To bend, or not to bend?
A common misconception is that we should keep our back straight all day, every day. While it’s true that you should try to maintain a neutral spine during many activities, your back is also designed to bend. If you never bend, the muscles, joints, and ligaments can become stiff and painful.
Keep your back straight when performing loaded tasks
- Picking up boxes
- Moving furniture
- Lifting weights
Bend your back when performing unloaded tasks
- Picking up a pen from the ground
- Tying your shoes
- Stretching the lower back
Lower back stiffness leads to compensation
Once the lower back becomes stiff, other areas of your body begin to compensate by moving more than usual. When the lower back doesn’t bend well, the upper back rounds more than usual to allow you to bend forward and each things. Rounding in the upper back restricts its ability to rotate, which causes the joints of the neck to twist more than normal to allow you to look left and right. If you stretch often but never focus on bending the lower back, this may result in over-stretching of the hamstrings.
Over time, the upper back and neck can become overloaded from doing more than their share, and the hamstrings can become weak from over-stretching. The low back stays stiff, because other regions are performing all the movement.
A good way to reduce these imbalances is to focus on moving the lower back specifically.
How to improve flexibility in the lower back
Whether it’s a habit formed after a past injury, or just the way we’ve been told to move, many of us keep our lower back flat when we bend over. To gain mobility int the lower back, we need to start rounding it when performing unloaded activities.
For a step-by-step guide on how to engage the buck, legs, and core during loaded activities, check out the Modifications section of the Phyx App.
Bending down fluidly
It can be helpful to practice bending while stoning next to a mirror. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and the knees slightly bent. Tuck your tailbone under so that your hips are level. Tuck the chin to the chest and run the hands down the front of the legs, bending the back one vertebrae at a time. Imagine your back is Slinky falling down some stairs.
Look sideways to the mirror beside you. If the upper back is significantly more rounded than the lower back, try to straighten the upper back by lifting the chest. At the same time, round the lower back by drawing the belly button towards the spine. You may not feel a stretch in the lower back, but this will lead to more movement in the region.
Coming back up fluidly
When you come up from a forward bend, it should look like the reverse of you bending forward. Lead with the tailbone tucking under, followed by the lower back rolling up on to the tailbone one vertebrae t a time, followed by the upper back, and then the neck. Imagine the Slinky coming back up the stairs.
A common mistake to avoid is arching the lower back as you come up. This reduces the stretch on the lower back and reinforces poor movement patterns.
Other ways to improve lower back flexibility
Changing the way you bend may be difficult at first because you aren’t used to manipulating different sections of your back independently. Doing other stretches and exercises which target the back can improve your control.
Phyx contains exercise progressions that start with the basics and build towards dynamic movements. The app also contains guides and tutorials on how to perform daily activities in a way that helps your body. See how Phyx has helped people improve their health.