Back Basics

Photo on 4-16-12 at 3.40 PM

As a follow-up to my previous article, Why It’s Good to Go Backward Sometimes, I’d like to go back to basics for back strength. 

The older we are, the more time we’ve spent in a forward, rounded position. Even children are now spending hours seated and hunched over phones, game systems, and computers. This results in tight anterior (front) muscles and weak posterior (back) muscles. That creates a big problem: our whole muscular system is thrown off. We end up with pain in the neck, back, hips, and/or knees, which eventually prevents us from doing the activities we enjoy.

That’s why it’s important to make a more purposeful effort to open the chest and strengthen the back as we age, and also throughout life as a preventative measure. So, let’s take a look at some simple exercises you can do. (Always consult your doctor about any new exercise you plan to try, especially if you have back issues.)

These basic stretches and exercises can be accomplished by young and old alike, and whether you are fit or not. Feel free to combine these with the exercises from my previous article for a more complete workout.

1. Check your posture:

·      Stand tall and place feet hip distance apart, parallel to each other.

·      Now think about pulling the belly button in and slightly tucking the hips under to support a neutral position of the spine. Breathe.

·      Roll shoulders back and slide your shoulder blades down and together behind you. This is a very subtle movement and should still feel relatively comfortable.

·      Keep the chin parallel to the floor (not tipped up or down).

·      Breathe deeply.

2. Chin retractions:

·      To bring the head in line with the shoulders, stand tall and check your posture as described above. Jut the head forward. Now pull the head and chin back. (Don’t worry about your double chin!) Keep your chin parallel to the floor throughout this exercise.

·      Repeat slowly about 10 times, then return to a comfortable, but slightly retracted position. Do this exercise throughout the day, especially if you sit at a desk for long hours.

3. Neck rolls:

·      To stretch the neck and relieve tension, slowly drop your head to one side as if you’re trying to get the ear close to the shoulder. Your head is still faced forward. Let gravity do the work; don’t force it.

·      Begin to drop the head forward, rotating it to center then continuing to the other side, ending with the other ear close to the other shoulder. In other words, roll your head in a half circle. Now reverse and slowly do a half circle to the other side. Repeat for a total of 5 times each side. Do not drop the head toward the back at any point.

4. Back shoulder rolls:

·      From your good posture, circle the shoulders up, to the back, down, then return to the original posture. This is simply a back should roll. Do not roll the shoulders forward. Repeat 10 times, rolling only to the back.

5. Back hand clasp:

·      To open the chest and stretch the shoulders, clasp hands behind you, with fingers interlaced and palms together. Bend the elbows so you can rest your hands on your lower back or tail bone. Keep your belly button pulled in and hips tucked under throughout each step, to prevent over arching of the lower back.

·      Roll the shoulders back and pull shoulder blades down and together. Breathe. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Reverse hands. (The other pointer finger and thumb will be on top.) Hold again.

·      If you don’t have a shoulder injury, try straightening your arms behind you and lifting the hands slightly upward but maintaining your correct posture. (Skip if it’s painful.) Repeat with other hand on top.

·      Alternatively, or in addition to the above straight-arm stretch, add a crossed-arm stretch. Simply cross your arms behind you and let them rest against your mid back. Keep the belly button in (do not arch lower back) and shoulders rolled back. Hold again for 15 to 30 seconds, then reverse the arms and repeat.

6. Back arm circles:

·      Bring arms straight out to your sides to form a T, with palms up and hands in line with the shoulders. Keep your chin retracted and your hips tucked under, belly button pulled in.

·      From here, make small circles (6-inch-diameter) to the back only, similar to the back shoulder rolls. Do not allow the arms to come in front of your body at any point. Do 10 circles.

·      This exercise will work the core while opening the chest and strengthening the shoulders.

7. Bird dogs:

·      In PraiseMoves®, we call this exercise "Pulling Up the Flaps” (of a tent). It’s one of my favorites! This will strengthen your rotator cuff, back, abdominal, and gluteal muscles. Add extra padding under the knees, if needed.

·      Begin on hands and knees. Lift one arm parallel to the floor and the opposite leg parallel. Pull in the belly button and slightly tuck the hips under. This engages the core and keeps the lower back from over arching.

·      As you hold this posture, think about pressing the shoulder of the lifted arm down, away from the ear while sliding that shoulder blade down the back.

·      From this position, do 10 small (a few inches) pulses up with the arm and leg at the same time. Always keep the emphasis on the up (or posterior) movement. Do not lower the arm or leg past parallel.

·      After pulsing, hold 15 seconds if you can. Breathe!

·      Repeat the pulses and hold on the other side.

8. Hip flexor and hamstring stretch:

·      The hip flexor becomes tighter the longer we sit, but also from walking and running. To stretch it, bring the right leg forward so the foot is on the ground in front of you, and the knee is bent and directly over the ankle. The left leg is behind you, with the left knee and the top of the foot resting on the floor. Stretch the back leg behind you as far as possible, while keeping the right knee over the right ankle. Let gravity pull the hips down toward the floor. You can keep your hands on the floor on either side of the front foot, or you can raise the torso and rest your hands on the right thigh. (This is sometimes called a runner’s stretch.) Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

·      Shift your weight to the back leg as you bend it, and as you straighten the front leg. The hips will now be behind you, but don’t sit all the way down onto your ankle. Bend forward over the front, straight leg and stretch the hamstring. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

·      While doing this exercise, think about pressing down into the floor with the top of the foot behind you to feel a stretch in the shin as well.

·      Repeat on other side.

9. Little Child:

·      Also known as the child’s pose, this posture is called Little Child in PraiseMoves®. If comfortable, sit back on your heels and reach the arms forward, resting torso on the thighs. Slightly open the knees and press your chest toward the ground to get a deeper stretch in the shoulders. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

·     If this is uncomfortable, place a pillow between your heels and buttocks.

It is my responsibility to inform you that I am not a medical doctor; therefore, I do not diagnose or prescribe. All communications represent my opinion only and will be a reflection of the Model of Empowerment where my role is to educate and empower the client to take active participation for his or her own health. 

The information provided on this website is for information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. It is your responsibility to consult your physician about any changes you choose to make in your diet or exercise. 

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™