas to make up for the misalignment in another area.

What happens then is a conglomeration of muscle tightness, tension, and pressure in all the wrong places. Just about every joint in the body can be thrown off by poor posture, with knee, neck, shoulder, back, arm, and even ankle pain all playing in to the poor postural scene. Headaches are a classic symptom of poor posture.

Spinal extension helps counteract and correct all of this.

Spinal Extension: What It Is And Why It’s Important

Extension is the opposite of flexion. When you bend your spine forward, that is flexion. Extension, in contrast, is bending the spine backward. This spreads the vertebrae allows them to move more freely, and it minimizes the outward bend in the “S” at the top of the spine.

Yet extension is not something we practice naturally from day to day. It needs to be done deliberately, as in today’s exercise.

How To Do The Upper Back Extender And Strengthener

It’s more comfortable to practice this exercise on thick carpet or on an exercise mat.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your feet wide apart.
  2. Place your forehead on your hands to start.
  3. Lift your head and bring your arms forward, straightening your arms out in front of your face. Your palms should be down.
  4. Bring your arms out and around, palms still facing downward, so your fingers are pointing toward your feet and your elbows are straight.
  5. Lift your chest up off the floor as you do step #4.
  6. Bend your elbows and bring your hands back in as you put your forehead back down on the floor. The move is basically like a breast stroke.
  7. Extend your arms back in front of you and repeat the entire move eight to 10 times, or as many as you can comfortably perform.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not a motion we typically perform in our everyday lives. But in other less modern cultures, such motions are more common, and back pain is virtually nonexistent. Remarkably, their spinal curvature actually looks quite different.

Many Indigenous People Groups Do Not Experience Back Pain

When researcher Esther Gokhale suffered a herniated disc and the severe back pain that went with it, she set out to study populations around the world where such problems are rare. Hoping to avoid a second surgery for yet another herniated disc, Gokhale traveled to remote areas of the planet to observe and document the lifestyles of indigenous people groups.

From Ecuador to West Africa to Portugal, Gokhale was amazed at the activities these people engaged in, yet without back pain. Some carried heavy buckets on their heads; others spent seven to nine hours a day bent over gathering nuts; still others spent the better part of the day sitting on the ground weaving. Some of these people were very old, but their posture was excellent and they had no back pain.

The key seems to be the shape of indigenous people’s spines, a shape that is cultivated from infancy. Their spines assume more of a J-shape than an S-shape, with a very subtle upper back curve and a more significant curve at the bottom, so the buttocks protrude a bit. It seems that in addition to an active lifestyle from early age, such a spinal shape can handle the challenges of carrying heavy loads and sitting for long hours.

Gokhale began to do exercises like the one in today’s challenge in order to cultivate a more J-shaped spine, and her back pain diminished and ultimately disappeared.1

You, too, can cultivate a more J-shaped spine and eliminate or prevent backaches with moves like the Upper Back Extender And Strengthener and other Weekend Challenges, such as the Easy Posture Adjuster.

In fact, the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System contains many posture-enhancing exercises that flatten the upper back, reverse rounded shoulders, and promote healthy posture. While Densercise™ is effective when practiced three days a week for just 15 minutes, you can customize it to fit your personal level of fitness and individual goals by adding in Weekend Challenges, or repeating ‘Densercises' you find particularly helpful.

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As always, please feel free to share your thoughts about today’s challenge with the community by leaving a comment below.

Have a great weekend!


1 Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain.” Npr.org. June 8, 2015. Web. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/06/08/412314701/lost-posture-why-indigenous-cultures-dont-have-back-pain

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. live4ever

    Interesting clue on posture from my massage therapist who is trained as a rolfer: Sit with weight balanced on your “sitz bones” instead of pushing the waist back so far (don’t tilt pelvis back). This allows the J shape even when sitting. You can test the right position by comparing the strength of different positions. Have someone try to push you over (gently). This position requires feet on floor and no leg crossing. Ankles can cross for short breaks. Roll shoulders back, pull abs tight and raise front chest to allow neck to position ears over shoulders, not head forward as most us do at computer. I am practicing this posture and getting quite comfortable with it. Also orthogonal chiropractic is wonderful for posture issues.

  2. Bernadette

    Had to go on letrozole already have oesteporous, I no this drug does your bones in. Help !I follow your programme but get terrible muscle ache from this drug.Finding everything really hard at the moment.

  3. Teresa Ochoa

    This exercise is a form of Pilates, exercise. My chiropractic, told, me to be cautious with practicing some exercises, that put pressure on the spine, and ribs, because if you suffer Osteopenia, gives you pain and discomfort. However, pilates, some exercises, doing them correctly, may make bone grow, and strenght

    • Pamela

      You are correct that this is a Pilates exercise. However it is not being instructed properly. Without engaging the core and putting the weight on one’s pelvic bones or ASIS joints one will feel pain in the lower back. Also the demonstration shows too much lift and the head is being raised too much plus the legs are spread too wide and the glutes should be strongly engaged. I’m not just saying this as a lay person but I am actually a certified Pilates mat instructor. Just so you know 🙂

      • Cyn

        Thank you for the information Pamela. It’s good to know what not to do. Sometimes the information doesn’t give enough explanation for the illustrations. We don’t ever want to injure ourselves, especially when we’re trying to get as strong and healthy as we can.

        • Tricia

          I agree – whenever I see one of these exercise that I think may help my back I get my pilates teacher to look at it first and she modifies to suit me. Done incorrectly it could cause more pain.

  4. meow

    These upper back exercises aren’t good for your spine, they are all very similar and produced immediate pain for me so I stopped doing them. Standing and slowly moving your shoulders back is much better. Another good one is to lie down and gently press your head into a towel. both of these will open and stretch the spine and neck without causing too much pain if any. I learned them both in pt.

    • Marlene

      Are you lying on your back or stomach for this??I have herniated discs and sciatica.thanks:)

      • meow

        Lat on your back with a towel under your head/ neck. Then gently press your head into the towel. Hold for 5-10 seconds- round of 5-10. Always use heat before any stretch exercise. And warm up before stretches. If you feel pain stop.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      It’s always a good idea to stop if you feel pain, and thank you for sharing the tip about placing your head on a towel!

  5. Florence

    I find it very difficult to sit at the computer and still do the exercises the correct way. I wish there were a group locally who I could get together with to learn how to do these exercises.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Would it help to print out the instructions, Florence? Just click on the printer icon to the left of the post. 🙂

    • Pamela

      Pilate’s is the absolute best form of exercise out there to strengthen the core and back therefore, aligning the posture. Find a reputable studio in your area. DO NOT go to the local gym for Pilate’s. Those folks do not have a proper certification.

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