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Home » OSL Blog » How to Stretch the Lower Back

How to Stretch the Lower Back

April 29, 2019

  1. Do you stretch before or after your workouts?
  2. Feel like your lower back and hips get tighter when you train heavier in your workouts?
  3. Do you spend any time stretching on your rest days from the gym?

You’ve been putting in the work.

Hard workouts in the gym a few times a week. Eating healthy, fueling your body right, and getting a good night’s sleep.

Vintage Bliss
Vintage Bliss

So why are you waking up with a tight lower back that gets stiffer and more sore as the day goes on?

Do you feel like your hips and glutes are too tight as well? Maybe you’ve had to skip a gym session because you were too sore and worried about muscle injury.

back pain
A tight lower back can hinder your workouts and progress.

We’ve got some exercises that will help teach you how to stretch lower back muscles — which could be exactly what your workout is missing. Adding these slightly physical lower back exercises to your workout routine might be just what you need to manage your hip and lower back pain.

The Reality of Lower Back Pain

As many as 80% of people will deal with low back pain at some point in their lifetime. Unsafe practices like lifting too heavy, not having proper form, and not stretching before and after exercise can lead to injury. The older you get, the more likely you will deal with stiffness in the lower back requiring some sort of therapy, depending on the cause and severity.

During the Golden Era of bodybuilding, legends were quick to provide information on their preferred techniques, routines, and supplements. But not much was done or said about back pain, soreness, and stiffness. It was considered just part of the experience of building massive muscles and competing against each other to be the biggest and best.

How to stretch lower back in a safe way?

When the pain, soreness, and stiffness prove to be too much for a regular workout, opt for stretching instead to provide relief so you can get back to your normal workout routine quicker. Once you get comfortable with these poses, make sure they become part of your normal routine to help aid in muscle recovery and reduce the risk of further injury.

For fitness buffs and aspiring bodybuilders, this part is pretty easy. One of the keys to help self manage low back pain is to stay active. Laying down and being still can actually aggravate low back pain or stiffness and make it worse.

People who are generally sedentary during the week (like most office workers) and get the most exercise on the weekend generally see higher occurrences of low back pain than people who are active consistently throughout the week.

How to Prevent a Lower Back Injury

To prevent an injury to the back, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) advises to:

  • Maintain proper posture
  • Lift heavy objects properly
  • Do not make sudden movements that jolt or strain your back
  • Use ergonomic furniture and equipment
  • Stretch before and after strenuous activity
  • Sleep on a firm surface – the fetal position can open joints and relieve pressure on the spine

Various studies have been done over the years to try to determine the best way to relieve low back pain. Yoga has been found to be one of the best non-invasive ways to stretch the lower back. The poses coupled with mindful breathing has shown positive results for people who suffer with pain and stiff low back muscles.

Advanced Yoga Pose
Yoga has proved to be a noninvasive method to stretch the lower back.

A study was done in 2017 by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) on 320 participants in ages ranging from 18 – 64 over the course of a year. That study concluded that yoga is similar to physical therapy in helping to relieve lower back pain.

Not only can yoga help with the physical pain and stiffness, it also has positive effects on mental health as well. Studies have shown that people who suffer with depression and other psychological disorders that can be presented along with back pain see a positive response mentally and physically from doing regular yoga sessions.

Stretches for Lower Back and Hip Pain

One of the hardest challenges that people face when doing yoga poses is to remember to breath.

You can choose to do your stretches at a studio, the gym, or in the comfort of your own home (if you’re really worried about what the other bodybuilders might think). No equipment is needed to complete these exercises other than a yoga mat, though some may need a pillow or blanket for support in the beginning stages. Yoga works best when you move from position to position in a fluid motion, so feel free to mix up the poses as you see fit.

You can start out one day with child’s pose, cat/cow pose, and then downward dog one day, and then the next day in downward dog, child’s pose, and then cat/cow pose. Listen to your body and do what works best for you. There is no right or wrong sequence, as long as you have proper form and breathing techniques while you are doing your low back stretches.

Now settle in, put on some soothing and calm music, and get ready to loosen and stretch your tight lower back.

Child’s Pose/Prayer Stretch

Child’s Pose is a beginner yoga pose that is a great stretch for lower back and hip pain. It helps to stabilize the spine and strengthen the abdominal muscles as well. The longer you hold the pose the better the stretch, so make sure you breath deep and slow while you are perfecting this exercise for maximum benefit.

Don’t worry if you aren’t able to do the full pose at first, especially if your hips are tight. They will loosen as you continue to use this stretching method, and you will be able to go deeper and hold the pose for longer over time.

child pose
Child’s pose helps with stabilizing the spine and strengthening the abdominal muscles.

