7 Exercises to Build Your Back Muscles + Get More Bendy
A close friend of mine and I were chatting on the phone the other day having a great yarn about life and love and she mentioned experiencing mid-back pain! She's travelling at the moment for work so we chatted a bit about what she can do in the meantime to alleviate the pain until she can get back into her regular exercise routine. The conversation sparked me to write this guide on exercises and stretches to address and alleviate mid-back and lower-back pain.
So often I hear friends and family mentioning niggles in their bodies and their lack of physical activity brushing it off with little jokes about 'getting old in their 30s/40s/50s' and it got me thinking about the 82 year old client I worked with recently. Every week she said to me...
"I wish I had cared more about my body and moving well when I was younger. If I had paid to get this kind of help back then, I wouldn't be in so much strife now".
This moved me because THIS is why I do what I do and this message has stuck with me ever since because it's those of us in our 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s who owe it to our future self to take the action and make the investment NOW towards longevity so that we can prevent and avoid chronic pain and issues with our health, strength, movement and bodies later in life.
It's easy to brush it off now. I get it, it doesn't feel urgent yet, you're still young. There are other distractions and priorities grabbing at your attention. It can be easy to dismiss the importance of your health and movement in the pursuit of excellence in the other areas of your life like your career, relationships and finances. These are all important but in my opinion, nothing is more important than your health and optimal functioning of your body because without these, everything else suffers. Without these, you're operating on a half-empty battery. Boring! You're capable of way more...
On that note, I'd love to help you get a step closer to an optimally functioning body and pain-free way of life... so here's a few exercises and stretches to help you alleviate back pain and move better.
If hunching over a desk all day has made your back unhappy, relief is just a few exercises away. Movements that lengthen the spine, build better range of motion in the front and back of the body and build muscle to improve your posture are like medication for the aches.
Some of these exercises and stretches can be done anywhere. It can be a great idea to take a break from your desk a few times during the day to do them. I've written out the instructions and helpful tips on how to perform each stretch/exercise and if you keep scrolling to the end, I've included a video that you can follow.
This exercise helps you build a solid foundation to protect your spine, strengthen your transverse abdominus (the muscle that rests under your superficial abdominal muscles) and prevent + relieve lower back pain. Perform this movement slowly and with control.
Step 1: Lying in a supine position (on your back). Let your shoulders and lower back sink into the floor and draw your shoulders down away from your ears.
Step 2: Lift your arms straight above your chest towards the ceiling and move some energy into your fingertips continually reaching your fingertips towards the ceiling.
Step 3: Bring your knees to a 90 degree angle stacked directly above your hips.
Step 4: Take a deep breath in expanding your belly fully then brace your core by pressing your back into the floor. Start to slowly lower your right arm and left leg until they're hovering just above the floor.
Step 5: Now bring the arm and leg back to the starting position whilst exhaling.
Step 6: Repeat on the opposite side and this counts as 1 repetition. Repeat 10 times.
2. Lying Knee Drops
If your back feels stiff getting out of bed in the morning, this can be a gentle way to relieve the tension and get your body ready for the day. Perform 10-20 repetitions and you will likely find that the pain dissipates as you manipulate the spine and activate your core muscles.
Step 1: Similar to 'deadbug', you will start lying on your back with your knees at 90 degrees above your hips, spine pressed into the floor. The difference being that you will stretch your arms out at shoulder height with your palms facing up to the ceiling to open your chest. Draw your shoulders into the floor as best you can.
Step 2: Slowly take your knees across to one side and try to touch them onto the floor. You will feel a deep twist and stretch through your spine. You might also find that one shoulder begins to left off the floor. This is okay. Keep working to try and press both shoulders into the floor. Hold on one side for 10-20s.
Step 3: Using your core muscles, return your knees back to the centre and then slowly take your knees across to the other side and hold here for 10-20s.
Step 4: Repeat slowly with control for 10-20 repetitions. Notice your range of motion increasing with each rep. Breathe deeply as your perform each repetition and hold.
3. Segmented Cat Cow
This gentle spinal movement focuses on isolating each vertebrae of your spine one piece at a time to release stiffness in the spine and warm up your body for harder movement patterns.
Step 1: Begin on all fours (quadruped position). Stack your shoulders directly over your wrists and hips directly over your knees.
Step 2: Point your index fingers forward and spread your fingers wide connecting your hand joints to the floor for additional support and connection throughout the movement. Press your palms and fingers into the floor to stop your shoulder blades from sinking and putting pressure in your wrists.
