Having flexibility in the back is not just about being able to participate in certain sports. While it is helpful for activities such as gymnastics, figure skating, and dance, good flexibility helps with overall comfort and health as well. Having a flexible back helps to prevent lower back pain along with correcting posture issues. Working on making the back more flexible can reduce the amount of weight and pressure that specific vertebra carries so a person’s overall fitness and health improve.
There is no quick fix for back flexibility. It is something that needs to be accomplished over time. It is not always easy and body type can play into an individual’s progress. Doing stretches targeting the back and working with other muscles that support it is a good way to increase flexibility. There are some solid back stretches for flexibility to make this happen. Be mindful that there is some cross over between approaches as they are all targeting the same area with the same intent.
Always be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new health program. Not everything that works for one person will necessarily work the same for another. Make sure to work with a trainer or instructor when doing new stretches so you know how to do them properly and use a spotter as needed. It is important to be safe and do warm-ups were required as well. Loosening up helps you get a better stretch and eventually, a more flexible back.
- Approach #1 – Using Yoga to Improve Back Flexibility
- Approach #2 – Athletic Stretches
- Approach #3 – Pilates
- Approach #4 – Dance Stretches for a More Flexible Back
Approach #1 – Using Yoga to Improve Back Flexibility
Yoga is a great approach to use for working on back flexibility to alleviate or prevent back pain. Yoga helps to stretch and strengthen the muscles which support the spine. It targets the paraspinal and multifidus muscles which bend and stabilize the vertebrae. It also works on the transverse abdominis which is in the abdomen to keep the spine stabilized.
As with any physical activity, make sure an instructor walks you through the poses to make sure they are being done correctly so there are no adverse issues. Do not try to reach too far if you are not ready. The goal is to try to make the back’s range of motion better and that is done in increments. Practice each day and the flexibility will improve little by little.
This is done lying on the stomach with bent knees and feet pointing to the ceiling. Reach behind and grab your ankles. As you lift up with the arms, there should be a stretch in the shoulders and abdomen. Hold this for 20-30 seconds and then release on an exhale. It can be repeated as you are comfortable. The stretch can be increased by reaching to grab the toes pulling the legs upward more.
Kneel with hands flat on the ground and knees hip-width apart. Tilt the head back to the ceiling on the inhale breath and push the bellybutton to the floor. Hold and then bring the head down with the chin to the chest on the exhale. Arch your back up at the same time. Hold once again. To increase the stretch, slide your arms forward, and arch the back until your arms and chest are touching the mat.
Lie on your front with bent elbows and hands ahead of you. Then slowly straighten the arms on the inhale breath. This will lift the upper body. Lift the head back to the ceiling while keeping the pelvis on the floor. Hold for 40 seconds to stretch. Once you can do this comfortably, then try bending your knees to reach the head with your toes.
This is not for when you have a sore back but for prevention purposes. Kneel with knees shoulder-width apart, move hips forward and lean to the back until a stretch is felt. You can support yourself with your hands if that helps. Arms should be placed behind, so your hands are on the upturned feet. Pull the elbows together and lift the chest upwards. You can use an exercise ball or other yoga prop to support your back if that is more comfortable.
Approach #2 – Athletic Stretches
If you are not someone who is interested in yoga, then doing stretches at home or the gym works as well, too. The stretches listed below are often used in a gentle warm-up or cool down. Do not push yourself hard and make sure that you have been shown how to do these stretches properly. The intent is to protect and strengthen the back, not do any harm.
This is a similar position to the Pike dive. Make sure to maintain a straight back while you do the stretch. Sit on the floor and put your legs straight out to the front. Reach up with the arms to the ceiling. Lean forward gently at the waist while reaching toward your toes. The stretch will be felt in the hamstrings, legs, and lower back.
It is not about actually reaching your toes but rather to lengthen and stretch the back. Focus there rather than the feet. You can use props such as a towel, band, or belt to help wrap around the feet to make the hold easier. It can also be done from a standing position, but be careful with balance. Make sure you are comfortable doing it this way before attempting.
This stretch is done while sitting on the floor with knees bent. Legs should be tucked to the left. Hold your left ankle with your left hand and then raise your right arm. When you inhale, bring your right arm over your head to reach for the ceiling. Exhale.
Hold this pose for 20-30 seconds and then repeat it as many times as you feel comfortable. Make sure to switch sides. This means move your legs to the right and reverse the hand and arm you are stretching with.
This is the one stretch that so many of us used to do as children. Lie down on the back, making sure knees and arms are shoulder-width apart. Push your hips up while keeping feet on the floor. Hands should be placed behind your head flat as well. Your arms and legs will push your body up into a bridge position. Go to where you are comfortable. Hold this while you breathe evenly. A prop such as an exercise ball can be used as needed to hold the arch up and try to work towards not using any props to hold yourself up.
