Poor posture, sitting all day, and weak abdominals are some of the many common causes for a tight lower back. When I first started teaching Pilates on the reformer, I developed chronic lower back pain and stiffness. I realized it was from the repetitive motion of bending over the reformer bed to assist people in their exercises. For the long term, I had to learn how to adjust my own posture when teaching and strengthen my core. Stretching, on the other hand, provided immediate relief. I discovered that doing lower back stretches at least 3 times a week significantly reduced my lower back pain and stiffness. These four stretches, based in Pilates and yoga, will target the quadratus lumborum, the muscles that run on either side of your lower back, and the erector spinae, the columns of muscles that run along either side of your spine. Tightness in these two muscles groups is frequently the cause for lower back pain. Tight hamstrings can also pull on the lower back, affecting lower back stiffness. Incorporating a hamstring stretch with a lower back stretch is best.
Here are 4 ways to stretch your lower back:
The Diamond Butterfly Stretch- I call it the diamond butterfly because your legs are in the shape of a diamond with the heels away from the glutes. This way there is less focus on stretching the inner thighs and more focus on the back. Holding onto your feet, reach forward from the base of your spine and try to get your head to your heels. Keep your back rounded. Try your best to relax the hip flexors and neck. Hold this position until you get some release. Then slowly walk your hands over to each side of the right knee and try to touch your forehead to that knee. Hold this stretch to reach the left quadratus lumborum. Repeat to the other side. Make sure you are breathing and hold for 2-3 minutes for the best results.
Forward Fold Stretch- This is not to be confused with a toe touch. Many people strain to reach for their toes while sitting with the legs straight. The goal here is to find relaxation and release of the back muscles so a simple forward fold is all that is necessary. Using your own upper body weight, lean forward with your legs as straight as possible. Try to get your forearms to the ground. If you can only touch the ground with your hands, that’s okay to start with. This stretch is one of the most effective for me because the longer I hold, the more my hamstrings, therefore, my lower back releases. I can feel the most drastic change when I hold this pose for a few minutes. By the end, I can usually walk my hands several inches closer to my toes. After folding straight forward, you may reach your hands to each side of each leg for a deeper stretch on either side of your back.
The Saw- This is a traditional Pilates exercise that also stretches both the hamstrings and the low back. Sit upright with your legs a little wider than your mat and your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Inhale as your twist your torso off your hips like a cap off a bottle. Exhale as you saw your pinky toe off with your pinky finger. Keep reaching the opposite arm back to encourage the twisting of the torso. Make sure the opposite hip stays bolted to the floor. If you have tight hamstrings, you may place your back hand on the floor to assist in pushing yourself forward. Do 3-5 on each side.
Mermaid- Another traditional Pilates exercise that is an intense stretch for the quadratus lumborum. Sit with your knees stacked to the side. If you have knee issues, you may stagger the legs instead. Grabbing onto your ankles, take a deep breath in as you bring the opposite arm over your head and exhale as you stretch over your legs. Keep your shoulders down and facing forward first. To stretch a different angle of the back, rotate your shoulders square to the ground. Swing your legs around to the other side and repeat. Do this 3 times in each direction.
Remember to be cautious of your posture in your daily life. Loose abs means you are moving and lifting with your back and that can easily lead to injury. If you do not have any spinal injuries or diagnosed back conditions, performing these 4 stretches regularly should help improve your lower back pain and stiffness.
Questions, comments? Let me know how you feel about these moves! 🙂
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