It’s estimated that more than 30 million Americans suffer from back pain. This pain can range from annoying to totally debilitating, making everyday life a real struggle for the sufferer. Even the slightest muscle tightness can lend an unwelcome undertone of stress to life.
I hear you saying “But I workout! My back is good and strong! I deadlift like a beast! There’s nothing wrong with my back!”
While weight training and most other forms of exercise (when performed properly!) can dramatically lower the risk of serious and permanent back problems, incidences of muscle tightness and twinges can become elevated. This is, of course, referring to DOM’s delayed onset muscle soreness and the inherent stiffness and lactate build-up that accompanies it.
Yes, who doesn’t love that totally rigid, iron-like, solidness that you get after a good deadlift session? Or the bruised feeling in the hamstrings, glutes and lower back that you get after a solid stint on the squat rack? In truth, if you don’t relish these feelings, you probably should question your commitment to the cause.
Regardless of how satisfying these feelings are or how much they remind you of your hard work, local muscle tightness can lead to imbalances that create pain and muscle spasms. The back is the most common area for these to occur. Who can honestly say they’ve never overdone it on deadlift day and had to sit or lie down the next day to relieve some tension?
The back can be a focal area for pain and stiffness, a weak point that seems to be the go-to guy for discomfort of any kind. Stomach pain can manifest as back pain and vice versa. Groin pain can cause tension in the lumbar area. Tightness or DOM’s in the hams, glutes, abs, quads, or hips can create tightness in the muscles surrounding the spine. Injuries to the foot, ankle, knee, and hip can cause minor gait imbalances that focus discomfort into the back. Even neck and shoulder issues can leave you feeling pain lower down.
It’s clear to see the back needs extra TLC than most body parts. Maintaining a supple, strong, tension free back is essential for any sportsperson. The benefits of this can be seen in your lifting. A supple back with good blood flow and a great range of motion can deadlift far more than a stiff, restricted one, and more weight equals more gains.
Below is a simple back stretching routine that you can do once, or even twice or three times, per day to help keep your back healthy and supple. Sheer Strength Labs NO2 Nitric Oxide Boosters can help you increase blood flow to the muscles during your workouts to increase strength and improve lactate clearance in the area. Make sure to get yours.
If you experience pain or discomfort above tension or DOM’s, seek advice from a medical professional before performing any stretching regime or exercise of any kind. Better to be safe than sorry.
As previously mentioned, the hamstrings can be a major cause of lower back tension. Tight and restrictive hams can also be a hindrance to getting a good stretch into the target muscles, so what better place to start?
To perform this stretch, simply lay on the ground with your back flat, bend your legs so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle, and keep your feet flat on the floor. Next, taking one leg at a time, raise that leg directly upwards and keep it as straight as possible until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. You may want to hold your leg with your hands or even use a band (as pictured above), but don’t force it. Hold for 30 seconds before repeating with the opposite leg. Perform two stretches per leg.
This stretch is commonly performed while standing, but as the aim here is to relieve tension from the back muscles, it should, in this case, be performed while lying down. Begin in the same position as the previous stretch, but this time, bend your leg fully and raise your knee up towards your chest. Pull slightly with both hands until you feel a comfortable stretch in the glutes and upper hamstrings. As before, hold for 30 seconds and perform twice per leg.
This stretch also begins flat on the ground with your legs bent to 90 degrees. This time, while keeping your shoulders flat on the floor, twist at the waist and drop your knees to one side to feel a stretch in your glutes, hips and lower back. You may need to apply some pressure with your hand and overstretch your top leg to fully feel the effects of this stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and perform two per side.
The piriformis muscle is a small, deep gluteal muscle that handles the rotation of the hips. It‘s an area that commonly becomes tight, inflamed and irritated in athletes, and can cause anything from a niggling ache to sciatica. The main problem with the piriformis is that it is extremely hard to stretch or massage.
The piriformis stretch can also be performed from the starting position of the previous three by performing a knee raise stretch with one leg crossed over the other. However, the description here will be of the seated version of the stretch (see the picture above).
Sit upright, maintaining a flat back. Cross one leg over the other and place the foot next to the outside of the opposite knee. Now twist slightly and place your opposite arm over the leg to be stretched, applying a little pressure. You should feel a deep stretch in your glute and hip area. Hold for 30 seconds, twice per side.
The hip flexors are muscles and connective tissues that run up the front of the thigh and across the hip. They raise the knees and feel especially tender if you’ve been running for the first time in a while. The stretch pictured below may be ambitious for now, but it’s your goal. To begin, take a large step forwards and drop onto one knee, ending up in a kind of stretched lunge position. Now, resting your arms on your leading thigh, lean forwards until you feel a stretch in the area marked on the picture below. The arm movements are optional! 30-second hold, two per side.
Maintaining good balance is essential in any aspect of your training be it lifting or stretching, so now it’s time to hit the quads. As per the knee raise stretch, this exercise is commonly performed from a standing position (as pictured below), but for this purpose it should be done lying on your side.
Lie on your side with your legs slightly bent, take hold of the ankle of your upper leg and carefully pull backwards to feel a stretch in your quads. Again, 30 seconds, twice per leg.
By this point you should be feeling pretty well stretched and hopefully more supple than when you started, so let’s finish off by giving everything a good, relaxing stretch and shake off. Don’t strain when you perform this stretch, simply flop forwards and allow everything to hang loose. Try to keep your legs straight and feel the stretch from your calves to your neck. Hang loose for 10-20 seconds and then slowly rise, one vertebra at a time, until you are perfectly upright. Perform three times.
If you go through this routine each day, either first thing in the morning, right before bed, or both, you should start to feel the effects very quickly. It’s especially important to work on stretching your back after heavy back and leg sessions. Yoga is an excellent way to relax and keep your body supple, as well as strong. In fact, pretty much all of these stretches have their roots firmly planted in the teachings of yoga.
You should also start to see your big lifts improve as you become more supple. To really boost your lifting, add in Sheer Strength Labs Sheer Alpha Testosterone Booster to put your body into a seriously anabolic place. If you want to see that lower back Christmas tree light up, strip fat from the area with Sheer Strength Thermogenic Fat Burners.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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