Back stretching exercises

Lengthen key muscle groups that affect your spine.

Back stretching exercises help keep your muscles comfortable and relaxed throughout the day. Use this routine to prepare your muscles for the day ahead, to cool down at the end of a workout, or relieve stress and tension at the end of a long day. See illustrations below.

For the best results with these exercises, stretch gently on the first try. Then increase to a moderate stretch on the 2nd and 3rd attempts.

Stretch to the point of muscular tension, but not to pain. If you can't wait until the stretch is over, back off a little bit--your stretch is probably too strong. Follow the instructions below closely and maintain good body alignment as you stretch. Scroll to the bottom for thumbnails of the full routine.

#1 Knee to chest

Grab behind your R knee and pull your knee toward your chest. Keep your tailbone (and rear end) flat on the floor. Repeat 2-3 times and switch to the left side.

#2 Ankle over knee

Cross your L ankle over your R knee. Then push your L knee down with your L hand to increase the stretch.Keep your tailbone down on the floor. Repeat 2-3 times then switch sides.

#3 Hamstring

Grab behind your R knee and pull your R leg up into the stretch position. You can let your knee bend a little bit as you pull your leg back, but keep your tailbone on the floor. Straighten your knee and flex your foot back to increase the stretch. 

#4 Press Up

Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, then press up on your hands to stretch your abdominals. Keep your abdominals firm during this exercise. This will help support your spine during the movement. **If this stretch is too intense, press up from your forearms for a more gentle stretch--see picture on the left. Hold 3-5 seconds and repeat 3 times. 

Note: Though there are only 7 moves, this routine of back stretching exercises was designed specifically to stretch all the major muscle groups that affect your lower back. Since it only takes a few minutes to finish the routine, it will be well worth your time to stretch at least every other day!

#5 Rotation

1) With your arms reaching straight up, lower your knees gradually to the left. Let the stretch extend all the way up your spine. Repeat to the opposite side--3 times in each direction

2) Next, reach your arms partially to the L. Hold this position as you lower your legs to the R. Repeat to the opposite side--3 times each way.

#6 Seated side stretch

Maintaining good posture, bend to the L side and reach your R arm straight up, as high as you can without straining. Use your L hand on your knee for balance. Bend to the side through your spine, as you see in the picture. 

#7 Kneeling lunge

Tighten your abdominals to keep your back straight--no arching. Make sure your L and R hips are even. Shift your weight forward onto your L leg until you feel a stretch in the front of your R thigh. Keep your spine upright.Slide your R knee back further to increase the stretch if needed. Hold 5-10 sec, repeat 3 times, then switch sides.

Stretching is easier when your muscles are warmed up. Try back and core strengthening before this routine. See the article on back strengthening exercises.

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Progressive Core Strengthening                       Train your muscles safely.  Develop your strength continuously.  

Correct Posture                                              The key to feeling better & preventing lower back problems.

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Rob Cowell, PT is the author of, Progressive Core Strengthening and Correct Posture. was created from his knowledge and experience in physical therapy, fitness and athletics.