Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world, a big reason people miss work, and many athletes I have coached have missed workouts because of it. The first 2 facts are terrible, but missing workouts too, c’mon! The majority of back pain in athletic populations, in my experience, is caused by muscles becoming tighter due to fatigue and overuse. This fatigue can come from many areas ranging from an increase of training workload to a tough race. Fortunately, for most sufferers of back pain there are a few easy exercises you can do to loosen up the muscles and increase the joint range of motion to help decrease the pain. There are many conflicting studies regarding when to stretch and how long to hold the stretches for, this is what I have seen work best for me and the athletes/patients I have worked with.
How to stretch
- Ideal best time to stretch is POST WORKOUT. The reason for this is because stretching a muscle statically will decrease its ability to contract which will result in a decreased amount of power produced. We train too hard trying to increase our power and strength to reduce it right before our event!
- Instead, try a dynamic stretching routine pre-workout if you feel tight. Performing dynamic stretches will improve your range of motion, and you won’t lose any contractile force of the muscle, a win-win.
- Stretches should be held for 30 seconds minimum. Physiologically, it takes your muscle fibers ~30 seconds to relax enough to make static stretching beneficial and allow the muscle fibers to lengthen.
- Stretches should be performed in a comfortable range of motion, so no crying because it hurts so much, but you also want to feel like you are doing something too.
- Alternate each leg with each consecutive stretch, so as 1 side is resting, the other side is being stretched.
- Perform the stretches 2-3 times each.
- Stretch out 2-3 times daily if you are really having an issue with your back. For maintenance, or if your back only hurts after an intense event/race, once a day is okay.
Lumbar/Thoracic/Cervical Spine Mobility
From a quadruped position bring your head forward, round your back, and bring your hips forward.
From a quadruped position bring your head and hips towards the ceiling and arch your back.
Lumbar Spine Mobility
From your stomach, press up onto your hands (or elbows if you’re very tight) and arch your back. Relax your glutes.
Place your foot on your opposite knee, reach for your thigh, and pull towards your chest until a deep stretch is felt in the buttocks. Sometimes this causes knee pain, if so only perform the stretch below
Pull your leg up and then across your body until a deep stretch is felt in the buttocks. Try and keep your shoulders flat and try not to rotate your lower back too much.
Sit your buttocks back and reach your arms forwards. You will feel a stretch along your outer torso and towards your arms or back depending on how tight you are.