The lower back is one of the most important and notable areas of the body to understand. When you have lower back pain it can be astonishingly painful and almost entirely debilitating. Even exceptionally healthy people can tweak a nerve and cause their lower back to be in pain for weeks.
Any movement or exercise that stretches the muscles in your lower back and helps improve flexibility and range of motion is therefore an exercise to be built into your regular daily rhythm.
This need not be for more than a few minutes, but you will certainly find that regular gentle stretching will help avoid the kind of muscular pulls that can cause extreme pain and discomfort.
Being so central to the body, it is perhaps unsurprising that the lower back affects the wellbeing of the whole body. It is central to good posture, and the sound workings of your breathing, your digestion, and your confidence too. If you are in pain, you do not function at all well in life and will always be sub-par.
There’s also evidence that lower back stretching increases circulation, limits other pains the body may either be suffering from or be susceptible to, and aids in ensuring flexibility long into later life.
It need not be difficult to start. Even following a simple routine for a few minutes a day helps. However, if you wish to develop a deeper focus, you can practice yoga or pilates or attend your local gym and use a class.
It is often best seen as something to look forward to, as its benefits to how you feel will be notable from the first stretching session.
Benefits of stretching the lower back
The benefits are manifold. There really are multiple reasons to take lower back stretching seriously. The beneficial effects are both short term and long term, and though you may only be stretching your lower back, you are actually helping your body on far wider holistic levels.
Among the benefits are –
- Improved spinal flexibility, resulting in better overall posture and the reduction of a risk of further injury
- The lessening of stress and strain in the lower back
- An increase in circulation
- A reduction in inflammation around the muscles of the lower back, but also potentially across the whole of the lower body
- A stronger core
- Better breathing habits
- Over time, potentially a reduction in heart rate to healthier levels
Types of Lower Back Stretching Exercises
Angry Cat/Happy Cat stretch
One of the best exercises is this curiously titled one! It is a central exercise in yoga.
This stretch requires you to be on all fours, like a table-top, it is sometimes said!
Its steps are as follows –
- Get on all fours
- Put your hands and knees shoulder-width apart
- Take a deep breath, then exhale as you arch your spine upwards (so that you look like an angry cat!) Your body will then look like the letter C put in a convex mode
- Then breathe in again and push your spine downwards towards the ground, (looking like a happy cat!). Your body will then look like the letter C in a concave mode
You are wisest to do this stretch for a few minutes, breathing effectively at all times. You will perhaps notice some tension in the muscle as it stretches, but the effect will be calming and will be doing you good! It is an excellent stretch for spinal flexibility and posture.
The spinal twist is another terrific way to stretch out the lower back. It involves sending the body in two directions at once!
To conduct a good spinal twist take the following steps –
- Lie flat on your back
- Raise your knees but keep both feet flat on the floor, so that your legs are each in a V shape
- Then rotate your legs to the left at the same time as you turn your head to the right
- Hold this position for a few seconds, ideally somewhere between ten and twenty
- Focus carefully on your breathing throughout the stretch
- Then repeat these actions for the opposite side of your body, with your legs and head swapping directions
You should feel both strain, but not discomfort, and also, as you exercise, a degree of tension being released across your lower back.
The cobra pose is a famous yoga stretch. You will likely have seen it being used at the gym, if gyms are a part of your life. It works the lower back extremely well and should be a part of any good routine.
To perform the cobra, do the following –
- Lie on your stomach, with your arms slightly bent at the front of your body
- Life your chest slightly off the ground, but remain at rest, with your arms taking the weight
- Then press your palms into the ground and push your chest and torso upwards, keeping your legs flat out on the ground
- Try to raise your chest up as far as possible – like a cobra in some moment of anger!
- While holding the body at this position of maximum stretch, try to take a few deep breaths
- Lower yourself carefully back to the resting position, and then repeat the stretch
Typically, doing this three or four times a few times a week will be enough to make you feel a notable difference in the flexibility of your lower back and, in addition, a stronger core.
The child’s pose stretch is one of the most commonly seen stretches in a good gym. It is in theory a relaxing yoga pose, but it can be an excellent lower back stretch and is actually quite demanding.