How to do it: Start on your hands and knees with your hands on the mat under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Extend and stretch your arms out in front of you with your hands flat on the floor. Slowly and smoothly move your hips towards your heels while dropping your head and chest downward as your arms extend further. If the stretch is too much, you can put a pillow below your chest to help prop you up until you can do the complete pose unassisted. Hold the pose for 30 – 60 seconds or longer, taking slow and deep breaths while in the pose.

Cat/Cow Pose

This is considered a dynamic yoga pose that moves the low back muscles in two different directions which elongates the muscles as you move throughout the pose and soothing soreness and tightness.

cat cow pose
The cat/cow pose soothes soreness and tightness in the lower back.

How to do it: Start the same way as child’s pose – hands and feet on the mat with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then, round out your back upward, similar to a cat who is stretching. You will feel this movement in your middle back and shoulders blades as you stretch. Hold this position for five seconds, then relax and arch your lower back as your stomach falls downward. Hold that position for five seconds. Don’t forget to take a deep breath in each position. Continue alternating cat and cow pose for 30 – 60 seconds.

Lower Back Twist/Supine Spinal Twist

This pose not only stretches the lower back, but also the glutes. For some, tight glutes can make low back pain worse, so this twist can really help to alleviate the soreness.

Lower back twist
This pose works on stretching both your lower back and glutes.

How to do it: Start by laying flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Stretch out both arms to either side of you, so your body forms a T shape. Make sure your shoulders keep contact with the floor throughout the exercise.

Take a deep breath and with knees together, slowly begin to move them to one side as you exhale. If you can’t quite get your knees down to the floor, you can use a pillow under them for now. Breathe deeply in and out while you hold this pose for 20 – 30 seconds. You can also turn your neck gently to the opposite side of your knees to provide a deeper stretch. Then, bring your neck back to center and begin to move your knees back to the starting position as you exhale.

If you are using a support for your knees, move it to the opposite side before you start the pose. Inhale and then move your knees to that side as you exhale. Turn your neck to the opposite side, and hold the position for 20 – 30 seconds as you breathe deeply. Do each rep for at least five rounds, or as many as needed to give your back, spine, and neck a deep stretch.

Pelvic Tilt

One of the reasons it’s difficult to pinpoint a cause for low back pain is that the pain could be caused by other muscle groups. Poor core control and stability requires the back muscles to work harder to pick up the slack, which can cause stiffness and soreness from overwork. This exercise helps to stretch the lower back and loosen tight muscles while strengthening the core to improve its function.

pelvic tilt
The pelvic tilt strengthens your core and stretches the lower back.

How to do it: Lie flat on the mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms at your sides or put them behind your head, whichever feels more comfortable for you. Keep your shoulders against the floor throughout the exercise, and don’t forget to breathe while you are performing the pelvic tilt. You should relax your back while laying, so that the natural curve of your lower back causes a small gap between your back and the floor. Tighten your ab muscles and begin to tilt your pelvis upward so that your lower back is flat on the floor. Hold for 10 -15 seconds, and then go back to the starting position. Repeat 15 – 20 times.

Knees-to-Chest Pose

This pose really targets the low back muscles to provide a great stretch. You will also feel the stretch in the glutes, hips, and hamstrings. For the best stretch possible, do the pose with one leg and then the other, to stretch from both sides. Then, pull both knees up together and stretch the entire back before you repeat the entire sequence again.

knees to chest yoga pose
The knees-to-chest pose targets lower back, glutes, hips, and hamstrings.

How to do it: Lay flat on your back on the mat, with your legs outstretched. Begin by pulling one leg up towards your chest with your knee bent while your other leg remains straight. Place your hand behind the knee or on the knee or shin, whichever is more comfortable for you. Bring the knee as close to your chest as you can. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly as you feel your muscles relax into the stretch. Go back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Once completed, repeat with both legs. Do each round five times.

Piriformis Stretch

The piriformis muscle runs from the outside of the hip through the glutes. When irritated or inflamed, it can aggravate the sciatic nerve and cause pain and tightness in the glutes, hips, and lower back. This move is progressive, so you will want to start out slow and then progress to a deeper stretch over time so your body can gradually lengthen and stretch the muscle. If you try to stretch too far too soon, you run the risk of aggravating the sciatic nerve which can lead to further pain.

piriformis stretch
With the periformis stretch, you start slow & then progress to a deeper stretch.

How to do it: To start, you will want to sit on your mat folded over a few times or use a pillow to give yourself some padding. Sit up straight with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Place your right foot under your left knee until your right heel is resting outside your left thigh and your right knee is facing forward.

Now, pick up your left foot and place it just outside your bent right knee, with your heel against your leg and your toes pointing forward. If this stretch is too much for you, move your left foot to just under your right kneecap. If you feel that your left side has moved up out of the seated position, push back down so that both sides of your body are balancing your weight.

