Back flexibility is vital for our overall health. Keeping a strong and flexible spine helps prevent injury, illness, and back pain. Many of us are used to forward flexion of the back that happens naturally when we bend over to pick something up or touch our toes. The opposite of flexion is extension, which unless you are a contortionist for a living, isn’t an everyday position to have our spines in. Back extensions are necessary for certain dance moves, yoga poses, and Pilates exercises. Even if you aren’t a dancer, yogi, or Pilates practitioner, being able to do back extensions is important for preventing kyphosis (hunchback) and good spinal health. The key to optimal health and well-being is to maintain balance in the body. While we as humans are so accustomed to rounding forward in daily life, we must make an effort to oppose that movement in our spines with regular back extension work. Here are 5 exercises to improve back flexibility.
1. Melting Heart Pose– Open up your shoulders and increase upper back flexibility. Kneel with your hands shoulder with apart or wider on the floor. Walk your hands forward as you start to melt your heart to the ground. Keep your hips above your knees. Once you have reached your maximum, hold the stretch and breathe. Continue to lengthen the spine as you press you upper back down and stretch the front of your shoulders. You may rest your chin on the ground as long as you don’t have any cervical spine issues. Otherwise keep your forehead on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds before walking the hands back to release the pose. Repeat 3 times.
2. Rocking– Lie on your stomach with your arms by your sides. Bend one leg and grab onto your ankle with the hand on the same side. Pull your heel into your glute for a nice quad stretch. Hold and do the same on the other leg. If it is challenging for you to hold both legs in this position, then continue to practice single leg stretches until you can do both legs at the same time. Once both hands are on your ankles, arch up by squeezing your glutes, and lifting the head, upper chest and knees off the ground. Use your arms as leverage as you press your feet into your hands to lift up. Keep your abdominals pulled in to protect your lower back. Do this 3 times. Stay up on the third one and rock your body back and forth on the front of your abdominals. Go into a child’s pose after this to help counter stretch the back.
3. Upward Facing Plank– Sit upright on the ground with your legs straight in front of you. Place your hands behind your hips with your fingers pointing towards your feet. Press into the palms of your hands as you squeeze your glutes to lift your hips as high as you can into the air. Pull your shoulder blades down and together as you open up the entire front of your body. Drop your head back if you do not have any neck issues. Press the soles of your feet into the ground to help lift your hips higher into the air. Hold the stretch for a few seconds before releasing back down to a seated position. Repeat 3-5 times. After the last one, stretch your back by doing a forward fold.
4. Scorpion Stretch– This is an intense stretch not only for the back but also for the entire front body, especially the quad and hip flexor of the leg that is lifted. Lie on the floor face down with your arms on the ground by your head. The wider and more forward your arms are on the ground, the less intense the stretch will be. Bend one leg and roll your body off to the side of the bent knee. Move the bent knee towards the center of your body and place it as high as you can underneath the straight leg. The foot of your bent leg will now be supporting your straight leg from the thigh right above the knee. Slowly start to lower your body back onto the floor doing your best to keep both hips down. Bend the top leg, reaching the foot towards the back of your head to get into the full scorpion position. There are several levels to this exercise. The first level would be to keep the head and arms down. The second level would be to lift the head up and prop yourself up onto your forearms. The third and most advanced version is to straighten your arms completely so that just the hands are on the ground and your entire torso is lifted. Once in the position that works for you, hold for 5-10 seconds before releasing and repeat on the other side.
5. Mermaid Kneeling into Half Camel Pose– Kneel on the ground with your hands hanging by your sides. Take one arm up and stretch it over to the opposite side. Make sure to anchor your knees down to the ground to get the full side stretch. Take the hand hanging by your side and reach back to hold onto your heel on the same side. Continue to reach the top arm over and slightly back as you press your hips forward and open up your chest to the sky. You may drop the head back all the way back along with your free arm if you are flexible enough. Release by reversing your movement to come back up to center. Repeat on the other side.
Have you tried these back-friendly stretches? Let us know in the comments 🙂
Also by Crystal: 4 Chiropractor-Approved Stretches to Relieve Neck Pain and Tension
Related: Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain
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