The Stretch That is Hurting Your Back
The toe touch.
How often do you see someone doing "the toe touch" or the "sit and reach" stretch after a workout? All too often. It's a super fast way to tweak your back. You know how your back hurts after running? It may not be the running, it may be the toe touch stretch you do afterwards.
Most people doing a toe touch have the intention of stretching their hamstrings. Which the toe touch does. But it stretches your lower back also. Your lower back is rounded forward, and hard. In reality, you don't need to round (forward) your lower back at all to stretch your hamstrings. You can arch (backward) your lower back, and you'll actually get just as good a hamstring stretch. Maybe better.
So why does everyone round forward? Because they can reach farther. Not a very good reason actually.
One of my mentors, Strength Coach Pavel Tsatsouline often quotes renowned physical therapist Robin McKenzie - "After activity, the joints of the spine undergo a loosening process. If, after exercise, we place the back in an unsupported position for long periods, distortion within the joint reeadily occurs. This is true whether we sit in a slouced position or whether we stand, bending forward with our hands on our knees."
Lower back pain immediately following an exercise is not always the result of the exercise. Some of my clients so instinctively bend forward after exercise that it scares me to death. My clients do lots of squats and deadlifts and kettlebell swings (three of my favorites, that all have a huge impact on your body composition and fitness). It would be crazy to round forward after exercises like these.
What you should be doing is the reverse - "McKenzie Back Bends", placing your hands on the small of your back, with your legs straight, and bending backward slowly using your hands as a fulcrum.
I have a natural tendency to slouch, and got called out pretty hard at the beginning of the Russian Kettlebell Challenge "Level 2: Combat Applications" Course. I quickly found that when tired, I don't often sit up straight, and got in the habit of lying on my stomach for the lecture portions of the course. I later found out that some Russian coaches have their athletes lie on their stomachs and read a book after practice.
Often, I'll have my clients finish a workout with back bends over a swiss ball, McKenzie back bends, and "Spinal Decompression Hangs", hanging from a pullup bar and letting your lower back go into traction. After my own workouts, I'll do all of that plus review my workout while lying on my stomach. It's a relaxing and meditative way to end the workout. If the workout was really intense, all of that would follow after a good slow walk/jog to cool down.
By Josh Hillis
Author of How To Lose The Stubborn Seven Pounds: Take Your Body from Good to Rockstar.
National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT) and Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM-PES)
Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certified Instructor (RKC) and Combat Applications Specialist (RKC/CAS)