BEST EXERCISES & STRETCHES FOR YOUR BACK
80% of Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives and even though the chances that you have to deal with lower back pain are high, the most common causes are because of the way our body moves and mechanical issues, which can be drastically reduced and a lot of times even eliminated with strengthening lower back exercises combined with rehabilitative moves and stretching.
Back pain can occur because of a sudden, jarring injury, but more often than not, back pain is due to long-term over- or underuse. Sitting for 8 to 10 hours at a desk can be the culprit, especially for lower back pain that emanates from around L1 to L5 — the lumbar spine located between your rib cage and pelvis.
While we have put together a list of exercises and stretches that helped to strengthen your back and eliminate pain, make sure to get cleared by your doctor before you do any type of exercise and if you do get the OK, avoid anything that exacerbates the pain, which includes forcefully folding forward, sitting for hours on end and intense twists.
Keep in mind, when we get injured, we often times only focus on the point of pain, however, the actual problem that leads to our pain could be somewhere else where we don’t actually hurt, so it is important to address these other issues like hip flexor tightness, core strength and glute activation as well.
Here are some of the best strength and stretch exercises for a strong, flexible and pain-free back.
Lie facedown on the ground with your chin touching the floor. Bring your ankles together with your feet pointed and reach your arms straight forward with your palms gently resting on the ground. Engage your abs, back, glutes and shoulders to lift your arms and legs simultaneously a few inches off the ground, aiming to have your hands and feet lifted to the same height. Hold on top for 30 to 45 seconds and repeat for 3 to 4 sets. Make sure that your abs are tight at all times to protect the lower back. To build up strength to hold both arms and legs simultaneously without injuring your back, work up your strength by raising and lowering opposite arm and leg at the same time, holding for 5 seconds and aiming for 12 to 16 reps.
#2 Swimmer Kick
Once you’ve mastered the superman add another challenge to strengthen your lower back. From superman, start to make small kicks with your arms and legs, lifting the right arm and left leg a little higher before lowering them back to superman and lifting the left arm and right leg a little higher than superman. Keep alternating arms and legs as fast as you can without compromising your from and make sure to keep your core engaged at all times. Complete 50 reps before releasing down to the ground, turning your head to one side and wiggling your tush to release your lower back.
#3 Frog Bridge
Lie on your back with your arms alongside the body and your knees bent. Bring the soles of your feet together as close to your butt as possible and let your knees fall out to the sides. Engage your core, tuck the tailbone under and slowly, with control lift your hips as high as you can. Hold your hips on top for a breath, before slowly and with control lowering them back down, hovering 2 inches above the ground. Repeat for 45 to 60 seconds.
#4 Bird Dogs
Start in all fours with your shoulders right over your wrists and your knees directly underneath your hips. Keep the spine straight, engage your abs and tuck your tailbone slightly under. Inhale and reach your right arm forward and your left leg back, maintaining a flat back and square hips. Exhale and pull your right elbow and left knee together to touch. Extend arm and leg back out to complete one rep. Repeat 12 to 16 times before switching sides and go for 2 to 3 sets.
Lie facedown on your mat, belly button pulled towards the spine and your hands on top of each other underneath your forehead, feet a little wider than hip-width distance apart. Bend your knees and bring your flexed feet together. From here lift your legs off the ground as high as you can while keeping your abs tight and tailbone tucked under. Slowly lower back down without touching the ground and right away lift your legs back up. Repeat for 45 to 60 seconds and go for 3 to 4 sets.
#6 Bent Row
Start standing tall with your feet hip-width distance apart, tailbone tucked under, abs tight and a dumbbell in each hand. If you don’t have any dumbbells, water bottles, rocks or cans of food are a great alternative. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips to a 45-degree angle, your arms are reaching towards the ground, palms facing each other. Pull your belly button towards the spine and bend your elbows so the dumbbells come up to your rib cage, pulling the shoulder blades together. Straighten the arms back out and repeat again. Perform 12 to 16 reps for 3 sets.
