A few days ago, I asked readers on my Facebook page to fill in a simple blank for me.
I feel like I’ve had a good workout session when ________.
Some good answers came in…
“I drip sweat on the floor.”
“[I] have to lay on the floor to catch my breath.”
“I get the wobbles in my legs and my shirt is drenched.”
“When my quads are screaming “please stop!””
You can picture it yourself, can’t you?
And you did what feels natural. What you see every athlete do on the big screen. What every man or woman does after an intense bout of activity…
You bent over to rest with your hands on your knees.
Here’s why that instinctive, knee-jerk movement can destroy your back…
A little while ago I was reading one of my favourite books – Pavel’s Enter the Kettlebell! – to refresh my memory on some of the awesome content presented in there.
One particular thing mentioned in the book caught my attention:
Renowned physical therapist Robin McKenzie explains that most back pain is triggered by over-stretching of the ligaments and the surrounding tissues. Which is in turn often caused by bad posture, especially the loss of the arch in the lower back. “After activity, the joints of the spine undergo a loosening process. If, after exercise, we place the back in an unsupported position for long periods, distortion with the joint readily occurs. This is true whether we sit in a slouched position or whether we stand, bending forward with out hands on our knees.” [source]
This is vital information (especially for guys like myself who have had spinal disc issues in the past).
The act of slouching or bending over forward to rest after an intense (or not) session of exercise, we put our back – and particularly our intervertebral discs – in a vulnerable position.
“During vigorous exercise the joints of the spine are moved rapidly in many directions. This process causes a thorough stretching in all directions of the soft tissues surrounding the joints. In addition, the fluid gel contained in the spinal discs is loosened, and it seems that distortion or displacement can occur if, after exercise, an exercised joint is placed in an extreme posture.” [source]
Extreme posture in this case is a flexed position.
The one with your hands on your knees. The one where you slump onto a couch or a chair after a workout.
So what’s the alternative?
Instead of slouching over in-between sets or after a workout, there are certain back-extending and stretching exercises that can help stretch the loosened muscle tissue in your back and, in my opinion, are crucial for keeping your back healthy.
Here are three back stretching exercises you can use after a workout:
1 – Cobra Stretch
The cobra stretch is excellent for extending the lower back. I like to use this exercise before, during, and after my workout as it keeps the tissues in my back loose and lengthened.
This is also one of the important exercises that make up my after-workout stretching routine that I use to counter the effects of prolonged sitting.
Focus on keeping your hips glued to the ground and use your hands to bring your chest up.
Try to go a little bit higher each succession.
2 – Hanging Spinal Decompression
This is one of my favourite back stretching exercises.
Throughout the day, your back is constantly under compressive stresses – walking, training, sitting – and these compressive stresses cause strain on your discs.
This exercise is incredible for decompressing the back and alleviating all of the stress that builds up in the spine.
I like to use this exercise before and after my workouts. Whenever I have a chance to ‘hang somewhere’, I do it.
Another thing I’ve found effective is squeezing the handles really tight and rotating my body slowly as far to each side as I can.
Read more about how to decompress your back.
3 – Back Extensions
This particular exercise is great for extending the back in-between sets and is excellent for lengthening the tissues in your back.
Place both hands on your lower back, fingers pointing down, and your legs straight. Now start bending back slowly by pressing your hands against your back and pushing. Once you reach the point where you can’t bend anymore, hold it there for a few seconds, then return to the start. Repeat this back extension exercise a few times, each time trying to bend a little further.
The moral of this post is simple:
Don’t put your back in a vulnerable, flexed state during or immediately after a workout.
Instead, use this time when your back is loose and pliable to improve its flexibility.
Incorporate some back stretching exercises into your workout and post-workout stretching routine.
Another thing I like to do from time to time after a workout is lay down on the ground (on my stomach) with my elbows on the floor (which places my lower back into slight extension) and I either read or work on the computer. Doing this for 10-15 minutes after a workout helps lengthen my spine as it cools down.
Are you the type to fall into the flexion trap? Do you collapse after a workout, grab for your knees, or slouch heavily? Are there any exercises or stretches you use to alleviate this? Feel free to share your comments below.
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