Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world, the number one 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 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. If you have seen studies you like, or have a different opinion, please post it under the comments section, I would love to know more!
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.
Pictures of my favorite stretches to help with low back pain
Lumbar/Thoracic/Cervical Spine Mobility
Lumbar Spine Mobility