Want a stronger back? Wish you were more mobile? These stretches and strengthening exercises are designed to keep your spine as flexible as possible.

If you work from home or a cafe frequently, the chances are that you’ve become used to the odd bout of stiffness.

Sore shoulders, crunchy lower backs… this is the price we pay for lounging on soft furnishings and working with our laptops balancing on our chests. But it’s not just where we work that can cause problems – it’s how long we stay in one position. Remaining static for long periods causes our brains to switch off muscles we’re not using, such as our glutes and hip flexors. That’s why many of us find we’re so tight when we do go to move and exercise.

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Why do we get back pain?

A strong back is important for so many reasons. It improves our posture, enables us to walk and run well, helps our breathing.

If yours is sore, you might think that you’re not in a position to do back-strengthening workouts or that back-focused yoga poses will make matters worse. But you’d be wrong.

“A common assumption is that consistent rest prevents injury – especially to the back,” PT Jason Briggs tells Stylist. “The truth is, sitting in one position (especially within a makeshift office set up) with little to no movement can ignite aches in the lower back and tension around the trapezius (upper back).

“You’re essentially applying too much pressure to one part of the spine and creating stagnant energy around the body. This can only be rectified by consistently performing several exercises.”

In other words, the more you sit, the less mobile you become and the more prone to muscular imbalances and weakness you are. The body is pulled into abnormal positions as we hunch over screens. “If you’re working from a laptop, don’t work from a bed or on the floor. Always favour a chair that encourages you to sit upright. If needed, add some cushions to elevate the spine and provide some support.

“Slumping’ in a chair is OK… so long as you don’t commit to that pose all day. Keep changing it up, walk around the house and do not ‘overstretch’. The stretches should not hurt but relieve pain and encourage flow.”

But there are things you can do to ease back pain even if you don’t have a fancy standing desk. Moving every 30 minutes will help, as will dedicating five minutes to stretching – relieving tension in the overloaded lower back.

Best stretches for back pain

Briggs recommends that we make time in the morning – every morning – to run through stretches and back-friendly exercises.

Knee rolls

  1. To dig deep into the lower back, lie with your back flat on the floor, arms out either side of you with your palms facing the floor. 
  2. Bend your knees, keeping your legs and feet together. 
  3. With your back and shoulders pinned to the floor, take your knees over to the right. 
  4. Hold the stretch for five then return the knees to centre and window-wiper over to the left.
  5. Switch between sides 10 times.

Overhead stretch

  1. Sit with your back straight and tall before lifting your arms above your head. 
  2. Interlock your fingers and push up to the sky – knuckles facing down towards the ground. 
  3. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, give your shoulders a roll then go again.

Cat/cow pose

“This move encourages sensible movement of the spine, releases endorphins and works the muscles in the upper back,” Briggs explains.

  1. Make your way to the ground on your hands and knees. 
  2. Your hands should be underneath your shoulder points and your knees underneath your hips. 
  3. On an inhale, lower the belly and lift the crown of your head so that your body makes the shape of an arch.
  4. On an exhale, reverse this by bringing the belly up to meet the spine and curling your tail bone under. 
  5. Move between the two positions for 30 seconds.

“Move with your breath. This should not only feel great but knead the shoulder muscles and stretch out the lower back.”

Spinal twist

  1. For a full spinal twist, sit on the floor with your knees bent.
  2. Place your left hand on your right knee and twist your upper body over to the right – looking behind your shoulder. 
  3. Hold for five seconds before coming back to centre.
  4. Go again on the left-hand side. 
  5. Continue going between the two sides for 20 seconds.

Best exercises for strengthening backs


  1. Work on your glute strength to reduce pain in the back with this move. 
  2. First lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, knees bent. 
  3. Keeping shoulders on the floor with your palms facing down.
  4. Lift your bum into the air keeping a nice, straight line from your pelvis to your hips and chest – the hips should be high in the air.
  5. Hold for five counts, before releasing and coming back to the ground. 
  6. Go for 10 reps before pulsing in the air – small up and down movements with your bum for a minute. 

Lateral leg raise

  1. This taps into your hip flexors, lower back, glutes and thighs. 
  2. Start by lying on your right-hand side, left leg on top of your right one. 
  3. Keeping your left hand on the floor in front of you for stability, lift your left leg in the air while keeping it straight. 
  4. Lift your leg quickly and slow down the descent – the magic happens as you bring the leg back down. 
  5. Go for 10 reps on one side before flipping over.

Good morning

This is all about working your spinal muscles and deep core muscles of the lower back. 

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Interlock your hands behind your neck, shoulders pointing out.
  3. Bend forward, knees slightly bent. 
  4. Push your hips backward and keep your chin up – you should have a slight curve in the back throughout. 
  5. Come back up to standing and go again for 12 reps.

Upright row

Grab a set of dumbbells, can of beans, pints of milk – whatever you have lying around. 

  1. Feet hip-width apart, hinge from the hips so that you’re slightly bent forwards.
  2. Get your weights and row towards your back pockets by bending your elbows backwards. 
  3. Extend your arms down so that your arms are straight. 
  4. Row for 12 reps before standing up straight. 
  5. Keep your shoulders retracted at all times so that you’re working into the scapular (upper back) throughout.

Images: Getty

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