To perform it, do the following –
- Start by kneeling on the floor
- Lower your head forwards, so that your forehead is on the ground
- Reach both arms out in front of you, so that they are as flat on the ground as is possible
- It is worth noting that this movement is itself a good stretch, and if you are a beginner to stretching you may find this halfway pose a good interim stretch.
- From that position try to then lean back on your legs as far as you can, while keeping your arms as flat as possible.
Though it is called a ‘child’s pose’, this is quite a difficult stretch, so do not worry if you have to cheat a little at first and you do not get quite as far back on your legs as may be ideal. Even going through this pose to a limited level is still building flexibility and strengthening your lower back.
This is certainly a stretch to do gently and to think of it as one to perfect over weeks. It won’t be instantly perfect, but that’s fine; it is still efficacious nonetheless.
This is a common and relatively simple stretch, but it is no less effective for that.
To perform it, take the following steps –
- Lie flat on the floor on your back
- Raise one knee up towards you and reach out and hold it with both arms
- Then try to pull that leg towards your chest, as if hugging it
- Hold this position for around thirty seconds
- Switch legs and repeat
You can also perform this motion with both legs at once.
If you wish to vary it a little, you may also rock slightly from side to side once in hold. This will also add to the stretch’s overall effectiveness and will aid a focus on balance too.
This is a more advanced stretch, but it is not unduly difficult, so give it a try and see how you feel. As with everything to do with stretching, do not make perfection the immediate aim. Good stretching can still be achieved without looking like a professional yoga master!
Take the following steps –
- Lie flat on your back and raise your knees into a V shape
- Place your feet flat on the floor
- Gently and carefully then raise your hips off the ground, pushing against your feet to assist in the pressure needed to lift your hips up
- Make sure to keep your shoulders flat on the ground at all times, with your arms out wide and your chest open
- Once your hips are raised to a position that is as much as you can manage, hold the pose for a few seconds and then lower them back to the ground
As you perform this stretch, make sure to keep your spine and neck in a neutral position, as far as you can. Do not overreach here. This is a relatively sophisticated move, so take it easy and ensure to keep it at a gentle level of stretching at first.
If you find the stretch too challenging, you may benefit from placing a rolled up towel or a gym aid underneath your sacrum (the muscle just above the coccyx) to provide extra support.
In addition to helping your lower back, the bridge pose can also strengthen your glutes. It is a good all-rounder, but it is certainly a stretch to start gently at first, if you are new to stretching.
The pigeon pose is a yoga posture that perhaps looks more complicated than it is. It is, however, unequivocally an excellent stretch if you can master it and use it regularly. Here is how to do it.
- Get down on your hands and knees, with your hands and knees about shoulder width apart
- Bring one leg behind the other, keeping that other leg in position
- Do so in way that means the shin of the moved leg is perpendicular to the floor
- From this position, rest your torso over the bent leg, and let your hips move gently downwards towards the floor.
This is a stretch whose particular benefits are for the glutes and for the spinae muscle. It also helps to open up your hips. It is often in the hips that the body carries a great deal of its stress, so this is a really powerful stretch to assist in flexibility.
Seated spinal stretch
This is a stretch that is suitable for any time of the day.
It is simple, but effective, and if you are stiff sitting at work, it is a good stretch to have to hand.
- Sit upright in a chair, making sure the chair allows you to have your feet flat on the floor
- Keeping your chest firmly upright, slowly lean forward, inch by inch, from the hips
- If you wish to make it a little more demanding, you can gently twist a little to one or other side
- Hold whatever pose you assume for around thirty seconds before returning to the core seating position
How to Stretch Lower Back
The essential warm-up
Muscles need to be warm before you start a stretching routine. Do not start cold!
The most effective and easy way to warm up is to perform light aerobic exercise. Ideally, around ten to fifteen minutes of this will get your body ready. Aerobic exercise gets the blood flowing and loosens you up, making you more limber.
Another way to warm up your muscles is to do dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching involves controlled movements, such as high kicks or arm circles, to move your muscles and increase the range of motion in your joints.
