Feeling tight in your lower back? The windshield wiper with reach is the perfect mobility move for you. It loosens your low back, and if done regularly, can make you more limber in your lumbar region.
The exercise — which involves lying on your back and moving your legs from side to side in an arced motion (sort of like windshield wipers) — simultaneously strengthens your midsection.
That's because it's an active stretch, which means you're contracting your muscles while stretching them, Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of the Movement Vault, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
How to Do the Windshield Wiper With Reach
- Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground.
- Your arms can either be straight out to your sides or at a 45-degree angle from your body with your palms down. Choose whichever arm position feels more comfortable.
- Next, press your lower back into the ground and engage your core muscles. Keep your lower back flat on the floor the entire time, not allowing it to arch.
- Flex your hips, bringing your feet off the ground until your upper legs are at a 90-degree angle from your torso. This is the starting position.
- Press your hands and arms into the ground to increase your stability as you drop your legs closer to the ground on the left side. Lower only as far as is comfortable.
- Look back over your right shoulder, reaching through your right arm to feel the stretch.
- Then, brace your abs and return your legs to the middle before rotating in the other direction, lowering your legs toward the ground on the right side.
- This time, gaze over your left shoulder and reach through your left arm.
- Continue alternating sides and remember to keep your core muscles engaged throughout the movement.
While you can add this move to any exercise routine, you don’t need to perform it as part of a workout to reap the benefits. You can do windshield wipers with reach for a minute in the morning (or whenever you have a free moment during the day) to get a quick back stretch and ab burn.
Windshield Wiper With Reach Benefits
Here are just a few reasons you should do windshield wipers with reach every day:
1. It Improves Back Mobility
The twisting movement improves your mobility in a rotational movement plane, which a lot of us lack, Wickham says. That's because people typically spend most of their time moving forward, he says. But when you don't vary your movements, you're more prone to getting hurt.
"Almost every injury I see has some type of rotational movement component to it," Wickham says. "I have worked with many strong women and men who can pick up hundreds of pounds off the ground, but when they bent down and twisted to pick something up that was relatively lightweight, they injured their back."
2. It Strengthens Your Core
A strong, sturdy midsection is essential for a healthy back. "Your core is made up of all the muscles around your low back, and their main job is to protect your back from injury," Wickham says. "[But] you need to be able to rotate and activate the muscles around your low back optimally."
And the windshield wiper with reach — which primarily targets your internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum and spinal rotators — can help you do just that.
Common Windshield Wiper With Reach Mistakes to Avoid
"This is a great movement, but it does have the potential to cause injury to your back if not performed correctly," Wickham says. Here are the most common mistakes to avoid:
1. You Arch Your Lower Back
"Your low back should stay in contact with the ground the entire time and should not arch at any point," Wickham says. Pushing your lower back into the floor helps engage your core musculature.
2. You Drop Your Legs Too Low
"If your back only rotates a specific amount comfortably, you need to listen to your body and not try to rotate further than you currently can," Wickham says. When you rotate more than your back mobility allows, you could strain a back muscle or injure a disc, he says.
Windshield Wiper With Reach Modifications
You should always heed your body's cues and respect the limits of your current mobility. So, if the stretch feels too intense in your back (or worse, you experience pain or discomfort), here's how to modify:
- Reduce the range of motion. Don't rotate your hips as far to the side, Wickham says. This will put less stress on your back.
- Keep your feet on the ground. Again, this will reduce strain on your low back but still give you a nice stretch.
- Place your feet and legs on an exercise ball. This will assist with your rotation, making it less challenging, Wickham says.
Windshield Wiper With Reach Progressions
If you've already mastered the windshield wiper with reach, try these progressions to challenge your mobility and core strength:
- Increase the range of motion. To deepen the stretch, move through a greater range of motion, allowing your legs to come closer to the ground on each side.
- Try the movement with straight legs. "When your legs are straight, they become heavier and thus increase the demands on your core muscles while rotating," Wickham says. Plus, performing the move with straight legs also enhances the stretch in your IT band.