Do you remember when you were a kid how you could do a backbend with absolutely no back pain? Now you wouldn't even attempt to think about that movement because your back starts to seize up on you. Is there a way to restore that motion that you used to enjoy his kid?
The full backbend is definitely a very healthy movement, if you are ready for it. If you're not ready for it, it could be a disaster.
Let's look at what needs to open and strengthen in order for you to be able to pull off this amazing movement.
First your hips, specifically your hip flexors, your psoas and quads. Generally, when one muscle group is tight, the opposite muscle group is too weak. So in order to get your hip flexors "open” we need to also think about engaging your glutes. In this particular example, I love Donkey Kick exercise for this. It's a great active exercise that will force the glutes and hamstrings to engage.
Another exercise that is a great hip flexor stretch bite self is the hanging leg drop. This exercise will passively elongate the hip flexor so that you can open it more fully when you're doing it for a backbend. Lie on the edge of a table, and interlace your fingers behind your knee. Let the other leg drop straight down, relaxed.
Next, let's start opening up the shoulders. Let's work on specifically isolating the scapular movement. For this I love Sitting Floor Wall Glides. This is a great movement to force your shoulder blades together and get a good range of motion in your shoulders and upper back. Sit on the floor with your back against the wall. Make sure your legs are straight out in front of you. If your hamstrings are not very flexible, feel free to bring your legs wide which tends to help with that. If hamstring tightness is an issue of yours check out my blog post about how to get rid of tight hamstrings.
The next thing you're going to do here in the Sitting Floor position is work on what is called “incremental extension.” The lower part of your spine should touch the wall first. Next, go one vertebrae at a time up the spine and gradually let each of those touch the wall. Eventually, you should be able to get your upper back to the wall all the way up to your collar. Once you're in this position, you're going to do wall glides. Bring your elbows up to shoulder level, and bend your elbows 90° so that your hands are up and your and and wrist is touching the wall. If you can't get them to the wall, then you're going to make that your exercise, going from hand straight ahead to hand touching the wall. If you can touch the wall you're going to glide up the wall and then back down. Repeat this for a minute or two. You should feel a lot of work in your upper back.
Now that we've opened up the hips on the shoulders, let's work on some ranges of motion that are very similar to the Full Back Bridge and that is the Assisted Back Bridge. On a stability ball, sit near wall, and then let it roll up so that it supports your head and neck. Reach up over your head so that your hands touch the wall. Then bridge your hips up, as you try to walk your hands down the wall. What's important here is that you stay in what's called a Hollow Body position, which means that you're bracing with your abs. The reason you're doing that is because you don't want your lower back to arch too much. You want to maintain just a normal, natural arch. You want most of the opening to come from the upper back and shoulder blade area.
Try this exercise sequence, and as you get better and better at the Assisted Back Bridge, you will soon be able to walk your hand closer to the floor, and also begin to press down into your hands and feet so that you get your body above the ball. Eventually, you won't need the ball anymore.
A word of caution: do not force this movement. Your body has years forward slouching posture that cannot be undone in one training session, and probably not even in one month. Progress is key. Do not think about the fact that you're not at your final goal yet. Think about how you were taking this tiny little improvement from where you were last week. Improvement might mean that your range of motion looks better, or it might mean that you're able to do the same range of motion but it feels a lot better. Either way, you are progressing and should pat yourself on the back for that progression. Enough small progressions will eventually lead to the larger result.
How often should you do these exercises? That's a great question that really depends on a lot of factors. First, your general fitness level, strength and flexibility levels should be taken into account. How much stress are you under? How much are you sleeping? Also, what other workouts are you doing in addition to this? All of these variables will inform you on your decision about how frequently to do this particular sequence of exercises.
I hope this post helped you and gave you some practical exercises that you can do in order to strengthen your Back Bridge, which I believe is a very important exercise, especially as we age and gravity begins to pull us down. Let me know how else I can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you found this interesting, you might benefit from my basic program for back pain, called Help! I Threw Out My Back. It's not just for people in pain. It helps you to create a solid foundation of strength, flexibility, and posture as you build up your body. Check it out here.