The Superman Exercise Guide: How To, Benefits, + 2 Beginner Variations

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Most of the best back exercises require weights, if not full access to a gym where you can use barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and weight machines.

However, the Superman exercise is a beginner-friendly bodyweight back exercise that can be done without weights.

In this exercise guide, we will discuss how to do the Superman exercise, muscles worked, top Superman exercise benefits, plus variations and modifications of the Superman pose for a more well-rounded workout.

We will cover: 

  • How To Perform The Superman Back Exercise
  • Tips for Superman Workouts
  • What Muscles Are Worked By Supermans?
  • What Are the Benefits of the Superman Exercise?
  • How to Modify Superman Workouts

Let’s get started!

Superman exercise.

How To Perform The Superman Back Exercise

Before we look at the muscles strengthened by the Superman exercise, let’s discuss how to do it.

Here are the steps for how to do the Superman exercise:

  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms extended straight overhead and legs straight behind you. Hold a weighted object in each hand and/or wear ankle weights to make this bodyweight back exercise more difficult.
  2. Engage your glutes and back muscles to squeeze your shoulder blades together while lifting your upper body, head, and chest along with your lower body off the floor at the same time.
  3. Keep your arms and legs straight as you lift up off of the floor. The range of motion doesn’t need to be very large; 3 to 6 inches hovering above the ground is generally sufficient.
  4. Squeeze and hold this Superman pose position, hovering above the floor for several seconds, envisioning your body in a gently curved position as if you are Superman flying in the clouds.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Complete as many reps as desired.
A Superman exercise.

Tips for Superman Workouts

Here are a few important tips for performing the Superman exercise:

  • Think about drawing your belly button in towards your spine even though your tummy is staying on the floor. This will help engage your abs and deep transversus abdominis muscle of the core.
  • Squeeze your glutes as hard as possible, as if trying to hold a quarter between your butt cheeks to help engage your butt muscles.
  • Make sure that you are not bending your knees.
  • Lower your body gently rather than crashing back down on the floor.
  • Do not hyperextend your neck and upper back. 
A person flexing their back muscles.

What Muscles Are Worked By Supermans?

So, what muscles are worked by the Superman exercise?

We generally think of the Superman exercise muscles worked list as beginning and ending with the erector spinae muscle group, which refers to the smaller muscles along the vertebrae in your lower back that help provide stability to your spine and facilitate spinal extension.

Although the Superman exercise does primarily target the erector spinae, and these lower back muscles can be considered the prime movers of the Superman exercise, the Superman pose also strengthens synergistic muscle groups. 

Superman workouts strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, deep multifidus muscles in the back, transversus abdominis, abdominals, shoulders, rotator cuff muscles, levator scapulae, and rhomboids/traps in your upper back.

The Superman exercise.

What Are the Benefits of the Superman Exercise?

There are several benefits of adding the Superman exercise to your workouts.

Here are some of the top Superman exercise benefits that you can get from performing strengthening reps of this exercise or some prolonged isometric holds with a Superman pose or Superman stretch:

#1: The Superman Exercise Strengthens the Back Muscles

As mentioned, the Superman pose strengthens all of the muscles in your back along with many of the posterior chain muscles.

#2: The Superman Exercise Can Improve Posture

Strengthening the back muscles with Superman exercises can improve muscular endurance and help you maintain proper posture.

A person flexing their back muscles.

#3: The Superman Exercise Can Reduce the Risk of Back Pain

Research suggests that core-strengthening exercises like the Superman back exercise can reduce the risk of low back pain.

#4: The Superman Exercise Can Prevent Muscle Imbalances 

One of the benefits of the Superman stretch exercise is that it helps strengthen the lower back muscles, which are often notably weaker than the abs.

These types of muscle imbalances can increase the risk of injury and can also reduce athletic performance. You are only as strong as your weakest link, or in this case, your weakest core muscle. Therefore, it is very helpful to also do isolated lower back and ab exercises.

#5: The Superman Exercise Requires No Equipment

The Superman exercise is a bodyweight exercise, which means you don’t need to have any weights or access to a gym.