Step 3: Starting at your tailbone, begin to slowly arch each vertebrae of your spine whilst taking a deep inhale. Gently tilt your pelvis upward, dropping your belly down and lifting your eye-line and face up towards the ceiling - arching your back like a cat.
Step 4: Once again, moving from the tailbone first, begin to round your spine one vertebrae at a time. Tuck your pelvis this time and let your chin tuck towards your chest.
Step 5: Repeat these two movements, always moving from the tailbone first for up to 3 minutes at a time, really allowing yourself to slow down and connect with your body through your spine.
4. Spinal Roll Down
This movement pattern is like a soothing warm bath for your spine! If you're feeling stiff, you can loosen up with this super effective, efficient exercise. All you need to do is perform a few reps and then enjoy the freedom in your spine and lower back.
Step 1: Stand with your feet hip width apart and a slight bend in your knees. Tuck your pelvis to bring your core into action a little bit too.
Step 2: Tuck your chin to your chest and begin to roll down letting your shoulders drop forward and fold down one vertabrae at a time taking it nice and slow. You should take between 6-8 seconds to roll down, pause for a few seconds at the bottom of your range and then engage your glutes to roll back up taking 6-8 seconds to return to your starting position
Step 3: Repeat 3-5 times.
If you want to increase your range and you already have a fair bit of flexibility through your spine and hamstrings, you can stand on a step and even hold some weight to increase the range and load.
5. Sphinx Pose
This gentle backbend both stretches and strengthens the back. You might feel tempted to use your arm muscles to increase the backbend, but try not to. Keep yourself positioned on your elbows and focus on engaging the back muscles for time under tension in this stretch to release back pain and build muscle to improve your posture.
Step 1: Lie on your stomach with your legs stretched out behind you and the tops of your feet resting gently and comfortable against the floor. Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows stacked directly under your shoulders. There will be a gentle arch in your back.
Step 2: Press lightly into your palms and hold this stretch for 2 minutes breathing deep into your belly for a 5s inhale and 5s exhale.
6. Childs Pose
Child's Pose is a gentle resting stretch for your back, hips, thighs and ankles. Use this stretch as a chance to slow your breath and engage your parasympathetic nervous system and relieve back tension and pain.
Step 1: Move into all fours and take your knees out to 'yoga mat-width', resting the tops of your feet gently on the floor with your big toes touching.
Step 2: Rest your stomach between your thighs and rest your forehead gently on the floor keeping your neck in a neutral position. Relax your jaw and face muscles.
Step 3: Either stretch the arms out in front of you shoulder width apart with your palms facing down or you can take them down by your side. Find what feels most comfortable for you and hold this pose for 3 minutes, focusing on deep, belly breathing with 5s inhale and 5s exhale.
7. Legs on Chair Posture
This is my favourite posture for pain relief and dropping into a parasympathetic state to alleviate stress and tension. It's a great posture to lie in if you need a little screen break throughout your working day. Even if you're in the office, do this and you might just start a trend in the workplace ;)
Step 1: Lie down on your back taking your knees up to rest over a chair, bench or step. Your knees should rest at a 90 degree angle directly above your hips. Lying in this posture educes the curve of your lumbar spine, which will stretch your back muscles and allow your spine to rest neutral. It also lets the blood flow flush down towards your heart.
Step 2: Draw your spine into the floor gently engaging your core muscles and use this as a chance to deepen your breathing. You may want to try a simple box breathing technique by breathing in for 4 counts, then hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, then hold for 4 counts. Or you might continue with deep circular breathing taking an inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds.
Here's a more detailed video explanation of each posture/exercise. Enjoy!
If you're in your 30s/40s/50s right now, do yourself a solid... don't wait for sh%t to hit the fan before you invest in your health and fitness. Hire a coach/trainer, do the work now and get properly educated on how to train effectively, build strength, flexibility and longevity for your joints! It will save you a lot of money on surgery, pain killers, physiotherapy and rehab in the long run ;)
You don't need to work with a coach forever. A great coach will help you develop strength, move well and teach you everything you need to know to be able to stand on your own two feet and feel confident to train effectively for life.
If you want to have a chat about working together, jump on the waitlist here and I'll be in touch when my next intake for 1 on 1 coaching opens mid-March.
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I would LOVE to hear how you found these exercises, drop me a line to let me know how you went!
Move well & feel empowered,