It's not every day you get the chance to feel like a superhero, especially not while working out. So...here's your chance. Doing a basic superman requires zero exercise equipment whatsoever. All you need is your bodyweight—and a cape. Okay, just kidding about the cape. But so long as you have space to spread yourself out on the floor, you can do it anywhere.
In addition to unleashing your superhero powers, this exercise provides a big bang for your buck. And when performed correctly, it can be done by almost anyone.
"Supermans work many of the stabilization muscles in your body like the erector spinae, gluteals, hamstrings, transverse abdominis, and even the deltoids," says Aaron Swenson, FightCamp trainer. "These muscles are responsible for many activities of daily living, like picking up a case of water or placing your suitcase in the overhead bin on an airplane."
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He adds that while six-pack abs are a serious perk of the move, living an active life free from pain is also pretty important. The superman is a great move to add to your workout routine to achieve that, especially if you work a desk job.
"The superman exercise is the perfect exercise to combat the poor posture many of us are getting from sitting at our computers all day," says Swenson. "Keep an exercise mat close to your desk as a reminder to do a few supermans every couple of days. In addition to helping build better posture, breathing your way through these movements will help to lower stress levels."
But seriously, you will look like superman flying in the sky during this move. It's is a floor exercise that involves simultaneously lifting your arms and legs off the ground while keeping your core engaged. This move will not only give you abs of steel, but also strengthen your back.
There are also plenty of variations you can do to increase or decrease the intensity of this move and keep things exciting. Here's everything you need to know about the superman—the benefits, step-by-step form tips, variations, mistakes to avoid, and more.
The Benefits Of The Superman
If you're a runner, you'll love the superman. As an endurance runner, I am always focused on finding moves that can strengthen the trunk of my body—especially my lower back. And this exercise is great for doing just that! But it's also more than just a lower-back exercise. It's also going to help you with overall stability for everyday movement. Here's how your body will be tested in each of these key areas:
- Lower-Back Benefits: Your lower-back muscles will get some well-deserved attention while doing the superman. Targeting them in this move will not only make them stronger, but also create more flexibility.
- Leg Benefits: You'll be seriously thanking the superman next time you see the noticeable gains in your glutes and hamstrings.
- Core Benefits: This move may look like it's just focusing on your arms and legs, but your core is a key component of this move. As you lift your arms and legs up into the air, the muscles in your trunk will be isolated. So you'll need to make sure they're engaged.
- Bonus Benefit: You'll feel like a superhero!
How To Do The Superman
Doing this exercise the right way should be pretty simple. But here's a step-by-step process just in case:
- Lie on your stomach with your arms (overhead) and legs fully extended while keeping your head relaxed and spine neutral by looking at the floor in front of you instead of up.
- Contract your core muscles to stabilize your spine, while simultaneously raising both your legs and arms a few inches off the ground, keeping your head and neck neutral.
- Hold at top for 3–5 seconds.
- Gently lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
Set/reps for results: Three sets of 10–12 reps should be enough.
Pro tip: It's very important to keep your head and neck neutral throughout the exercise and avoid jerky movements. Instead, work on synchronizing the lift and lower of all four limbs with control.
Variations On The Superman Exercise
There are a few easy ways to make sure this move remains exciting and as beneficial as possible.
1. Alternating Superman: If it's difficult to lift both arms and legs at once, you can try this modification. "I like to have people start with this version before moving to the full superman," says Swenson. Start by lying on your belly with your arms and legs extended. Pull your belly button in toward your spine (think of peeling it off of the floor) to turn on your core muscles. While maintaining your gaze on the floor, slightly lift your head off the floor. Lift your right arm and left leg three to five inches off of the floor as you inhale. Exhale to lower your limbs. Repeat on the other side for the same three sets of 10-12 reps.
2. Elbows Bent Superman: This variation is ideal for someone who has neck or shoulder pain, says Swenson. Start by lying on your belly with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle at your sides (palms down on the floor) and your legs extended. Pull your belly button in towards your spine (think of peeling it off of the floor) to turn on your core muscles. Keeping your gaze on the floor, inhale as you lift the upper body and legs three to six inches off of the floor. Exhale to lower the body back to the floor.
3. Reverse Superman: Here's a cool one! Instead of lying on your stomach. Flip over and lie on your back, this time lifting both arms and legs in a straight line simultaneously toward the ceiling. This move is more commonly known as a hollow hold—but reverse superman sounds more fun, no?
4. Superman Ball Lift: This is your advanced superman 2.0. For it, when you lift your arms and legs, you'll also be lifting a stability ball (or Swiss ball) between your feet, challenging those hard-to-reach lower abs and butt muscles just above your hamstrings.
How To Make The Superman Part Of Your Routine
Do them as a warmup: I love to complete a few sets of the superman in my warmup. It will really rev up your muscles for your upcoming routine.
Do them after a workout to cool down: This will help relieve energy placed in your lower back during the workout.
Do them as a superset: Say it's leg day and you're all about the squats. If you really want to challenge yourself, after each set of squat jumps, move right in to the superman. Doing 10-12 reps should be great!
Common Superman Exercise Mistakes
Unfortunately, if you don't perform these correctly, you could be putting yourself at risk for injury. Here are three things to avoid doing while working on your superman form:
- Straining your neck: When lifting the upper body off the floor, people will look up and strain their necks. (A no-no, says Swenson.) To fix this, steady your gaze on the floor as you lift the upper body. You can also think of reaching your head to the wall in front of you and elongating the spine, versus reaching your head toward the ceiling.
- Performing the exercise too fast: Moving through the superman too quickly isn’t effective and basically takes away all those total-body benefits, says Swenson. The superman is meant to be performed slowly and with control. Take your time to focus on elongating the muscles in the upper body as you lift and breathe through the movement.
- Not engaging your core muscles: A strong core always protects the back as it moves, says Swenson. Think about pulling the belly button into your spine to turn on the core muscles that stabilize the back as you lift the upper body and legs into the superman position.
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She is currently based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history.