With so much focus put on muscle strength, gains, and fat shredding during training, it can be super easy to forget one of the most important aspects of our health (AND the foundation for all of our gains): spinal health and flexibility.
Our spine quite literally supports almost every movement we make … and having an inflexible or misaligned one can spell danger in several important ways while having a flexible, healthy one can actually increase your performance and power output.
Let’s get into how.
The Importance of Spinal Flexibility
Your spine is designed to assist you in nearly every plane and type of motion, including rotation, bending, twisting, flexion, and extension. If a spine is weak or misaligned or inflexible, any number of these movements can be hindered, which can lead to reduced performance, or worse: a spinal injury. Working on spinal flexibility can lead to several crucial benefits (although I hate to even call them “benefits,” since they’re really key spinal health aspects that everyone should have, regardless of if they’re hardcore training).
• Improves flexibility and stability
In the same way, stretching your muscles increases flexibility and movement range, stretching and moving your spine through spinal exercises can increase whole-body flexibility. For instance, just to use one example: a stiff spine may not be able to rotate as far as a flexible spine. When we think of this is terms of movement, we can see how an inability to rotate fully could reduce, say, the power behind a football throw, or make movements where you are reaching diagonally across your body less fluid.
A strong spine can also lead to more stability and more power output. Anytime we perform asymmetrical movements with weight (say, an alternating kettlebell swing) our spine acts as a stabilizing force along with our core muscles to keep us upright as the weight pulls at us. Strengthening the spine can help us increase the amount of weight our entire body can support, while still keeping us stable throughout the movement.
• Improves posture and stance
This probably comes as no surprise, but improving spinal flexibility can also improve posture by helping the spine return to proper alignment. When our spines are stiff and stuck in a misalignment, like in a forward neck curve, and we build muscles around that misalignment, we can in a sense “lock-in” that posture. When we train the spine for flexibility and then strengthen muscles around the spine when it is in correct alignment, we can then encourage it to retain its proper position.
Improving posture can also assist in maintaining proper stance for exercises, which can of course increase power output, and therefore, gains. If your stance is off in any movement, it can limit your muscles and put a cap on performance.
• Reduces the chance of injury
Lastly, improving spinal flexibility reduces your chance of injuring yourself. Similar to muscles, a stiff spine can be at a higher risk of tearing of pulling when put under pressure or stretched, whereas a flexible spine will simply bend with the movement.
The Kneeling Spine Wave: One of the Best Spinal Flexibility Exercises
Ready to cash in on these spinal flexibility benefits, Primal Swoledier-style? Enter the Kneeling Spine Wave. This exercise stretches your spine from the bottom up, and back again, for a full flexibility movement for your spine. Follow along in the video and see the step-by-step instructions below.
The kneeling spine wave is great to do as a warm-up, cool down, or even in between exercises, so feel free to use it as needed!
1. Begin by sitting back on your heels, arms extended out in front of you.
2. Now, take a deep breath, and begin to press through your heels as you arc your spine toward the sky. Press forward and roll your spine as the top of your thighs lower to the ground and your hands come beneath your shoulders.
3. Roll your shoulders back and down and extend your face up toward the sky, flowing through your neck to follow the arch of your spine.
4. Take a deep inhale here with a pause, then on the exhale, reverse the movement by tucking your head and neck and pressing back into your heels again as you rock back to your starting position.
5. Throughout the movement, focus on “waving” your spine from your upper back, to your middle back, then through your lower back. Also be sure to try and move with your breath, using it to help you move deeper into the stretches.
This movement is going to help drastically improve your flexibility and spinal health, leading to better posture and improved performance and movement stance (which also minimizes the risk of injury). It’s truly a no-brainer addition to your regime.
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