The last segment of our three-part lower back series with Brody Welte from PaddleFit focuses on flexibility (or mobility) and strengthening. In the first article of this three-part series, we concentrated on exercises that create stability in the hips, as this is where a lot of lower back issues originate. Now we'll explore eliminating barriers to efficient and pain-free movement in this area, and increasing strength in the muscle groups that support a correctly aligned pelvis.
Diving right into anatomy 101, the hamstrings attach posteriorly on the pelvis, and the hip flexor and quads attach anteriorly to the hips. When we have mobility issues with either set of muscles (or both) these usually show up in the lower back. One of the main reasons for hip flexion tightness is lack of use because many of us sit for most of the day, pulling the hips forward and, in turn, making the hamstrings tight. It's easy to simply say, "I need to stretch my hamstrings," but most of the common hamstring stretches are extremely inefficient and do little to help with flexibility. They may even put the lumbar spine into dangerous over extension, as we try to 'cheat' our bodies by finding extra range of motion that isn't really possible with good form. —Phil White
Here are a couple of mobility exercises that increase flexibility without stressing the lower back. These can be performed daily.
Wall Hamstring Stretch
This stretch will help you with your hip and lower back mobility and will also help you achieve proper waist bend when paddling (see Part II of this series).
Start by sitting down with your butt and lower back against a wall. Keep your legs extended out in front of you, hip width apart, with your toes pointing straight up to the ceiling.
Now sit up so that your back is completely flat against the wall.
Contract your quads and flex your feet towards your knees.
Hold this position for at least a minute and make sure you keep your quad muscles flexed.
This stretch is great for lower back tightness.
Kneel on the floor. Keep your feet together and sit on your heels.
Reach your arms above your head as far as you can and continue to inch your hands forward with each breath. Make sure you stay sitting on your heels.
Hold for at least a 1 minute.
To bulletproof the lower back, we also need to strengthen certain muscles through a full range of motion. Here are a few to incorporate into your routine. Like the mobility exercises, these can be performed daily, though even twice a week will deliver some benefits:
The focus here is strengthening your back extenders.
Start off by lying on your stomach with your arms extended above your head and your legs extended.
With your palms facing down, raise your right arm off the ground at the same time as you raise your left leg.
Hold for 2 seconds and then lower to the ground and alternate sides.
Perform 15 repetitions on each side.
This exercise strengthens the quads and hip flexors, enabling you to better stabilize your pelvis.
Find a wall that can support your weight. Stand next to it facing away, with your feet pointing straight ahead and hip width apart.
With your back on the wall, walk your feet out slowly until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
Your back should be completely against the wall with your head facing forward and your weight on your heels. If you feel yourself tilting forward, you can lift your toes off the ground to make sure that you're positioned correctly.
Hold for 1 to 2 minutes.
Heel bridges strengthen your glutes, lower back and hamstrings.
Lie down on the ground facing up with your arms by your sides and your feet together, with toes pointed straight up.
Lift your butt off of the ground by driving your heels down and contracting your hamstrings.
Hold for five seconds and return slowly to the ground.
Repeat 10 times.
Get Out of Pain Exercise: Static Back
When all else fails and you're in pain, go to this exercise to reset your hips and lower back. Even if you're not hurting, this is a great exercise.
Lie on your back with both legs at a 90-degree angle set on a chair, couch or plyo box. Place your hands on your stomach and take slow "stomach breaths." This involves inhaling as you let your ab muscles extend out, and pulling your abs in as you exhale.