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4 Back Exercises To Prepare Dads For Giving A Childhood’s Worth Of Piggyback Rides

Piggyback rides are fun for your kid — but for your body? Not so much. Putting a 30-to-40-pound sack of preschooler up on your back or shoulders adds weight and pressure to the neck and upper back, which can lead to injury and a quick end to your prancing days.

“Picture your back as a lever and the weight is at the end of it,” says Robert Herbst, 18-time world champion powerlifter, Strength Sports Hall Of Fame inductee, and personal trainer. “The weight is far away from your center of gravity. It’s not mechanically advantageous.” Before you let your kid ride you to the parade, do a few of his proven exercises so you can be as fit as a horse, too.

Neck Strengtheners

Why? “You definitely want to prevent yourself from bulging cervical discs, which will damage the nerves in your neck,” says Herbst. “These are isometric exercises that don’t put a lot of strain on them.”

How to Do It

  1. Clasp your hands behind your head with your fingers interlocked and your elbows out.
  2. Push your head against your hands (and your hands against your head) as hard as you can — almost like you’re trying to Heisman yourself. Hold for a count of 10, then release.
  3. Move your hands to your forehead, elbows in front. Push your head back and press your head against your hands. Hold for a count of 10 and release.
  4. Repeat on both sides of your head. Hold the palm of one hand against one temple and pushing your head into your hand (and again, your hand toward your head). Work up to 3 sets for each of the 4 directions.

Shoulder Shrugs

Why? Shrugs strengthen the trapezius muscles which stabilize the head. This makes sure your neck and back are able to sustain the ride. “Don’t be concerned with lifting too heavy a weight — you shouldn’t jerk the weight up with your body,” says Herbst. “Use control and get a good stretch at the bottom of the movement.”

How To Do It

  1. Stand straight and hold a heavy dumbbell (try it first with 35-pounders) in each hand with your arms at your sides.
  2. Shrug your shoulders as high up as you can and hold. Then drop your shoulders as far down as you are able. Do 2-to-3 sets of 10 reps. (Now you’re powerfully ambivalent.) Alternative method: Use a barbell by holding it in front of you and lifting up.


Why? This movement isolates the muscles you’ll be using during a piggyback ride: upper back, lats, and biceps. Also, it sounds like a Mortal Kombat finishing move.

How To Do It

  1. For this exercise, use the gym’s lat pulldown machine (make sure to wipe it down first) and the extended U-shaped handle — the one where the palms of your hands face each other when you hold it.
  2. Sitting in front of the pulldown, lean back at a 45-degree angle and pull the weight down to your chin, flaring out your elbows.
  3. Pull the weight with control without using your bodyweight. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Good Mornings

Why? Your lower back has a tendency to seize up if it’s put under stress and not trained regularly. Give your lumbar some support so that hoisting your kid up on your shoulders doesn’t accordion your spine.

How to Do It

  1. Position a barbell on your shoulders. With your feet a little more than waist distance apart, lean forward.
  2. Bend at the waist until you’re at, or close to, forming a 90-degree angle. Focus on using your hips, hamstrings, and lower back to raise yourself up.
  3. Start with a moderate amount of weight and work your way up, doing 4-to-6 reps in 2-to-3 sets.

One Last Thing

When you’re giving them a ride, be sure to maintain good form by contracting your abs and concentrating on pushing your kid out towards your belt. This will support your posture and keep you from folding like a pair of 2s when you’re carrying that load. “People with back problems usually have weak abs,” Herbst says. “Keep your core tight and stay upright so it becomes a habit. You’ll be happy you did the next day.” Giddy-up.