There’s no need to go through life with a stiff, achy back, especially when the remedy is often as easy as a few forward folds. Whether you do back stretches in the morning, mid-day, or right before bed, they’ll help you stay flexible, mobile, and extra comfy.
It seems so simple, but gentle back stretches really can improve how you feel, says Tahl Rinsky, a yoga instructor on the fitness app Centr. Daily back stretches offer several benefits, she tells Bustle, from improved flexibility and mobility to better posture, back pain relief, improved circulation, and even a boost of energy.
You’ll know it’s time to stretch if your back hurts, but also if you struggle to move freely due to tight, stiff muscles, Rinsky says. Think of the perma-slouch that happens at your desk. “These signs might indicate that you need to incorporate more stretching into your life,” Rinsky says.
To ensure you hit all the right muscles, she recommends going for a variety of back stretches so that your shoulders, upper back, mid-back, and lower back get an equal amount of love. Of course, if your back really hurts, it’s best to check in with a doctor to see what’s up, Rinsky adds.
Ianthe Mellors, a professional dancer and fitness instructor, says you can do all your daily back stretches at once, or break them down into two to three-minute chunks throughout the day. “You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes,” she tells Bustle. Below are the seven best back stretches to do every day, according to the pros.
“The cat-cow stretch helps improve the flexibility and mobility of your entire spine,” Rinsky says. “It targets both the upper and lower back, stretches the muscles along the spine, and promotes better posture.” Try it in the morning to wake yourself up, halfway through the day to release tension, or after a workout.
– Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
– Arch your back upward, tuck your chin toward your chest, and round your upper back like a stretching cat.
– Hold this position for about five to 10 seconds.
– Slowly reverse the movement by lowering your belly toward the floor, lifting your chest and tailbone, and gently looking upward.
– Hold this position for another five to 10 seconds.
– Repeat this cycle for five to 10 repetitions.
2. Child’s Pose
The classic child’s pose gently stretches your lower back, hips, and shoulders, Rinsky says. It’s a good one to do at night to release any tension that’s built up throughout the day so you feel extra relaxed.
– Kneel on the floor with your knees hip-width apart and your toes together behind you.
– Sit back on your heels.
– Slowly lower your upper body forward, reaching your arms out in front of you.
– Allow your forehead to rest on the floor or a cushion.
– Keep your arms extended or rest them alongside your body.
– Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute while focusing on deep breathing.
3. Seated Spinal Twist
“The seated spinal twist helps improve spinal mobility and stretches the muscles along the back and sides,” Rinsky explains. It’s easy to do while watching a movie as a way to gradually improve your flexibility over time.
– Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
– Bend your right knee.
– Cross your right foot over the left leg, placing it on the floor outside the left thigh.
– Gently twist your torso to the right.
– Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee.
– Use your left hand for support by placing it behind you on the floor.
– As you twist, lengthen up through your spine and look over your right shoulder.
– Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
– Repeat on the other side.
4. Thoracic Spine Rotation
Also called a T-spin, Mellors likes this juicy stretch to reach the middle back.
– Begin on your hands and knees.
– Place your right hand behind your head, elbow sticking out.
– Inhale and rotate so your right elbow points up to the ceiling.
– Exhale and rotate the opposite way.
– Bring your right elbow towards your left wrist.
– Repeat this motion three to five times on each side.
5. Standing Forward Fold
Whenever you’re in need of a quick stretch, Rinsky recommends dropping forward into a fold. Just make sure you always go slow and listen to your body. “It’s best to focus on controlled motions that allow your muscles to relax and lengthen gradually,” she says. If you feel a sharp pain, don’t push it.
– Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
– Bend forward at your hips.
– Hold onto your elbows.
– Let your head hang towards the floor.
– Keep a gentle bend in your knees.
– If you like, sway side to side to reach all the achy parts of your back.
6. Side Bend
Try this one in the morning to wake up your back. Mellors also suggests it as a mid-day desk stretch. It’s the perfect way to undo work-related tension.
– Sit down on a chair or stand with your feet hip-width apart.
– Reach both arms overhead.
– Hold onto your left wrist.
– Reach it up and over to the right.
– Create space between your left rib cage and hip.
– Keep your right sit bone down and your left foot on floor.
– Stretch and breathe.
– Repeat on the other side.
7. Knees To Chest
This is a lower back stretch you can do on the floor, on your couch, or in bed at the end of a long day, Mellors says.
– Lie on your back.
– Hug both knees into your chest.
– Let your body relax.
– Gently rock side to side to massage your muscles.
– Stay as long as you like.
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Sihawong, R. (2014). A prospective, cluster-randomized controlled trial of exercise program to prevent low back pain in office workers. Eur Spine J. doi: 10.1007/s00586-014-3212-3.
Warneke, K. (2022). Using Daily Stretching to Counteract Performance Decreases as a Result of Reduced Physical Activity-A Controlled Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192315571.
Ianthe Mellors, professional dancer, fitness instructor