In addition to pain and discomfort, over time we will develop poor posture. The old adage, if you don't use it, you'll lose it comes to mind. If you don't work the joints in your back through their full range of motion and stretch those tight muscles on a regular basis you will eventually lose that range of motion. Poor posture is usually classified by a forward head posture, rounded shoulders and upper back, and forward pressing hips. Back stretches are necessary to maintain mobility and joint health. Sustaining good posture while strength training exercises will balance out weak muscles.
The following 5 stretches will loosen the tight muscles that may be negatively affecting your posture. Do these stretches daily and remember to always stretch after warming up: warm muscles stretch, while cold muscles strain.
1. Chest stretch (helps to counteract a tight chest, which pulls the shoulders forward)
Find a door frame and stand in it. Extend the arms and bend the elbows at a 90 degree angle, keeping the elbows in line with your shoulders, like you're waving with both hands. Position the forearms so they lay flat against the door jamb. (If you have shorter arms, you may need to do one arm at a time to keep the 90 degree angle.) Once in position, gently lean forward until you feel a stretch through the front of the chest. Hold for 5 breaths.
2. Twisting Lumbar Stretch (loosens the entire back and helps to align the spine)
Lie down on your back with your legs straight and your arms in line with your shoulders, perpendicular to your body. Bend and lift your right knee into a 90 degree angle, then drop the right knee over the left leg. You can use your left hand to gently guide your knee to the ground, but never push it, letting gravity do the work. Once the knee is in place, gently turn your head and look toward your right hand, careful to keep the right shoulder in contact with the ground. Hold for 5 deep breaths. Slowly untwist by first bringing the head to neutral, then the leg, and repeat using the right leg and twisting to the left side.
3. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch (opens up the hip flexors and lower abs)
Kneel on the ground, knees directly under your hips, with hands on your hips. Step forward with your right foot, bringing your knee into a 90 degree angle, foot flat on the floor. To begin, keep the chest up and gently push the hips forward until your feel a stretch in the back, left hip flexor. To increase the stretch, as your push your hips forward, arch your back and look up, moving your hands from your hips to the lower back for extra support. Hold for 5 breaths and switch sides.
4. Upward Facing Dog (counteracts tight abs, chest and hip flexors, while strengthening the back)
Start lying on your stomach on the floor, feet together, with your palms down, fingertips right near your arm pits, elbows tucked in like a cricket by your sides. To begin, press the tops of your feet into the floor and extend through the elbows to arch the back and lift the chest. Eventually, you will want your hips to leave the floor, only your hands and the top of your feet in contact, but if you aren't there yet, don't worry. Hold the position for 5 breaths.
5. Shoulders Back to Forward Fold (opens chest while releasing the back)
Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Interlock your fingers behind your back and roll the shoulders back to open the chest. Lift your arms up behind you as far as they will go without lifting your shoulders up to your ears. As you exhale, fold at your waist and bend forward until you feel resistance in the hamstrings. Keeping the quads engaged to enhance the stretch, let your head and arms dangle heavy toward the floor. Never push anything, let gravity do the work. Hold for 5 breaths and very slowly and deliberately return to standing.
Kelly Turner is a fitness writer and contributor, personal trainer and social media and marketing consultant. If she's not in the gym or behind her computer, she's lost, so please call the police. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KellyTurnerFit.