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April 04, 2023 10 min read

Lower back discomfort and even pain can follow almost all types of intense workouts. Therefore, it is important to warm up and cool down your body properly with the right types of stretching exercises.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of dynamic and static stretching before and after back workouts, as well as the muscles activated in each type of stretching.

We will also provide step-by-step instructions for the seven best lower back stretches for before and after workouts, whether at home or in the gym.

Back Muscles that Support All Movements

Your back comprises several muscles that work together to provide support and movement during just about any activity. They include:

Lower Back Muscles - Image from SHutterstock

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is a group of 3 muscles located in the back that runs parallel to the spine. It is responsible for several important functions, including:

  • Spinal extension whenever you are upright

  • Lateral spinal flexion when you bend

  • Spinal rotation when you turn your head and neck, and any rotation of your upper body.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi is a large, triangular, flat muscle located on the back and sides, which is responsible for many important movements of the upper body.

  • Shoulder extension when moving your arm backward

  • Adduction of the arm when you bring your arm toward your body

  • Medial rotation helps to rotate your arm toward your body

  • Pull-ups, chin-ups, and other exercises that involve pulling your body weight up toward a bar

  • Rowing and swimming movements that involve pulling actions with your arms and upper back

Rhomboids

The rhomboids are a group of muscles located between the shoulder blades in the upper back. They work together to perform several important functions:

  • Scapular retraction pulls your shoulder blades together when you squeeze them toward the spine

  • Scapular stabilization helps stabilize your shoulder blades to maintain good posture and prevent injury

  • The rhomboids help to maintain proper alignment of the shoulders and upper back, which is important for good posture.

Overall, the rhomboids play an important role in upper body movement and stability and are particularly important for athletes and individuals who perform repetitive tasks with their arms and shoulders, such as weightlifting and even typing.

Trapezius

The trapezius muscle is a large muscle located in the upper back and neck. It comprises the upper, middle, and lower trapezius.

  • The upper trapezius elevates the scapula (shoulder blade) and facilitates upward rotation and also the backward extension of the head and neck.

  • The middle trapezius retracts the scapula, pulling it toward the spine.

  • The lower trapezius depresses the scapula, pulling it downward, and rotating it upward.

Back stretches target each of these muscle groups in pre- and post-workout stretches.

Stretching Techniques

There are two stretching techniques, each with its own function and benefits.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching involves performing movements with the body that moves through a range of motion to increase flexibility and prepare muscles for exercise.

It is commonly used as a warm-up prior to physical activity, as it helps to increase blood flow and circulation to muscles, improve joint mobility, and reduce the risk of injury.

Unlike static stretching, which requires holding a stretch in one position for a set amount of time, dynamic stretches often involve movements that are similar to the sport or exercise that will follow, like deadlifts and back extensions.

Why Should You Perform Dynamic Back Stretches?

Dynamic stretching has several benefits:

  1. Dynamic stretching can enhance the range of motion by lengthening muscles, especially as we age when they tend to shorten and stiffen.

  2. By boosting the elasticity of muscles, dynamic stretching improves flexibility.

  3. It can also help improve posture by lengthening back muscles and reducing stress on the spine and joints.

  4. Dynamic stretching increases the range of motion and flexibility, making it beneficial for athletes.

  5. With improved elasticity, muscles become less susceptible to tearing and can help avert injuries.

  6. By lengthening and strengthening the back muscles, pressure on the spine, joints, and the lumbar area is reduced, thereby alleviating back pain.

Static Stretching

Static stretching involves lengthening a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding it there for a period of time, generally between 10 and 30 seconds.

When you exercise, your muscles contract and tense up, and this tension can persist even after you finish your workout. Static stretching not only improves flexibility and range of motion, but it can also help your muscles recover faster after a workout, leading to less pain and stiffness.

Why Should You Perform Static Back Stretches?

Overall, static back stretches can be beneficial by improving flexibility, loosening muscle tension, improving posture, and promoting recovery.

