Just like our core is a major focus during athletic endeavor, our spine is the literal thing holding us upright during activity. With a strengthened core comes a need to stretch and strengthen our back muscles. These poses are intense and should be coupled with frontal core work, so alternate these moves on the day you’re not doing your other core exercises.
1. Cat/Cow – Possibly the most wonderful feeling of all yoga poses, Cat and Cow are the simplest and most comfortable way to wake up our spine and core. Simply start on your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position. On your inhale drop your belly and arch your back. Open your throat by looking up. Articulate each vertebrate as you slowly move through your spine in a wave-like motion. This is the Cow part of the posture. On your exhale, curl and round your spine, tuck your chin to your chest and press deeply into your palms, releasing your breath as you move your spine in tandem with your diaphragm. Repeat a few times, because it feels awesome and it’s really good for you. If you feel like freestyling- go for it. Move side to side. Try leaning out over one hip and then the other. This is a move that can be done daily –multiple times- to simply loosen a tightened back, relax, or get ready for activity.
2. Bridge Pose – Lie on your back with you knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Scoot your feet close to your butt so you can skim your heels/ankles with your hands. If you have a pillow available, stick it between you knees to ensure that you’re engaging your thighs. Your toes should be pointed forward. On an inhale lift your hips and tuck your shoulder blades underneath your back. Clasp your hands together under your hips and continue to lift through your hips. Press into your feet, use your lower back, glutes, and the muscles from your upper back to lift your hips high. Keep your shoulder blades on the ground. Remember to keep your core engaged but also to breathe deeply. Squeeze your thighs together (pillow or not) to keep the focus in your lower back area. Hold for 5 deep breaths and release. Repeat two or three times.
3. Sphinx – Lie on your stomach. Bring your forearms/elbows back toward your rib cage with your hands spread wide and palms pressed down into the floor. Pin your elbows into your body. No chicken wings allowed. Your legs should be extended straight behind you. On an inhale pull yourself up so you’re propped on your forearms. Pull your shoulder heads back and down. Use the strength of your chest and shoulders to try to pull yourself between your arms – as if you’re trying to pull the front of the room towards your body. Engage your palms, forearms, and upper back during this movement. Keep breathing deeply for 5 breaths then release down onto your stomach. Make a pillow for your forehead and wiggle your hips to release your lower back. Repeat 3 times.
4. Locust – Lie on your stomach with your hands by your side, legs straight behind you. On an inhale lift your chest and your legs. Keep your legs and feet together. Your hands can be by your side –palms up or down (whichever feels better on you) or clasped behind your back (as seen in photo) for a deep chest opening. It’s crucial to keep breathing even though it may feel restricted. Keep your thighs engaged and try not to use your glute muscles to lift your legs. Make the strength come your quads and upper/lower back. Keep it in mind not to strain your neck. Smile. Relax your face. Breathe. Hold for 5 deep breaths then release. Wiggle your hips to release your low back. Repeat 2 times.
5. Childs pose – This may be the universal favorite yoga pose (besides savasana) because it means it’s time to rest. After all of that back bending your spine will be feeling it, regardless of whether or not your brain has registered the movements. On your hands and knees sit back between your legs. You can have your knees wide or closed- whatever feels better for you. Stretch your arms out in front of you and breathe deeply. This should feel incredible. Move through your hips slowly side to side to release all of the work in your lower back. Childs pose, like Cat/Cow, is one of those poses that can be done any time – including during a pit stop on your ride. It feels amazing and is incredibly restorative for your body. Stay as long as you like. You earned it.