How to do the Superman exercise to strengthen your core, back and glutes all at once

a photo of a man doing the superman exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In the fast-changing fitness industry, few exercises endure the test of time. However, there’s one workout that’s stood strong, empowering countless individuals to tap into their inner strength and unleash their superhero potential. And that’s the Superman exercise.

The Superman exercise is a dynamic movement that targets the core, back, and gluteal muscles while fostering overall stability and balance. Inspired by the Man of Steel himself, this exercise involves lying facedown on the ground, arms extended forward, and lifting the arms, chest, and legs off the floor simultaneously. It’s no surprise how it earned its comic book hero moniker, then.

But how do you properly perform a Superman exercise, what are the benefits of doing them regularly and what are the common mistakes people make? We’ve spoken to a number of fitness experts to find out.

Superman exercise: What are the benefits?

There’s more than one reason why the Superman exercise has been used by fitness enthusiasts for many years. For one, it specifically targets the muscles in the core and back, including the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, and multifidus. 

Engaging and strengthening these muscle groups can improve gymgoers’ spinal stability, enhance posture, and reduce the risk of back pain or injuries — something that affects more than 600 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization

The accessibility of the Superman exercise also means it can be incorporated into a wide range of workout routines, from bodyweight workouts to strength training, making it accessible to individuals with different fitness goals.

“The Superman exercise is simple yet effective as it doesn’t require any equipment except an exercise mat if you are on a hard surface,” says PT and founder of Lemon Studios Sam Shaw.

“It strengthens your lower back, core, glutes and hamstrings. And since minimal kit is required to perform it, this is a great exercise when done correctly.

“It’s low-impact but highly effective.”

How to perform a Superman exercise

To find out exactly how this exercise should be performed, we spoke to Penny Weston, a nutrition, wellness and fitness expert and founder of MADE wellness centre.

“Before you start this exercise, make sure you grab a mat thick enough so you cannot feel the hard floor to avoid hurting your hips,” Weston says.

an illustration of a woman doing the superman exercise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)
  • To start, begin face down on the floor, with your arms extended in front of you and legs straight.  
  • “Raise both your arms and your legs off the ground at the same time, about five to six inches (or until you can feel the muscles in your lower back work),” adds Weston. “Hold the pose for around two to three seconds and then repeat.”
  • She recommends keeping a slight bend in your arms and legs as you lift and lower.
  • “Be careful not to overextend,” she says. “And make sure your core is engaged, as well as your glutes. To engage your core, suck your belly button into your spine and make sure your abs are switched on.”

Weston advised that anyone attempting to make the most of the exercise should do around 8 to 12 reps, around three or four times. “I also love to include it in my circuit training.’

Superman exercise: Common mistakes to avoid

While the Superman exercise is pretty straightforward to execute, it can still be performed incorrectly, which — in some instances — could lead to discomfort or even injury. Here’s some common form mistakes to avoid: 

Moving too quickly 

“One of the most common mistakes of this exercise is people doing it too quickly, moving quickly will not engage your muscles properly, and can lead to injury,” says Weston. “Make sure to stay face down with your chin tucked in slightly. If you look up, then you will put a strain on your neck.”

Holding your breath

Breathing is also important, adds Weston. “The action of being face down can cause a lot of people to hold their breath, but it is important to make sure you breathe so that oxygen can reach the muscles, breathing will also stabilize the core.”

Shaw suggests a number of corrections you can do during the exercise to ensure you don’t hurt yourself and fully benefit from it. “Take a moment to ensure correct posture and form. For example, your arms and legs should be straight and your head neutral with the chin slightly pointed down. Do not raise the legs and arms too high — it will put pressure on the lower back and focus on keeping the glutes tight and the core muscles engaged.”

Superman exercise: Variations to try

The good news is that — if for any reason you can’t perform the Superman exercise as above, the move can be modified to accommodate varying fitness levels and equipment availability. 

For example, it can be performed on the floor or on an exercise mat as standard, or there are variations such as the swimming Superman or single-leg Superman, which offer progression and added challenges once the exercise gets too easy to perform. 

Alternating Superman

Shaw suggests doing an “Alternating Superman” if the Superman exercise is a bit too intense to begin with, which simply involves lifting the left arm and right leg, then the right arm and the left leg. It also adds an extra balance and coordination element while still engaging the back muscles

“This is a lower tension version of the exercise which will enable you to build strength until you are able to perform a full Superman,” he explains. 

Dumbbells/resistance band

Additionally, if the standard bodyweight version of the Superman is a bit too easy, you can introduce resistance by incorporating dumbbells or a resistance band, says Lee Mitchell, personal trainer and fitness ambassador at Renpho

“Holding light dumbbells in your hands or placing a resistance band around your ankles can provide an added challenge, forcing your muscles to work harder and promoting further development,” he explains. 

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Lee Bell

Lee Bell is a freelance journalist and copywriter specialising in technology, health and fitness and how the latest innovations are shaking up the lifestyle space. From national newspapers to specialist-interest magazines and digital titles, Lee has written for some of the world’s most respected publications during his 12-plus years as a journalist.