  1. Static stretches can enhance flexibility and range of motion in your back muscles, helping to fend off injury and ease muscle discomfort.

  2. Static stretches can release muscle tension after tightness and tension from working out and induce a sense of relaxation.

  3. Improved posture follows the lengthening and stretching of the back muscles. Static stretches can help to better posture, alleviating pain and strain due to poor posture.

  4. Static stretches encourage recovery by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles after a back workout, helping to reduce muscle soreness and boost muscle performance.

The 7 Best Lower Back Stretches Before & After Workouts

Let’s first focus on pre-workout dynamic stretches

1. Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch is a gentle movement that can help to stretch and loosen the muscles of the back, hips, and abdomen.

Starting Position:

Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Align your wrists with your shoulders and spread your fingers on the floor.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cow Pose – Inhale and drop your belly towards the floor, lifting your head high.

  2. Follow with the Cat pose — As you exhale, arch your back by rounding your spine and pulling your belly button toward your spine. Tuck your chin to your chest.

  3. Continue to alternate between the cow and cat pose, inhaling with the cow pose, and exhaling with the cat pose.

  4. Avoid forcing the movement. Start with gentle movements and gradually increase the range of motion as your body becomes more flexible.

  5. Move slowly and smoothly, allowing your breath to guide the movement of your body.

  6. You can repeat the cat-cow stretch for several breaths, or as many times as you like.

Do as many repetitions as you feel comfortable doing.

2. Seated Spinal Twist

The Seated Spinal Twist is a great dynamic stretch that can help increase mobility in your spine, hips, and shoulders.

Starting Position:

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the outside of your left knee, keeping your left leg straight.

  2. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee, and place your right hand on the floor behind your back.

  3. Inhale and lengthen your spine, lifting through the crown of your head.

  4. As you exhale, twist your torso to the right, using the elbow of your left arm to gently press your right knee towards the left.

  5. Hold the stretch for 3 counts, breathing deeply.

  6. Inhale and release the twist, returning to the starting position.

  7. Repeat on the other side by bending your left knee and placing your foot on the outside of your right knee. Bring your right arm over and push that elbow on the outside of your left knee, and your left hand on the floor behind you, twisting your torso to the left side.

Repeat the Seated Spinal Twist dynamic stretch on each side for 3–5 repetitions, or as many as feels comfortable for your body. Remember to breathe deeply and listen to your body as you perform this stretch.

3. Lunge with Twist

The lunge with a twist is a dynamic stretch that targets multiple muscle groups in the lower body, core, and upper body. Here are the steps to perform this stretch:

Starting Position:

Start by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a step forward with your right foot and lower your body into a lunge position. Your right knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle and your left leg should be extended behind you.

  2. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle and does not extend past your toes.

  3. Place your hands together in front of your chest. Keep your core engaged throughout the stretch to maintain balance and stability.

  4. Keeping your torso upright and your hips facing forward, twist your torso to the right. Your hands should follow the twist and move to the right as well.

  5. Hold the twist for a few seconds, then push off your right foot to return to the starting position.

  6. Repeat the lunge with a twist on the other side by stepping forward with your left foot.

If you have any knee or hip issues, perform this stretch with caution or consult a fitness professional before attempting it.

The following are static stretches

4. Child's Pose

Child's pose is a popular yoga pose that can help to stretch and release tension in the back, hips, and thighs. Here are the steps to perform a Child's pose static stretch:

Starting Position:

  • Start on your hands and knees, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips.

  • Spread your knees hip-width apart, and then bring your big toes to touch.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Exhale and lower your hips back toward your heels, and walk your hands forward until your arms are extended in front of you.

  2. Rest your forehead on the floor, or if it doesn't reach, place a cushion or folded blanket underneath it for support.

  3. Allow your chest to sink down toward the floor, feeling a gentle stretch through your lower back, hips, and thighs.

  4. Take a few slow, deep breaths in this pose, feeling your body relax and release any tension.

  5. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds, or as long as it feels comfortable.

