Free exercise routines: Back stretching exercises

A healthy spine is the key to feeling young and energetic! Follow this simple back-stretching program to help reduce back pain and improve posture.

If you suffer from back pain, you’re not alone. Over 31 million Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives. This is a result of a number of variables that include poor posture, weak abdominal muscles and tight hamstrings or hip flexors. Outside factors such as an old mattress or an uncomfortable office chair can also affect the way your back feels.

Surprisingly, it is easy to reduce back pain or even eliminate it all together. Simple, low-impact stretching is the key to a healthier spine. It has been well documented that if you spend 10-15 minutes each day extending and flexing the muscles in and around your back, you can reduce back pain and tightness.
So, where do you begin? Sure, you could take a Pilates or Yoga class to help you engage in a regular stretching and exercise program, but you can get similar results if you are diligent at your at-home routine, incorporating elements from the back stretching program detailed below. Be sure to take note of a few general guidelines before you begin:

Your stretching environment:

Stretch in an atmosphere that is conducive to relaxation and focus. Typically, the best time to do this is in the early morning or late evening when your phone isn’t ringing and the TV isn’t blaring. This is your time to take a breath and concentrate only on yourself.

Your body:

Listen to your body and don’t push it! Stretching should be a pleasant experience and leave you feeling longer, leaner and more energized – not sore. As you stretch, you should feel slight discomfort but NEVER stretch past the point of pain.

Important Stretching Rules:

Start slowly. Feel free to change up the routine and save your most challenging stretches until the end.

Hold each stretch for at least 10-15 seconds.

Never bounce. Bouncing can do you more harm than good, resulting in small tears in the muscle tissue. Instead, gently reach or lightly pull the stretch deeper.

Breathe. On each exhale, deepen the stretch and hold.

Ask a doctor. If you’re unsure about a stretch or have a question about painful muscles, don’t hesitate to call your doc.

The stretching program:

For easy reference, this program has been broken up into different categories. Stretch safe!

On your back:

1. Knees in: Bring both knees into your chest and hold around your shins. (Lower back)

2. Bridge: To start, place both feet on the floor, knees bent and be sure your heels are in line with hips. Pinch your seat, tuck your tailbone to the ceiling and raise your hips off the floor as high as you can. Hold for a few seconds and slowly roll down, articulating each bone of your spine to the floor. Repeat 3 times. (Lower back, quadriceps, hip flexors)

3. Body roll: Resume the starting position of #2, hips down, and place your arms out to your sides, shoulder level. Raise right leg up to the ceiling. Keep left leg slightly bent and roll your body to the left so that your right leg crosses your left. Turn your head to the right. Repeat on the other side. (Lower back, hamstrings, obliques)

Face down:

1. Swan: Lie on your belly with your forehead on the floor and your legs shoulder-width apart. Line your fingertips up with your shoulders and keep your elbows into your sides. Press through your hands to lift your breastbone as high as you can off the floor, looking out at the horizon as you do so. Lower down slowly with control. Repeat 3 times. (Lower back)

2. Rest Pose: Press up on your hands and knees and sit back on your heels, keeping your arms reaching forward and your torso on your thighs. Your forehead rests on the floor. (Full back)

3. Cat & Cow: Come back up to your hands and knees. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are below your hips. Round your back like an angry cat, keep your chin tucked to your chest and hold. Then, slowly arch, starting from the tailbone and look up at the horizon. Repeat 3 times. (Full back)

Sitting up:

1. Hurdler stretch: Sit with your legs apart and bend your left leg in. Reach for the toes of your right leg with your right hand. Bring the left arm up and over your head as you reach to the right towards the toes. Repeat 3 times on each side. (Lower back, obliques, hamstrings)

2. Straight leg stretch: Sit with your legs together and straight out in front of you. Reach both arms up overhead and tuck your chin to your chest as your reach forward to your toes. Note: Keep knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. Repeat 3 times. (Full back, hamstrings)

Standing:

1. Shoulder rolls: Gently roll shoulders in big circles forward for 8 and then back for 8. The bigger the circle, the better. (Upper back)

2. Deadlift: Tuck your chin to your chest and slowly bend over toward your toes. Try keeping your hips directly over your heels (don’t let your seat stick out behind you!). Arms are dead weight, but engage the abdominal muscles to protect the lower back. Roll down while counting to 8 and slowly roll up for another count of 8. Repeat 3 times. (Full back)

3. Final hug: Reach arms out, shoulder level, and pull them slightly behind you to open up your chest. Cross your arms in front of you, grabbing your shoulders and pulling them down into their joints. Tuck your chin to your chest and take a deep breath. (Chest, upper back, shoulders).

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