"A healthy spine improves core strength, which is not only necessary for sporting activities, but for typical, everyday movements and posture," says Matt Cooper, DC, chiropractor and founder of USA Sports Therapy. If you've ever had back pain, there's a high chance you've felt tightness in surrounding muscle groups, too. "People that have postural issues tend to have problems with their backs, as well as shoulder, knee, and hip pathologies," he says. That's why spine-strengthening exercises and stretches are key to your overall health and mobility.
While Dr. Cooper notes that there's not a cookie-cutter remedy for a spine-strengthening routine, he does highlight several examples that can benefit everyone when done on the reg. Keep scrolling for his top-recommended back-boosting exercises, which he says should be done at least four days a week for best results.
4 healthy spine exercises
1. Back extension: One of the easiest things you can do for a healthy back is extend your spine. "The largest muscle group in the back is the erector spinae, and its main function is to extend the back," says Dr. Cooper. "If you want a strong back, the best exercises are back extension exercises that start from neutral." You can do this either by lifting your chest off of the ground while lying face-down on a Bosu ball or a rolled up pillow, or even flat on the floor.
2. Bird dog: Dr. Cooper also recommends this exercise, since lifting your opposite arm and leg further strengthens your back muscles (including your erector spinae) and your core. Start on all fours and kick one leg straight behind you and reach the opposite arm forward. Hold for 10 seconds before switching sides.
3. Knee-to-chest hamstring stretch: If you have back pain, it could be from tight hamstring, which is why Dr. Cooper says that hamstring stretches are key—as long as you don't overdo it. "While your hamstrings may be tight, if you stretch your hamstrings too much you could irritate a disc in the lower back," he says. If you currently have back pain, he recommends bringing one knee to your chest at a time to stretch.
4. Figure-four stretch: Your hip flexors can also be at play if you're feeling back tightness. "Stretching your hip flexors can be really beneficial if you have back issues," says Dr. Cooper. One of the most traditional ways to stretch 'em out is the figure-four stretch, which involves lying on your back and placing your left foot over the right knee. Keep the left foot flexed as you push your left knee pushing out as you pull the right knee in towards your chest. Then switch sides.
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