Ensure you are in a good place to stretch
You will stretch better if you feel you are in a zone suited to stretching. Most gyms have stretching zones, but you do not need to be in a gym to perform a good stretching routine.
The following qualities typically are important in determining whether a place is ideal for stretching.
- Make sure it is big enough to move freely
- Ensure you have a comfortable floor surface. A mat is ideal. (One tip is to avoid a surface that is too hard. It is rarely good to stretch on a wooden floor without something between your body and the floor. Even a towel is helpful.)
- Make sure the area is flat, with no odd bumps
- Ideally, find a space that is quiet, as you need to focus on your breathing. (If you are in a noisy gym, headphones are very helpful, but you will find it useful not to be listening to raucous music.)
- Ensure the space is lit well enough for you to see your pose in the mirror, so you can check technique, and, yes, you ideally need a mirror!
Start slow with beginner poses
You do not need to go for 10/10 all at once in your early sessions. Stretching is a gradual process – like a stretch itself, you need to take time to get there!
Begin with simple stretches and make sure you do not push any stretch beyond a situation that is ‘comfortable’ in the context of stretching. Many people say that you should aim for a feeling of about 6 or 7 out of 10 in terms of the pressure you feel you are putting on a muscle as you stretch. Pain is to be avoided. In stretching, pain is not what you are after. Pressure and some tension, yes, but pain, no!
Remember, we stretch to avoid injury, not to cause it!
Around 20 seconds is about enough time to hold a stretch
Do not feel you need to push at a stretch for minutes on end. This will be counterproductive. Ideally, around 20 to 30 seconds is sufficient. You are better doing a range of stretching exercises for a shorter period of time than hammering away at the same stretch for ten to fifteen minutes. Only if you are already injured and need to focus on a single movement is that ever likely to be wise.
Focus on your breathing
It’s important to remember to focus on your breath when stretching your lower back. When you’re twisting or bending, give yourself a few moments to settle into the position and focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply.
Allow your breath to be the guide as to how far you can take the stretch, and don’t forget to pause in between movements. This is really important. Stretching is not a sprint! If you need a metaphor, think of it as a well-paced walk!
Breathing focuses will also aid in mindfulness and make you deeply aware of the magic of the body.
If in pain, stop
Push to the natural limit of what feels within the bounds of comfort in a stretch, but do not be macho about it. That is a foolish mindset. Do not think you’re stretching better because you are in agony. Far from it.
Remember, the goal is not to push through the pain barrier; it is to engage in a form of holistic regard for the body. Respect the body, do not distress it unduly.
Don’t forget to cool down
Ask any fitness or workout enthusiast and they’ll tell you how important it is to cool down after a workout. It’s no different when it comes to stretching your lower back.
This is the simplest part of all. Even a five minute walk, or a small light jog on the treadmill for five minutes, is usually enough. It will help reduce tension and restore the body to a natural rhythm.
Precautions to Consider
Don’t push your body beyond its limits
If a stretch hurts, that’s a clear indication that you should stop. Don’t let bravado tempt you into injury.
Knowing your own body, and understanding what and how much is too much, are key in preventing injury and deleterious effects on your training schedule or overall daily routines.
As with all fitness related matters, if you need help or further assistance, work with a professional physical therapist or personal trainer at the gym.
Avoid high impact exercises
If introducing your body to stretching, you are perhaps wise to avoid high intensity and high impact training. Such exercises require really extensive stretching afterwards, and even a small amount of stretching is unlikely to be enough.
Measure is important here; the lower back is put under huge pressure during HIT. Be careful.
Consult a personal trainer before trying new stretches
It can be excellent advice to talk to a PT before you start a new stretching routine. He or she will certainly be trained in lower back stretches, and will be able to help you get good technique for the stretches in this article, and potentially others that are suited to your own personal training aims.
Take necessary breaks if needed
Always remember that it is wise to mix it up a little with exercise, and sometimes that means pausing and resting, or taking a little break. Your body will sometimes thank you for showing it that kindness!
Recovery from injury takes time, and getting the body in a state of strength takes time too. It will have periods where it needs to recover, especially in the lower back, that pivotal area of the body, so do not feel bad if you need to just let it ease out and rest for a few days.