General low-back tension is quite common in our chair-loving culture.
What’s the connection between low-back tension and sitting in a chair?
We sit, putting our hip flexors in a shortened postion. And then we sit some more — at work, in our cars, on public transportation, watching television — the list goes on.
Eventually, as the muscle fibers shorten, they pull at the skeleton, tipping your pelvis forward. This forward tilt hits you with a double-whammy: it shortens the muscles in the low-back and causes compression of the discs in that same area. Adding insult to injury, this posture type can also make you look heavier than you are — see the pooch-y belly in that diagram?!
Many of my clients are able to address general tightness in this area and improve their posture with one simple exercise.
Toe Taps on the small ball release low-back tension, flatten the lower abdominals from belly button to public bone, and give you better posture. Before starting the movement, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Without adjusting anything, notice how much curve you have in your low back and where your low-back may be feeling cranky.
Now lift your hips up on a small 9” ball or a rolled-up towel. The ball should be mid-way between your tailbone & your waistband. (That boney triangular piece above your tailbone is called the sacrum — that’s what should be on the ball.) Float your knees up, with your shins parallel to the floor.
Slowly lower one knee until your toes tap the floor, then float it back up. Switch legs. Move slowly, tapping one foot at a time. Slow is better than fast, as it’s the weight of your leg that is stretching your hip flexor in this position. This gristly muscle needs slow movement in order to get the stretch!
This is a good time to bring up one of the Rules of Ageless Pilates: One Thing Moves, Everything else Stays Still. This will focus the work of the movement into the right part of your body. In this case, avoid arching and flattening your back. Concentrate the movement right where your leg meets your body.
If your back feels comfortable while doing Toe Taps, you can increase your range of motion by extending your leg, and tapping the toes farther away from your body.
Continue alternating legs for about 2 minutes, then take the ball out.
How does your low-back feel now? If it feels closer to flat against the floor, you’ve released your hip flexors. Over time, this movement pattern will also tone your hip flexors, which leads to a flatter low-belly.
A word of warning: don’t go overboard, and jump right into 20 minutes of Toe Taps on the Small Ball. Working any muscle causes tiny tears that mend over the next 24 hours. Over-do this exercise too quickly, and you’ll feel very sore in the hip flexor area. Better to do 2 minutes everyday, than to load up all in one day.