Flexibility training is a great way to ease muscle tension and keep your body moving its best. But if your regular routine doesn't address your lower back flexibility, it's missing out.
That's especially true if you live with the at-time debilitating discomfort of lower back pain, says Sam Becourtney, a doctor of physical therapy and strength and conditioning specialist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
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He explains that improving your lower back flexibility can make everything from day-to-day activities to challenging fitness feats feel way more doable — and comfortable. After all, if your lower back's tissues are excessively tight, they can pull things out of alignment to increase stress in the area.
Ease tight muscles and improve your lower back flexibility with these five best lower back stretches, courtesy of Becourtney.
1. Seated Chair Stretch
- Sit up straight at the edge of a sturdy chair or surface with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Holding your arms out in front of you, slowly bend forward at your hips until you feel a stretch along your lower back. If you're limited in your lower back flexibility, you might need to spread your legs a bit wider. Allow your chin to drop toward your chest.
- Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, and then slowly sit back up.
- Repeat this stretch three times.
"Think about your spine as a Slinky, moving one vertebrae at a time as you slowly bend forward to achieve the stretch," Becourtney says. "Start at the head and neck and gradually work down to the lower back as you reach."
2. Seated Single-Side Stretch
- Sit on a sturdy chair or surface with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart. Bend your left knee and bring your heel in toward your body. Extend your right knee to straighten your leg.
- Reach toward your right foot's toes with both hands. Hinge forward from the hips and lower your chest toward your leg feel a stretch along the right side of your lower back. If you have very tight hamstrings, you might feel stretching or even pain in the back of your thigh. Bend your right knee slightly to decrease any strain on the hamstrings.
- Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax.
- Repeat three times and switch legs to stretch the left side of your lower back.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders and your knees should be directly under your hips.
- Slowly breathe in, tuck your tailbone toward the floor and round your back toward the ceiling, allowing your chin to drop down toward your chest. Stop when you feel a strong stretch in your lower back.
- Exhale slowly, tilt your tailbone toward the ceiling and lower your abdomen toward ground. Gently look up toward the ceiling.
- Repeat this pattern for five slow breaths.
4. Child's Pose
- Kneel on a firm but padded surface such as a yoga mat. Point your toes behind you to rest your shins against the ground.
- Sit back on your heels. Bend forward and allow your chest to rest on your thighs.
- Extend your arms to place your hands on the ground in front of you, with straight elbows. Walk your fingers forward until you feel a stretch along your lower back.
- Walk your arms out at an angle to target the muscles on each side of your lower back. Walk your hands forward and to the right to target the left lower back muscles and vice versa.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat three times, focusing on the angle that targets your tightest muscles.
5. Upward Dog
- Lie facedown on a firm, padded surface such as a yoga mat. Bend your elbows and place your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders.
- Keep your back relaxed and slowly straighten your elbows as far as possible to lift your chest off the ground. Keep your hips in contact with the ground throughout the movement.
- Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax back down to the ground.
- Repeat three times.
Use your breath to move deeper into the stretch, Becourtney says. As you exhale, and while maintaining an upright torso, let your hips relax more into the ground.
- Princeton University Athletic Medicine: "Lumbar/Core Strength and Stability Exercises"
- Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina: "Lumbar Flexion Exercises"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Spine Rehabilitation Exercises"
- Human Factors: "Does Using a Chair Backrest or Reducing Seated Hip Flexion Influence Trunk Muscle Activity and Discomfort? A Systematic Review"