I feel bad for the spine.
I really do.
It’s constantly being loaded with forces from all different angles and directions.
Especially compressive forces.
Thanks to gravity, your spine is constantly under compression.
Whether you are standing, running, squatting, deadlifting, pressing or even if you have your ass planted in a chair 40 to 60 hours a week, your spine is being compressed.
The spinal compression itself doesn’t create problems. Our bodies have learned to adapt to the forces of gravity. We’ve been on this planet long enough.
But our bodies were not designed to function in our current sedentary environments. Our bodies were designed to move, not stay glued to a chair. They were designed to be challenged with periods of intense activity, not left unmoved.
Over the years, we’ve created what my friend Elliot Hulse likes to call muscle viruses – or muscular imbalances that wreak havoc on our bodies.
When these muscle viruses are coupled with compressive stresses on the spine…
That’s when problems arise.
I’ve learned this first hand.
Some time ago, my body was overwhelmed with muscle viruses and I was constantly loading my (lumbar) spine with compressive forces from intense training and excessive sitting (mostly as a result of living in the library during my last years of University). It only made sense that a disc herniation was to follow.
But what can you do. You live and you learn.
What I want to teach you today is how to stretch your back effectively. I want to show you how to decompress the spine with an amazing exercise that I only wish I had known about back in those days.
This is an exercise that I discovered as I was flipping through the Strength Training Anatomy book. [Note: this is an excellent reference for understanding which muscle groups are affected by different exercises]
You see, what happens when you load your spine with highly-compressive exercises like a squat or a deadlift (or even when you sit or stand for prolonged periods), the interverbral discs (jelly like cushions between your vertebrea) get squished.
Depending on the position of your spine (i.e. flexed or compressed), the nucleus inside the disc can move around and if you have the wrong combination of spinal flexion with high compressive loads, you can cause some serious damage.
The following exercise is designed to stretch the back and decompress your spine. It causes the small intervertebral ligaments and muscles to stretch, thus reducing the compression on the discs.
Here’s a picture showing how to stretch your back with this spine decompressing exercise:
Find a chin-up bar and hang from it with a wide overhand grip. Your thumbs should be pointing at each other. As you hang, do the following:
- Inhale and exhale slowly. Concentrate on fully relaxing your body. This will allow the muscles in the back to relax and lengthen, allowing the pressure inside the discs to equilibrate.
- When you are completely relaxed, lean your head forward, trying to touch your chin to your sternum. This helps stretch the upper and middle back.
To make this stretch even more effective, swing gently back and forth. Even better, get a partner to grab your hips and slowly pull your down.
Note: The stronger you grasp the bar as you hang, the more intense the stretch for your lats and teres major will be.
Try to hang there for 30 to 60 seconds or for as long as you can.
This is a fundamental stretching exercise for the back that I recommend you do at the end of every workout. If you have a pullup bar at home, then I would recommend doing it every day.
It’s important to take a little bit of time to learn how to stretch your back with this incredible spine-decompressing exercise. It’s a great way to take some pressure off your intervertebral discs.
I hope this spine decompressing guide has shown you how to stretch your back effectively. Let me know what you think in the comments below.