Building back strength is one of the best things you can do to protect the health of your spine, but it often overshadows the importance of flexibility. A strong back that is also flexible allows you to twist, bend and reach with greater ease and agility. A well-rounded back flexibility program includes stretches for the back muscles, as well as the chest, abs, obliques and hip flexors.
1. Stretches for the Back
Doing a lot of back-strengthening exercises can leave your back muscles stiff and achy. Even sitting at a desk all day, hunched over a computer, can cause your back muscles to tense up. Include a daily stretching routine for the back to ease tension and improve your ability to reach and bend forward.
Move 1: Spine Stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs extended wider than your hips. Drop your chin toward your chest and place your palms on the floor in between your legs. Begin to fold forward from the hips, allowing your spine to roll down, vertebra by vertebra, while sliding your palms forward on the floor. Stop when you feel a stretch all along your spinal column. Hold for up to three minutes.
Move 2: Cat-Cow
Get onto hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Bring your spine to neutral, not arching or rounding. Inhale as you drop your belly toward the floor, lifting your head, shoulders and tailbone. Exhale as you reverse the position, arching your back like a cat and tucking your chin and tailbone. Alternate between the two postures five to 10 times.
2. Rotational Stretches
Back flexibility is multi-faceted. Not only do you need stretches for your back itself, you also need stretches for your sides — your obliques — to allow your spine to move comfortably in all different directions. Twisting stretches target the obliques, as well as the lower back and abdominal muscles.
Move 1: Supine Spinal Twist
Begin the supine spinal twist by lying on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your right knee over your left knee and drop both knees over to the left. Bring your arms out to a "T" and turn your head to the right. Keep both shoulder blades on the floor and hold the stretch for up to three minutes. Switch sides and repeat.
Move 2: Seated Chair Twist
Sit in a chair with your spine erect and feet flat on the floor. Keep your weight evenly balanced between your sit bones. Rotate your torso so your chest and shoulders face to the right, but keep your hips stationary. You can grasp the right side of the chair seat to go a little deeper into the stretch, but don't rotate any farther than is comfortable. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds; then twist to the other side.
3. Front-of-the-Body Stretches
The last piece of the back flexibility puzzle is stretching out the front of your body, including your chest, abdominal muscles and hip flexors — the muscles on the front of your pelvis at the very tops of your thighs. Stretching these muscles enables you to bend backward, extending at the hips.
Move 1: Stability Ball Stretch
Sit down onto a stability ball with your feet flat on the floor. Walk your feet forward and roll the ball backward as you lie back, draping yourself over the ball in a supported backbend. Extend your legs out straight and open your arms out to the side to stretch your chest and abdominal muscles. Stay here for up to three minutes.
Move 2: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Begin the kneeling hip flexor stretch in a lunge position, with your feet staggered. Drop your back knee to the ground. Keeping your chest up, shift your weight forward over the front leg until you feel a stretch in the front of the thigh on your back leg. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg.