The Prone Position and Back Exercises

Woman lying on her stomach
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Prone is a word that describes the position of your body when you are lying on your stomach. Clinicians, such as physical therapists, use the term prone to talk or write about positions into which they place their patients when giving manual therapy, or when having them do certain stretching and back exercises that comprise the home exercise program.

A great example of the use of the prone position is the yoga cobra pose. In yoga cobra, you lie on your stomach, and gently push your head, shoulders, and chest up off the floor.

Generally, home exercise programs you might get from your physical therapist or doctor, for example, start with exercises in which you lie on your back (called the supine position.) This is because, in supine, you receive the most support possible. After you’ve developed some initial strength and coordination in supine — 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.

Prone and supine are among a number of terms that describe your position while exercising or receiving manual therapy. They are recorded in your patient chart, along with other information about your treatment and/or exercise prescription. Similar terms include side lying, hands, and knees (or all 4s, or tabletop position.)

Back Exercises Commonly Performed in the Prone Position

Doing exercises in the prone position can help you strengthen your back muscles — the yoga cobra mentioned above is perhaps the best example of this function. Other ways to strengthen back muscles in prone include prone press ups.

Another way exercising in the prone position can help your back is by strengthening your hamstring muscles. Strong hamstrings help counter a condition known as the anterior tilt of the pelvis, which essentially is a forward tipping of your pelvic bone. This forward tipping 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 — and using props such as a ​Theraband or an exercise ball tops 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 (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 now you put your hands on the floor to steady your body.

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