#7 Good Mornings
Stand tall with your feet hip-width distance apart firmly planted, knees slightly bent, abs tight, spine straight, shoulders down the back and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly and with control hinge forward at the hips, while keeping your back flat and your belly button pulled towards the spine at all times. Bend forward until your torso is parallel to the floor, reaching your hands with the dumbbells towards the ground and then reverse the movement to come back up to your starting position. Form is crucial to this exercise, so make sure that your spine is long and straight throughout the entire movement and your abs are tight. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees a little bit more if you feel your back starting to round.
#8 Advanced Dead Bug
Lie face-up on the mat and lift your legs up into a tabletop position with your knees directly over your hips and your shins parallel to the floor. Pick up your head, neck and shoulders and press the right hand against the left knee, while extending the right leg forward and the left arm back, hovering 2 inches above the ground. Bring the arm and leg back to your starting position and press the left hand against the right knee, extending the left leg forward and the right arm back. Keep alternating arms and legs for 45 to 60 seconds, make sure to keep your abs tight throughout the entire exercise and make the movements slow and controlled.
Set yourself up on your side and prop up onto your forearm with your elbow right below your shoulder. Bend your knees and lift the opposite arm straight up towards the ceiling or place it on top of your hip. With your knees stacked on top of each other, lift your hips off the ground. Now lift your top knee up towards the ceiling as high as you can, opening up your legs while keeping your knees bent. As you lower the knee back down, lower your hips towards the ground as well, hovering just a couple of inches off the floor. Perform 3 sets of 12 to 16 reps on each side.
#10 Plank with Elbow Run
Work your abs to relieve some pressure on your lower back. Come to a plank pose with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders, abs tight, legs straight and feet hip-width distance apart. Make sure your body is in one straight line from your heels to the crown of your head. Pick up your right leg and bring the right knee forward towards your right elbow. Extend the leg back out and pick up your left leg, bringing the left knee forward to touch your left elbow. Keep alternating legs in a slow, controlled pattern for 45 to 60 seconds.
#11 Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is one of the most soothing, restorative yoga poses that feels like a giant hug and helps to ease stress, quite the mind, reduce anxiety and calm the nervous and lymphatic system all while stretching your back. Come to your hands and knees in all fours and push your hips back to come sit on your heels while at the same time reaching the arms out in front of you. Your knees can be together or mat’s width distance apart, whichever feels more comfortable to you. Fold your torso forward until your forehead rests on the mat or on a yoga block. If your butt isn’t touching your heels, you can place a blanket in your knee crease to help you to let go and relax. Keep your arms stretched out in front of your or bring the arms alongside the body, palms up, whichever feels more natural to you in this moment.
#12 Seated Cross-Legged Forward Fold
Sit tall with your legs comfortably crossed. Reach your arms up overhead and fold forward by bringing the hands down to the ground. Keep reaching your hands forward, let your head hang and make sure there is no tension in your shoulders or neck. Hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds before coming back up and switching the cross of your legs for another forward fold.
#13 Eye of the Needle
This delicious stretch gets rid of tightness in your glutes and that hard to reach piriformis. Lie face-up on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your right ankle above the left knee, foot flexed and lift up your legs. Push the right knee away from your chest and draw the left knee towards you. You can hold on to the back of your left thigh by threading your right arm through between your legs. Make sure to relax your head and back on the floor. Hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds before switching sides.