Place your hands folded over your left knee to keep your balance and maintain even weight on both hips and glutes. Hold this position for at least 45 seconds, up to two minutes per side. Breathe in deeply and evenly, slowly, while holding the position and lengthening your spine. Do at least two stretches for each side, alternating sides.

Advanced Piriformis Twist

Once you have mastered the piriformis stretch and no longer need support under you, you’ll want to add the twist to it to further stretch the piriformis muscle.

advanced piriformis twist
The advanced piriformis twist will further stretch your piriformis muscle.

How to do it: Once you are fully on the mat unrolled, you will then add in the slight body twist. While in the position, you will twist your body slightly to the side of your upright knee. If your left knee is up, place your left hand to your side with fingers facing back for leverage, and your right hand on the outside of your knee. Gently provide resistance to the knee as you twist slightly while keeping the torso and back straight, until you are facing the side while your knee remains straight forward.

Remember – this is a progressive pose, so don’t rush through the motion. You will feel the muscles start to release as you move your knees further out to stretch the piriformis. If at any time you feel pain, back off until you are comfortable again.

Reclined Pigeon Pose/Figure-four

This pose is done laying down and provides a great stretch to the lower back, inner thighs, and glutes.

reclined pigeon pose
The reclined pigeon pose is a great stretch to the lower back, inner thighs, and glutes.

How to do it: Lie on your back on your mat with your knees bent in front of you and your feet flat on the floor. Bring your left knee up and rest your outer ankle on your right quad, and then grab the back of your right knee with both hands. Pull your knee toward your chest until you feel the feel a stretch without pain. Breathe slowly and deeply while you hold this pose anywhere from 60 seconds to two minutes. Repeat on each side and do two to three rounds.

Sphinx Pose

Doing this pose helps to tone the spine and promote the natural curve of the lower back. It also activates the core muscles which increases stability and reduces dependence on lower back muscles.

sphinx pose
The sphinx pose tones the spine and promotes the natural curve of the lower back.

How to do it: Start out by laying on your stomach on the mat with your feet hip width apart. Bring your elbows under your shoulders so that your forearms and hands are flat on the mat. Lift your torso up and keep your eyes straight ahead.

Push your tailbone down towards the mat and pull your belly button in towards your spine to reduce the risk of hyper-extending your back. Only move as far as you feel comfortable, if you feel pain or discomfort then lower the pose until you just feel the stretch in your lower back. Hold the pose for one to three minutes.

Standing Forward Fold/Forward Bend

This lower back stretch is done standing up. You can do this lower back stretch at work, home or anywhere you have a little space. It not only helps to loosen the back muscles, it is also great for the hamstrings and back of the legs to provide a deep stretch to help open up any tightness.

standing forward yoga pose
The standing forward bend loosens the back muscles, and stretches the hamstrings.

How to do it: Stand with your feet together and your body straight. Put your hands on your hips and take a deep breath in. Press your heels down into the floor to stabilize yourself. Begin to bend forward at the hips as far as you can comfortably go as you exhale. Look straight ahead so that your spine doesn’t round while bending.

Choose to let your arms hang loosely, touch the floor with your hands if you are able to or cross your arms to grab your elbows. Once you are in the bend, look towards your shins. Breath deeply and as you exhale, move a little bit more forward into the pose and feel the stretch in your legs and back.

As you inhale, push your glutes toward the ceiling to further stretch the muscles. Continue this pose for 30 – 60 seconds. To come back up to the starting position, inhale and rise up in a smooth motion, keeping the spine straight.

Your goal is to be able to bend forward so that your chest is touching your legs. Depending on how tight your muscles are, it may take you several attempts over the course of perfecting this pose until you can reach that deep of a bend. Don’t give up, and don’t forget to breathe deeply to encourage the muscles to relax so you can bend deeper into the stretch.

Seated Forward Fold/ Forward Bend

If you are having trouble staying balanced while completing the standing version of this pose, consider starting with the seated forward fold. This is an excellent way to focus the stretch on the hamstrings and will not aggravate the lower back. You might also be able to perform a deeper stretch while doing this seated.

seated forward bend
The seated forward bend will focus the stretch on the hamstrings.

How to do it: In a seated position, stretch your legs out completely in front of you. Inhale and sit as tall as you can. When you exhale, begin to bend forward, keeping the spine straight, as far as you can. The goal is to be able to fold completely forward with your chest on your thighs. Only bend as far as you feel comfortable, and breathe deeply to try to bend forward further. Practice this pose until you are able to bend completely forward.

We hope you enjoyed these exercises and techniques on how to stretch lower back muscles. They will be a great supplement to your gym routine and can help prevent injury that can delay your bodybuilding goals.

Do you suffer with low back pain or stiffness? What have you found to be the best exercise or way to stretch to relieve your pain? Do you stretch regularly before and after your bodybuilding routine? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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