You often hear “less is more,” but rarely do you expect to hear this in regards to exercise.
In terms of building back strength and flexibility, this adage definitely applies. Stretches do not always have to go so far that they hurt to be effective. In fact, slow and subtle movements are a more useful way to free your back from pain and develop core strength.
The lower back pain that many people suffer from often comes from not having enough core and spinal strength. Muscles become overused and tight from bad postural alignment and a sedentary lifestyle, leading to neck and shoulder pain, fatigue and headaches.
However, everyone has the right to a healthy and pain-free back! It can even help to tighten abs and reduce back fat by increasing metabolism.
Here are some of the best methods for building better postural alignment, flexibility and strength.
One simple stretch is done lying on the floor or yoga mat with the knees bent and soles of the feet touching the ground. Let your knees tilt slightly to the left, then bring them slowly to center again and let them tilt slightly to the right. Inhale as you tilt your knees to the side and then exhale when you bring them back to the middle. Repeat this movement many times. Balanced, quality movement is key. You should not strive to feel a stretch – rather, keep the knees titling just a few inches to either side, and make each movement smooth and continuous.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet touching the floor again, hip width apart. Begin by trying to flatten your lower back into the floor a bit. If you now roll on the sacrum by rolling on the back of your pelvis slightly, your back will come closer to the floor and your stomach muscles will contract a bit. Then tilt your pelvis towards the heels so that your lower back lifts off of the floor slightly. Return to neutral and repeat. It should feel like a slow rocking motion as you tilt your pelvis back and forth. Don’t go to extremes.
Chest stretch for strengthening the mid-upper back
Our shoulders often round forward unnaturally from sitting at the computer or from bad posture, causing our neck, spine and back to move out of alignment. While holding a towel stretched between your hands, stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Keeping your arms at the same height as your shoulders, reach them forward. Continue by pulling the arms up over your head and then back with a smooth, continuous movement while exhaling. You should feel a stretch in your pectoral muscles. Hold this position for a few seconds and then return your arms back to neutral. Repeat.
Strong abdominal muscles also protect and strengthen your back. A favorite exercise for strengthening many of your core muscles simultaneously is plank. Begin in push-up position with straight arms. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders, and wrists in line with your elbows. Now push your body into the upper back, keeping your chin tucked as if carrying an egg. Your body should be off the ground in a single straight line. While holding this position for about 20 seconds, contract your abdominal, gluteal and thigh muscles and continue to breathe. Then rest and repeat.
Lower back bottom to heels stretch
Kneel on all fours on the ground with your hands directly below the shoulders and knees below the hips. Avoid arching your back but maintain the natural curve in your spine. While taking a deep breath, gently move your bottom towards your heels. Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat.
Simple seated stretch
Perfect for everyone sitting at a desk – you don’t even need to leave your seat. While sitting upright, cross your right leg over your left, and slowly turn your torso in the opposite direction. Then return to neutral and repeat the movement with the other leg.
Begin by lying on your stomach. Raise your upper torso up on your elbows, while lengthening your spine and keeping your neck straight and shoulders back. The pelvic area and legs remain on the ground as you continue pressing your hands into the ground. Allow your spine to arch backwards and feel a slight stretch in the stomach. Hold for 5-10 seconds while breathing. Return to the starting position and repeat.