Your back is one of the most important parts of your body however unfortunately, approximately 75% of us experience back pain.
As a personal trainer, I meet people from all walks of life. I’ve found that people who live a sedentary lifestyle suffer the most from back pain. These people typically have a long commute, sitting in the car to and from work and then work at their desk all day. Even if those people get to a gym class before or after work, that’s a whole lot of sitting.
On average, I train three days a week. My workouts vary from weight sessions, swimming to the occasional run or high intensity session. Despite being active, I even find I can sometimes suffer from back pain.
So what does it take to keep your back healthy?
I’m not the most flexible person, however I still make it a priority to stretch before and after a workout. When I don’t, I feel a twinge in my back. I’ve noticed the more flexible I am, the stronger my back feels and the less issues I experience.
Here are some of my favourite stretches that make my back stronger and help with training.
Please note: if you have a bulging disc, slipped disc, floppy disc or anything else that would be affected in a negative way like osteoarthritis, please don’t do these stretches. Please seek the advise of a GP or Physiotherapist first.
Muscles used: latissimus dorsi.
With your hands and knees on the floor, slowly bring your hips back until your forehead is on the floor. If you want a better stretch in your hips, you should bring your knees wider. Your upper back should be positioned in the shape of an arch, and then you should externally rotate your shoulders to stretch your lats and chest muscles.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Muscles emphasized: psoas and quadriceps.
Begin in the position of half-kneeling. Bring your right hip forward and you should also start feeling a stretch in the front of your hip as well. Take your back foot and squeeze your back glute in order to add to the stretch on your hip flexors.
Muscles emphasized: glutes and external obliques.
This stretch is one of the best stretches. It is especially beneficial for people who suffer from sciatica pain. Begin by lying flat on your back and then bring one leg across your body, and gradually rotate your upper body in the opposite direction. What’s important about this stretch is the fact that you use your breathing to open up your rib cage and sacroiliac joint and hip area without putting too much pressure on the lower back. If this stretch is too hard for you, just go gently on the pulling motion across the body.
This refers to: hamstrings.
Put one foot in front of the other. Place your hands to your hips and while keeping the back straight, begin to bend from the hips.
This is great for strengthening the back and legs and can help lengthen your muscles along the sides of your torso.
Stand straight with your feet together. Next, lunge your left foot back three to four feet, and point your left foot out at a 45-degree angle. Turn your chest to the side and open up the pose by stretching your right arm toward the ground and left arm toward the ceiling, keeping both your right and left legs straight. You may not be able to touch the ground with your right arm at first, so don’t over-stretch — only bend as far as you can, while maintaining a straight back. Hold the position for 5 to 10 breaths, then switch to the other side, and repeat as needed.
Knee to Chest
While lying on your back, pull both knees to the chest while simultaneously flexing the head forward until a comfortable stretch is felt in a balled-up position.
Supine Piriformis Stretch
The piriformis muscle runs from the back of the femur (thigh bone) to the sacrum (base of the spine). Tightness in this muscle has been linked to sacroiliac joint dysfunction and even sciatica-type pain along the sciatic nerve.
To stretch the piriformis, lie on your back and cross the involved leg over the other. With both knees bent, place both hands together under the knee of the other leg (the lower leg), and gently pull the bottom leg toward your chest and hold both thighs closely until a stretch is felt in the buttock area.
From all-fours, bring your right knee behind your right wrist with your lower leg at a diagonal toward your left hip. Square off your hips toward the ground. Bend forward. Widen the elbows and place one hand on top of the other as a pillow for your forehead. Hold 2-3 minutes and then switch to the left side for 2-3 minutes.
Laying Towel Hamstring Stretch
Lie on your back and bend one knee. Loop a towel under the ball of your foot. Straighten your knee and slowly pull back on the towel. You should feel a gentle stretch down the back of your leg (hamstrings). Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Do 2 to 4 times for each leg.
Cat & Cow
Position yourself on your hands and knees (A). Slowly let your back and abdomen sag toward the floor (B). Then slowly arch your back, as if you’re pulling your abdomen up toward the ceiling (C). Return to the starting position (A). Repeat three to five times twice a day.