  6. To release the pose, inhale and slowly lift your hips back up to the starting position.

  7. Repeat the pose as many times as you like, taking deep breaths and focusing on relaxing your body with each repetition.

It's important to listen to your body and go only as far as you feel comfortable in this pose. If you have any injuries or health conditions, you may want to check with a doctor or yoga instructor before trying this stretch.

5. Knee-to-Chest Stretch

The knees-to-chest stretch is a gentle static stretch that targets your lower back and glutes.

Starting Position:

Lie on your back on a comfortable surface such as a yoga mat or carpeted floor.

Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, or stretch your legs out straight.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Slowly bring your knees towards your chest, using your hands to gently pull your knees towards your chest.

  2. Wrap your arms around your knees and clasp your hands together just below your kneecaps.

  3. Gently pull your knees towards your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back and glutes.

  4. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, or longer if you prefer.

  5. Release and repeat the stretch by lifting only the left leg up, pulling that knee toward your chest, and holding the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

  6. Release the left leg and perform the same stretch with your right leg and hold the stretch.

  7. Release the stretch by slowly lowering your leg back down to the starting position.

  8. If you are flexible enough, you can also pull your legs one at a time toward your shoulders on the opposite side, but not if it causes discomfort.

  9. Repeat the stretch 2–3 times in each position.

Make sure to avoid any bouncing or jerking movements, and if you feel any pain or discomfort, or have any medical conditions that may be impacted by this stretch, consult your healthcare provider or physical therapist before performing the exercise.

6. Cobra Stretch

The Cobra Stretch is a yoga pose that can help stretch your chest, shoulders, abdominal muscles, and lower back muscles. Here are the steps to perform a static Cobra Stretch:

Starting position:

Lie face down on a mat or flat surface with your hands placed next to your shoulders and your elbows close to your body.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Press your hands into the mat and slowly lift your chest and head off the ground, keeping your elbows close to your body and your shoulders relaxed.

  2. Keep your lower body relaxed and your pelvis on the mat.

  3. Avoid pushing yourself too far or straining your lower back. Keep your movements slow and controlled.

  4. Hold the pose for 15–30 seconds, breathing deeply.

  5. To release the pose, lower your chest and head back down to the mat.

  6. Repeat the pose for 2–3 repetitions, holding each repetition for 15–30 seconds.

Listen to your body and adjust the pose as needed to make it more comfortable. If you have any neck or shoulder injuries, be careful when lifting your head and chest off the ground.

7. Pelvic Tilt

The static pelvic lift stretch is a gentle exercise that can help to strengthen and stretch the muscles in your lower back and glutes to prevent or treat lower back pain.

Starting position:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Relax your arms at your sides.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, squeeze your buttocks and tilt your pelvis as you press your feet into the floor and lift your pelvis toward the ceiling.

  2. Try to keep your thighs parallel to each other.

  3. Hold the position for 10–15 seconds, breathing deeply.

  4. Slowly lower your pelvis back down to the starting position as you inhale.

  5. Repeat the exercise for a total of 10–15 repetitions.

As you become more comfortable with this exercise, you can increase the duration of the hold or the number of repetitions.

Conclusion

Low-back stretches are essential for maintaining a healthy back and spine, both before and after any physical activity. It is never a bad idea to discuss suitable stretches with a CPT before doing them.

Before a workout, low back stretches can help to increase your body's range of motion, reduce stiffness, and warm up your muscles and joints.

After a workout, low back stretches can help to reduce soreness, improve recovery, and ultimately help to prevent low back pain. Slow and controlled static stretches can even bring pain relief.

Whether you're in the gym or out for a run, incorporating some low-back stretches before and after your workout can make all the difference in how you feel and how well your body performs.

Try to spend a few minutes doing dynamic and static low back stretches before and after your workout to help you stay flexible, strong, and injury-free. Neglecting this part of exercising is a common cause of chronic lower back pain.