When you think about advanced back flexibility, a full backbend probably comes right to mind. Seeing someone do a beautiful bridge pose, you can’t help but be impressed by the level of movement in their spine.
And, while perhaps less overtly impressive, the same is true of forward bending.
The ability to move your spine through its full range of motion, both forward and backward, demonstrates a high level of flexibility, and when done correctly, also good control over your spinal structure.
But no matter how flexible or inflexible you currently are, the routines I’ll show you in this tutorial will help you move toward better spinal flexibility, so you can take your practice as deep as you want to go. You’ll see that improved flexion and extension of the spine is accessible, no matter your starting point.
Who are These Routines For?
The simple answer to that question is: anyone who wants to improve their spinal flexibility.
Since we first shared this routine some years ago, we’ve gotten a number of questions about how to work on these exercises if you’re not as flexible as Keira Newton, who is the model in the videos. After all, Keira is quite flexible and demonstrates a high level of each exercise.
What Keira demonstrates, though, is the eventual goal with each exercise.
If you’re not as flexible as she is (and most people aren’t!) the idea is to work on the exercises at your own level, making as many modifications as needed to feel a good stretch.
And you may also pick and choose which exercises you want to focus on from this routine–there’s no need to do them all.
There are some people who claim that backbending is unhealthy for the spine, but that’s only true in cases where someone has an injury or other condition that causes backbending to be painful. In such cases (and really in any case), stay away from anything that causes pain, and just work on what you can do.
So, you may not be ready to work on the full bridge pose yet (at the end of the second video below). That’s fine–just skip it and work on the stretches leading up to the full bridge, making sure to adjust them however you need to.
Anyone—from the stiffest to the bendiest person—can benefit from practicing these stretches and getting his/her spine moving well.
(If you still find these stretches to be a bit too much right now, try this complementary back stretching routine that’s accessible no matter your current level of flexibility).
Forward Bending Flexibility Routine
While backbending is a common goal for a lot of people, it’s essential to work on forward bending as well, since the spine and all of its related structures do better when taken through their full movements (full flexion and full extension).
Forward bending involves spinal joint and hip flexion, along with the muscles and other soft tissues of the posterior chain–areas that are often neglected.
When people run into trouble with forward bending (for instance, if you’re too tight to touch your toes), it’s common to automatically assume that’s due to tight hamstrings, but in fact, the sensation of tightness in the hamstrings may very well come from an issue in your low back.
(If you do actually suffer from tight hamstrings, click here to learn how to fix that issue next.)
This sequence does a good job of “covering all the bases,” with a comprehensive approach that can be pared down as you practice and figure out what you need to work on for your own limitations and goals.
|1. Squat to Push-Up||• Squat down with your chest between your knees
• Play with rocking back and forth between your toes and your heels
• Jump back into a push-up position
• Drop your hips down to the floor and lift your chest up and out
Do 10 repetitions of the sequence.
|2. Standing Forward Bend||• Bring your hands to one side and keep them on the ground as you stand up
• Another variant is to sit back into the opposite hip
Do 10 repetitions on each side.
|3. Seated Forward Bend||• With your legs locked out straight in front of you, pick a side and fold forward at a diagonal on that side.
• Repeat going straight toward your toes.
Do 10 repetitions in each direction, then hold for up to one minute in each direction
Backbending and Bridge Routine
The full bridge (also called “wheel pose” in yoga) requires good flexibility in the shoulders, hips, and throughout the spine.
Because of all the sitting we do in our daily lives (between sitting at the computer, to sitting in the car, to sitting on the couch), as well as issues related to posture, we rarely get into backbending positions during our normal daily activities.
This means backbending (spinal extension) can be quite uncomfortable for many people.
The key, then, is to prepare the spine for backbending, by going through the routine below. We’ll work on extension at every segment of the spine, working our way to the full bridge position.
Of course, please do not move into a painful position at any point. You should feel a good stretch, but not pain.
|1. Thoracic Extension||• Rest hands on box while sitting back
• Emphasize forward as you press down
3 sets of 1-minute of pulses
|2. Thoracic Rotation||• Variation 1: Start on forearms and knees with back starting in a neutral position before rotating with elbow bend behind your back
• Variation 2: Start on the back of the upper arm and shoulder with the torso bending to the side
3 sets of 30 seconds on each side
|3. Kneeling Backbend||• Start in kneeling position.
• Push your hips forward and lift your chest up and back
• Relax your hips and buttocks
10-12 slow repetitions
|4. Lunge Sequence||• Lunge stretch with rotation to the side of the front knee.
3 sets of 30 seconds on each side
|5. Camel Stretch||• Start in kneeling position, using your arms for support.
• Push your hips and chest away from each other.
3 sets of 30 seconds
|6. Quadriceps Stretch||• Avoid a low back arch. Keep your back flat, so the forces of the stretch will be on the upper thighs.
• Gradually lean back as far as you can onto your shins.
3 sets of 30 seconds
|7. Shoulder Bridge||• Work on a smooth spinal curve, relaxed hips, and good mobility and strength in the quads.
2 sets of 10 repetitions
|8. Full Bridge||• Create that smooth curve and arch, like an archway in a building that can support weight evenly
Hold the position for 5-10 breaths
Build the Flexibility You Need for Your Goals
Tightness and discomfort in the spine are ubiquitous these days. With so much of our time spent in a seated position, our spines don’t get the full range of movement that helps keep them functioning well.
Working on the routines above will help you get that full range of motion–full flexion and extension–to make your spine mobile and strong.
But chances are you don’t want to put more time into stretching than you have to. That’s why we created our “special sauce” stretching protocol. It helps you build flexibility efficiently by combining the most effective stretching methods in a quick, easy-to-follow sequence.
You can use it with any stretches—including the ones above—to build flexibility faster.