Modern-day Americans are spending more time hunched over desks and slouching over iPhones and tablets. The terrible posture and weakness caused by this reality is hurting Americans’ backs. In The Wall Street Journal, Jen Murphy discusses back strengthening and limbering exercises with Kara Kessans, the head physical therapist and athletic trainer for the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team. Murphy writes:
You can do these exercises as a progression or integrate one or more into your workday every hour on the hour. “Just five 10-minute sessions throughout the day will make a noticeable difference in how you feel,” she says.
Why: The thoracolumbar junction, or TL junction, is the transition point between the relatively rigid thoracic and fairly flexible lumbar regions of the spine. This drill works mobility through the TL junction, lower back and hips. Ms. Kessans incorporates it into the U.S. team’s warm-up.
How: Lie on your back with your feet off the floor, knees bent. Extend your arms out to a T, palms facing down. Engage your core as you drop your hips and knees to the right so they make 90-degree angles. Slowly bring them back to center, then drop them to the left. Perform for 15 to 20 seconds.
Side-Lying Book Openers
Why: This exercise opens the chest and shoulders while twisting through the thoracic spine and engaging the core. Ms. Kessans notes it’s normal to have more rotation on your dominant side.
How: Lie on your left side with your left leg straight and right knee bent at 90 degrees resting on a foam roller or pillow. Place the arms, palms touching, straight out from the shoulders to the right side. Mimic a book opening. Reach the top, right fingertips past the bottom fingertips, then open up the right arm by drawing an arc up to the ceiling and down to the floor. Keep the gaze facing the moving hand. During this action, press the knee into the foam roller and reach the shoulder and finger tips as close to the floor as possible. Pause and bring the right hand down to meet the right. Repeat for 15 to 20 seconds, then switch sides.
Why: Cat-cow warms up the vertebrae by taking the spine through flexion and extension. If you work at a desk, this is a great exercise to weave into your day to help open the chest and shoulders, Ms. Kessans says. It helps improve posture and stretches the abdominals.
How: Start on all fours, hands directly below shoulders and knees below hips. Move your feet toward each other so they almost touch to form a diamond shape. Your back should be flat. Tuck your tailbone as you draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Reverse the pose by dropping your chest toward the floor as you lift your neck and head up toward the ceiling. Perform for 15 to 30 seconds.
Option: If your knees are sensitive, perform this exercise on a folded mat or standing, with your hands pressed against a wall.
Elbow-to-Wrist Thoracic Twist
Why: When we glance over our shoulder to look for traffic while driving or riding a bike, we often move the head by twisting our neck or twisting from the low back rather than starting the movement from the mid back. This puts a lot of wear or tear on the lumbar discs. This drill works rotation through the mid back.
How: Begin in the same position as cat-cow. Rotate the insides of the elbows forward. Place your right hand behind your head. Press down into the left hand as you open the right elbow toward the ceiling. Your gaze should follow. Only rotate as far as possible while keeping the hips square and directly over the knees. When you lower the elbow, bring it across the body to tap the left arm. Repeat 15 to 30 seconds per side.
If you’re willing to fight for Main Street America, click here to sign up for my free weekly email.