The Prone Position and Back Exercises

Prone describes the position of your body when you are lying on your stomach, face down. Technically, it is when the ventral side of the body is against the ground. It is the opposite of the supine position, in which you lie on your back (face up) while your dorsal side is against the ground.

Clinicians, such as physical therapists, may place their clients into a prone position while giving manual therapy or doing certain stretching and back exercises. A great example of the use of the prone position is the yoga Cobra pose. In yoga Cobra, you lie on your stomach and then gently push your head, shoulders, and chest up off the floor.

Prone and supine are among a number of terms that describe your position while exercising or receiving manual therapy. Similar terms include side-lying, hands-and-knees, all-fours, or tabletop position.

Woman lying on her stomach
Johner Images / Getty Images

Prone vs. Supine for Back Exercise Therapy

Generally, home exercise programs you might get from your physical therapist or doctor start with exercises in which you lie on your back (in the supine position). This is because you receive the most back support possible in a supine position. After you’ve developed some initial strength and coordination in supine position—which generally doesn’t take very long if you do the exercises every day—your therapist or personal trainer will likely progress you to exercises that take place in prone position.

Back exercises in the prone position are often back extension exercises. These may be contraindicated if you have spinal arthritis or facet joint problems. However, back extensions are recommended as exercises for some back conditions. These may include herniated disc or sciatica.

Back Exercise Performed in the Prone Position

Doing exercises in the prone position can help you strengthen your back muscles. The position lends itself to doing back extension exercises. The Cobra yoga pose mentioned above is perhaps the best example of this function. Prone press-ups are also a way to strengthen back muscles.

You can also strengthen your hamstring muscles with exercises in prone position. Strong hamstrings help counter a condition known as the anterior tilt of the pelvis, which essentially is the forward tipping of your pelvic bone. This forward-tilting often leads to excessive lumbar spinal curve, tight back muscles, and pain.

There are a number of ways to strengthen your hamstrings while lying in the prone position. Using props, such as a ​Theraband, yoga block, or an exercise ball, as you do may make things more interesting.

For example, use a fit ball to warm up by putting the ball between your ankles and lifting and lowering your lower legs. Once your hamstrings and other muscles are warmed up, you might use the ball as your support surface (lying face down on it instead of the floor) and lift and lower your legs that way.

Using the ball instead of the floor can be easy or challenging, depending on what you choose to do and whether or not you put your hands on the floor to steady your body.

3 Sources
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  2. Howell ER. Conservative management of a 31 year old male with left sided low back and leg pain: A case reportJ Can Chiropr Assoc. 2012;56(3):225–232.

  3. Król A, Polak M, Szczygieł E, Wójcik P, Gleb K. Relationship between mechanical factors and pelvic tilt in adults with and without low back pain. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2017;30(4):699-705. doi:10.3233/BMR-140177.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.