A lot of times tension in the hips can be to blame for lower back pain and with our sedentary lifestyle, the hips are tight and can use some relaxation inducing TLC. Pigeon Pose is the progression of Eye of the Needle and is one of the best hip openers to release tension and promote a calmer state of mind. From Downward Facing Dog bring your right knee into the chest and let the right knee come down behind the right wrist while bringing the right flexed foot across your mat behind your left wrist. Stretch your left leg back and make sure your hips stay square. If your right hip is off the ground, place a blanket or yoga block underneath it to fill the gap. Inhale and puff out your chest and as you exhale fold forward over your right shin. If your forehead domes down to the ground, place your hands on top of each other to create a pillow for your head. You can also use a yoga block if your head doesn’t come all the way down. Hold Pigeon for at least 45 to 60 seconds before switching sides
Lie on your belly with your hands directly underneath your shoulders, abs tight and legs straight. Push through the palms of your hands and lift your head and chest off the ground. Make sure your tailbone is tucked under and press the tops of the feet into the ground. Breathe deeply and work your way towards straightening the arms. As soon as you feel a strain in your back, bend your elbows again and find a comfortable position that stretches your back without hurting it and stay in this position for at least 45 to 60 seconds. Release the pose, turn your head to one side and wiggle your tush from side to side before coming back to center and repeating Cobra two more times.
#16 Crescent Moon
Start in a runner’s lunge with your right foot forward and the knee directly over the ankle. Place the left knee on the ground with the top of your left foot pressing into the mat to take off some of the pressure on the knee. You can always place a blanket or towel under the left knee for cushioning. Lift your torso up and start by resting your hands lightly on the right thigh. Let your hips shift forward and down, while maintaining the position of the right knee over the ankle. You feel a deep stretch in the left hip flexor. To deepen the stretch, raise your arms above head with your biceps by your ears. Hold for five to ten breaths before repeating on the other side.
#17 Supine Spinal Twist
A supine spinal twist releases tension in the lower back and neck, improves circulation and alleviates gas and bloating, allowing your body to initiate a relaxation response. Lie on your back and bring your knees into the chest for a moment, giving yourself a big hug. Then let your knees fall over towards the right side. Bring your arms out to the sides like a giant letter ’T’ and turn your head towards the left side. Make sure that both shoulders stay grounded into the mat. You can use your right hand to help deepen the stretch. Hold this pose for at least five breaths before bringing the knees through center and letting them fall over to the left side, turning your head to the right.
#18 Head-to-Knee Forward Fold
Head-to-Knee Forward Fold is an all-level forward bend that stretches your hamstrings and lower back. Sit with a straight spine, one leg stretched out in front of you, the other knee bent, with the foot at your inner thigh. You can either fold forward and reach both arms forward towards the extended foot or rotate your torso sideways and extend the outer arm over your head. Hold for 45 to 60 seconds before switching sides. If this hurts your back, bend the extended leg.
Legs-Up-The-Wall is one of our favorite restorative yoga poses because it is a powerful stress reliever and can be helpful in relieving lower back pain. Sit sideways on a pillow or blanket close to a wall and then pivot as your bring your back down to the ground while bringing your legs up the wall. You want your butt touching the wall and your legs pointing straight up. Your arms can be alongside your body, up overhead or with bent elbows in cactus arms. Some people like to stay in Legs-Up-The-Wall for up to 10 minutes because it feels so comfortable.
#20 Cat & Cow
If you have tightness in the back, cat and cow will bring more mobility into your spine and encourages blood flow to your back to relieve that tightness. Come onto your hands and knees with your shoulders right above the wrists and the knees right underneath the hips. As you inhale drop your belly, arch your back, bring your chest forward and slightly look up. Feel your shoulder blades kissing in the back. As you exhale, round your back, tuck your tailbone under, pull the belly button in and up and let your head hang. Push the floor away with your hands and reach your spine towards the ceiling. Inhale and exhale as you flow through cow and cat, inhaling as you arch your back, exhaling as you round it.
Our body was designed to move and by strengthening and stretching our back, we will not only decrease pain, but build a stronger, more flexible back that leads to improved posture and spinal stability, improved balance and possibly even weight loss. Living with pain isn’t fun, but lower back pain is preventable through exercises and stretches that you can easily do at home or at the gym.
BEAT BACK PAIN BY SITTING LESS AND MOVING MORE
Connect with us!
Joschi & Monika