Approach #3 – Pilates
Pilates is great for addressing back flexibility. Its focus is on strengthening muscles through low impact exercise and it works well for all abilities. Pilates works to improve posture, spinal alignment, and flexibility.
It tends to target the core so it is particularly good for strengthening back muscles and those needed to reduce and prevent back issues through increased flexibility and strengthening. As with any stretch, it’s important to learn it properly from an instructor and do it slowly to make sure nothing feels strained or hurt. The goals are to have a more flexible and healthier back. This can not be improved in one practice session.
Pelvic tilt to a Pelvic Curl
This is a great exercise to increase flexibility as well as reduce pain in the lower back. It is a teaching exercise to learn how to use the abdominal muscles to lengthen the lower back. Begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Make sure that your feet and knees are lined up and about a hip-distance apart. You do not have to flatten the curve in the back.
As you exhale, do the pelvic tilt by using your ab muscles to move your belly button towards your spine. You should be pressing the lower spine to the floor and the pelvic bone higher than the hips. Hold it then release on the inhale or move to a pelvic curl.
A pelvic curl is done by pressing down through your feet with the tailbone moving toward the ceiling. Hips go up, then the lower spine and then the middle. Rest on your shoulder blades. Do not arch. Then exhale and roll the spine back to the floor. Do this 3-5 times.
This is a simple, restful and a good stretch for the back. Kneel with your buttocks sitting on your heels. Keep the toes together and open the knees to hip-width apart. Lean forward so your body drapes over the thighs and your forehead is on the floor. Next, reach your arms out in front or leave them at the side. Either is fine depending on comfort. Breathe deep and relax. Focus on releasing tension in the lower back and hips.
This works really well in stretching the back as well as the hamstrings. Each time it is done, reach a little farther to increase the back’s flexibility. It also provides the ability to breathe deeply and intentionally while focusing on the back area. Always start the stretch gently and move with a slow stretch. Sit with your feet out in front about a shoulder-length apart.
Bend forward from the waist with arms outstretched. Reach toward your toes. Do not force the stretch. Hold it as long as you are comfortable, then relax. This stretch can be repeated a few times. Each time it is done, try to reach just a little farther to increase flexibility.
Approach #4 – Dance Stretches for a More Flexible Back
Accomplished dancers leave us in awe with their flexibility. While most people are not looking for their backs to be super flexible, some of a dancer’s exercises can help increase flexibility. No one has to be a dancer to do these. The goal is to get a more flexible back rather than dance your way across a stage. Follow instructions carefully and if you are not in a dance program, then make sure there are clear directions on how to begin and proceed. Always gently test the stretches to make sure there is no pain or stress.
Stretching out the Thoracic Spine
This stretch to increase back flexibility needs a prop to assist in its success. You will need a large foam roller that is high enough to keep your body off the floor when feet are planted. Begin by lying over the roller. Put your hands behind the head, bend the knees while feet are flat on the floor. The roller can be in the crook of your back to start or wherever you find comfortable.
Lift your hips from the floor so it creates a small bridge, then walk with both feet forwards and backward, so your spine moves over the roller. While many stretches work on the lower spine, this one is meant for the thoracic area, so focus the rolling there. Go from the base of the shoulder blades and roll to the base of the rib cage. Your bottom can touch the floor if needed. Pay attention to any stiff areas that are felt. When that happens, lower your hips and arch your neck/head and chest over the roller. Hold and inhale/exhale 2-3 times and then work on the next stiff spot.
Do this 5 times fully along the thoracic spine and pause when needed. This stretch should be done 3-5 times per week for increased flexibility.
Hip Flexor Stretch
This is another stretch to increase back flexibility that can be done with or without a prop. A wall or chair both can work well but if your balance is good then feel free to go without. While this stretch is centered on the hip flexors, it actually helps the spine.
Mobile hip flexors are important as they are a key factor in a healthy and flexible back. As with every stretch, do not overdo it and listen to your body for when it has reached its physical limit. The stretch in this one does not have to be huge, just enough to work on the range of motion and increase back flexibility.
Begin by kneeling on your right knee with the left knee up and its foot on the ground. A mat underneath the knee will help with any discomfort. Put your hands out to hold onto a chair, wall or anything that is grounded for stability. Or use this as a chance to work on your balance as well and do it without a prop.
Once kneeling, then squeeze your glute muscles on the right side (same side that the knee is on the floor). The knee can always be placed more in a small lunge position to increase its stretch. Once you are set, then reach the right arm and have it go up and over your head pulling towards the other shoulder. This should be done twice for 30 seconds each. Then switch legs.
If your hips feel tight, do not force anything. The leg can simply be positioned straight up and down, it does not have to be in a lunge at all. Do the stretch slowly so you can feel when it is working and that it is not being overdone. Using a prop is helpful not just for balance, but it also lets you focus on how the stretch should feel and progress.