A while back I wrote about the anatomy of lower back pain, and how it is the number one reason people call in sick to work in the Western world. I discussed the principles of anatomy and how sitting at a desk all day or overtraining one muscle group (like everyone's beloved sick pack abs) causes an imbalance in the hips, thus in the lower back.
Today, I want to give you a sequence of exercises to do either as part of your regular workout or maybe before you go to bed. Doing these regularly (read: at least 5 times a week), will help to re-balance out any muscle and joint positions, so lower back pain is a thing of the past.
Why do you have to do them so often? It's that annoying saying: if you don't use it, you lose it! When it comes to our body, most of us don't move enough. We tend to sit at work, in the car, in front of the TV. Every time you sit for long periods of time (more than 1 hour at a time), you are counteracting the good you did with these exercises. Be realistic with yourself: the longer you sit, the more often you have to do this!
Now let's begin. It shouldn't take more than 15 minutes, which means it can easily be part of your daily routine. Don’t rush through the exercises; instead work with complete muscle control.
1. Cat cow: 10x
Start on all fours with your knees directly underneath the hips and your hands underneath the shoulders. Spread your fingertips and grip the mat, so you feel strong throughout your whole upper body.
Inhale and let the belly hang down slightly - like a cow - while your gaze is going up.
Exhale and draw the belly button in and up towards the spine, rounding your back like a cat. You are now gazing towards your thighs.
Don't jerk into your lower back when doing this exercise, but keep the movement fluid.
Don't over extend your neck, let it move as part of your spine rather than jerking it back and forth.
2. Pelvic tilts: 10x
Lie on your back with your knees bend, feet hip width apart. Place your hands on your hip bones to feel the movement.
Inhale and arch your back slightly, tilting your hip bones forward. It's the same action as the cow move above.
Next, exhale and tilt your hip bones back, pulling the belly button in, and pushing your lower back into the floor.
Relax your shoulders in this pose, and only tilt from your hips and lower back.
3. Figure four stretch: hold 30 seconds each side
Lying on your back, cross your right heel over your left knee.
Reach through your legs and pull the left thigh into your chest.
Rest your head down and pull the legs closer to the chest.
Now drop both legs 1 centimeter to the left side, intensifying the stretch.
Pull the legs in using your arms rather than your neck.
Flex both feet to protect your knees.
4. Transverse abdominal breath: 10 breaths
This is a bit tricky to get, but keep trying, you will get there!
Lie on your back and prop yourself up on your elbows. This means they are placed directly underneath your shoulders and your upper and middle back are off the floor. Keep your lower back curved into the floor. Hands are on the side of the hip bones again.
Take a deep breath into your belly and see your belly expand up to the ceiling, filling your hands with the air.
Exhale and draw the belly button down into the spine, feeling your abdominals engage underneath your fingertips.
Focus on drawing the “bikini line” in - the line between your hip bones - as you are exhaling.
5. Roll ups: 10x
This is a classic Pilates exercise. Take your time to get there, it requires patience.
Start lying down on your back, bend your knees, and bring your feet together on the mat. Extend the arms behind you long on the floor.
Inhale and stretch long.
Exhale, draw the belly button in (like in the transverse abdominal breath), and start to lift your arms, following with your whole body by peeling the spine up one vertebrae at a time. Come up as high as you can without using momentum or using letting your feet come off the floor.
Inhale and hold wherever you are.
Exhale and draw the belly button in again, rolling all the way back down.
If you can, roll yourself all the way up to a sitting position, sitting up nice and tall before you start to roll down again.
Use your inner thigh-abdominal connection: squeeze your inner thighs together so tightly as you are rolling up and down to engage your pelvic floor and your lower abdominal muscles.
6. Wringing out the spine: 5x each side
After you last roll up, stay in a seated position (or wiggle yourself up here somehow). Cross your arms over your chest, and sit cross legged.
Inhale and sit up super tall, even squeezing your buttocks cheeks together to get an extra lift.
Exhale and start to twist your spine around to the left. Make the twist come from your abdominal a first, then your ribcage, then your spine, blowing out all the air as you go along.
Inhale and twist back to center, sitting up super tall.
Exhale and twist to the other side.
As you twist, don't collapse into a rounded back. You want to maintain as straight a spine as possible, just wringing it out to twist.
Focus on your hip bones, not letting them move at all as you twist around. Think of your lower body being concreted to the floor, you only twist from above your hips.
7. Side bend: 2x each side
Stay seated cross legged in a comfortable sitting position.
Inhale and reach your arms up overhead, again stretching as long as you can.
Exhale and bring your left fingertips down to the floor on the side, walking then further away from you as you stretch your right arm up and overhead to the side.
Inhale and stretch back up to center.
Exhale and repeat on the other side.
Keep your weight on both sitting bones as you are stretching over to the side, so the stretch really goes into the side of your torso.
8. Superman / woman: 10x
Lie down on your front on the floor, your feet about hip width apart, your arms stretched out long in front of you, and your forehead down on the floor.
Just breathe here first. As you exhale you want to focus on drawing the belly button away from the floor without tilting anything else in your pelvic area. Inhale and let the belly relax into the floor.
Now as you exhale the next time, add a lift of the whole body. Arms and legs come up off the floor, reaching long away from each other.
Inhale and lower back down to the floor.
The aim of this lift is not to come up high, but to maintain that drawn in belly button and then create length in your whole body as you lift up.
To get the belly button going, visualize a blueberry underneath your belly button. When you lift up, you don't want to squash that blueberry.
9. Plank hold: up to 1 minute
Place your elbows underneath your shoulders and spread your hands on the floor, gripping all 10 fingertips into the mat/ towel/ floor you are on.
Step your feet back hip width apart to lift your knees off the floor and come into a full plank - a long line from the crown of your head to your heels.
Squeeze your buttocks cheeks in this position and feel like you are squeezing your inner thighs towards each other.
Lift up out of your shoulders and hold the plank here, making sure to breathe continuously.
Don't let your hips sag down too low to the floor or lift them too high up to the ceiling. They should be in a perfect line with your body.
Think of a flame burning underneath your belly - you do not want that flame to touch you, so pull the belly button in.
10. Low lunge stretch: hold 30 seconds each side
Start on your knees, step your right foot forward and push your hips into a low lunge position.
Lift your back upright and pull your shoulders back, placing your hands on the hips.
Think of sinking low into your left hip to feel a stretch in the front of the hip and thigh, while lifting your spine up tall to the ceiling.
Move on to the next exercise before switching sides.
11. Half split hamstring stretch: hold 30 seconds each side
Still on your left knee, transfer your weight back on to that left knee, stretch the right leg in front, and pull the right toes up to the ceiling.
Place your hands down on the floor on either side of the leg (if you can) and walk yourself forward over that straight right leg.
Make sure you don’t collapse over your leg, but keep your spine long.
Switch the side for the last 2 exercises.
12. Child’s pose: hold 1 minute
Starting on your knees, open them up slightly out to the sides.
Sit back on your heels and reach your fingertips forward.
Rest your forehead on the floor and sit your hips low back on the heels. This should be very relaxing and lengthening.
Here is to a healthy and strong back!