However, if you are doing Superman workouts at home and do not have any ankle weights or dumbbells to add resistance to your Superman exercise, you can make this bodyweight back exercise harder by holding a filled water bottle or a bag of dried beans/rice in each hand. 

The Superman exercise.

#6: The Superman Exercise Can Be Scaled

You can perform the Superman pose to build endurance in your lower back muscles and posterior chain muscles by holding the position.

You can also perform Supermans in hypertrophy workouts to build muscle by doing weighted Superman exercises using ankle weights and holding dumbbells or a medicine ball in your hands.

The most important tip for doing bodyweight back exercises like the Superman (when you don’t have equipment) is to increase the number of reps and sets if you want to build muscle and you aren’t a beginner.

How to Modify Superman Workouts

The basic Superman exercise is a beginner-friendly bodyweight exercise that can be performed at home or in the gym.

However, some people have difficulty performing this exercise, particularly if you cannot get up and down off of the ground easily, or if you have a large belly and/or are pregnant.

Here are some Superman exercise modifications for beginners:

  • Lift Just Your Arms: Perform the Superman exercise but keep your lower body on the floor and just squeeze your lower back muscles and perform the upper-body portion of the exercise.
  • Lift Just Your Legs: Perform the Superman exercise but keep your upper body on the floor and just squeeze your lower back and glute muscles and perform the lower-body portion of the exercise.
  • Alternate Single-Arm and Leg Supermans: Perform the Superman exercise but lift the alternate arm and leg at the same time, keeping the other arm and leg on the ground (sort of like swimming). 

Start with any of these beginner Superman exercises, and then gradually progress to full Supermans.

Here are a couple of variations of the Superman exercise.

The cat yoga pose.

#1: Cat-Cow

The yoga poses Cat and Cow are often sequenced together as part of a back warm-up routine.

If you perform the Cat-Cow sequence together as slowly as mindfully as possible, it can also be a good beginner modification for the Superman exercise to include in no equipment back workouts.

This back exercise won’t strengthen your back muscles as much as the Superman pose, as it is more of a mobility back exercise than a strengthening back exercise. 

However, the cat-cow exercise still helps train your mind-body connection to activate all the different areas of muscle fibers in your lats, traps, rhomboids, spinal extensors, and deep core muscles in a sequential way.

This helps mobilize each region of the spine for better movement mechanics for improved mobility and stability and can help prepare you for the Superman exercise.

The cow yoga pose.

Here are the steps for this back mobility exercise:

  1. Kneel on the floor on all fours so that your hands are below your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Your spine should be neutral with your back flat and abs engaged.
  2. To move into the Cat pose, draw your belly button in towards your spine and round your spine up towards the ceiling. Tuck your chin towards your chest.
  3. Then, move into the Cow pose by arching your back and letting your stomach drop down. Lift your head and tailbone up towards the ceiling. 
  4. Continue cycling through, trying to consciously think about mobilizing each segment of your spine.
The bird dog exercise.

#2: Bird Dog

Bird dog is a bodyweight core exercise that strengthens your erector spinae in the back, deep core muscles, and glutes.

It is a good alternative to the Superman exercise for beginners or those with a larger belly or difficulty lying on their stomachs because you perform this back exercise from your hands and knees rather than from the prone position.

Like the Superman back exercise, you can hold water bottles or bags of rice during this exercise to make it more challenging. 

Here are the directions:

  1. Get in a tabletop position by kneeling on all fours with a flat back with wrists stacked underneath your shoulders and your knees stacked under your hips.
  2. Lift and extend your opposite arm and leg simultaneously, squeezing your core to maintain balance. Reach your arm forward so that it’s straight and parallel to the floor and lift your leg straight back so that it’s also parallel to the floor.
  3. Return your hand and leg to the starting position but before you drop them back down to the floor, bring your elbow and knee together to touch underneath your chest.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.
  6. Continue alternating sides, moving as slow and controlled as possible.

For more no-equipment workout ideas, check out our bodyweight workout for runners here.

An elbow plank.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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