Lateral flexion of the trunk (also know as side bend) is a movement that is rarely used in our day-to-day activities. Yet, go to any type of fitness class and you will find side bend stretches included for almost all warm-up and cool down routines.
This is because side bends help to improve lumbo-pelvic stability and trim your love handles. An unstable lumbo-pelvic area will lead to acute lower back injury, chronic lower back pain, spinal disc degeneration or even knee issues as the force from the feet is unable to travel up the whole spine.
Imagine if you stomp your feet hard on the ground and that force generated by the stomp get stuck in your lower back area instead of being cushioned by every vertebrae of your spine as the force travels up from ankle, knees, pelvis, lower back and upper back. Lower back may start to ache simply due to excessive pressure created when we walk or sit. The lower back vertebrae may also degenerate faster than other parts of the spine due to excessive erosion of specific lower back vertebrae when that pressure is unable to travel up to the upper spine.
A deep side bend also helps to open up the sides of your ribs, thereby allowing you to breathe deeper into the lower lobes of the lungs instead of shallow breathing. Shallow breathing may create tension in the neck and shoulders.
What muscles are involved in a side bend exercise that makes lateral flexion so important?
(Source: Health Appointments)
Last month, we covered the importance of having strong obliques and proper rotation patterns (Picture E). Our focus for this month is on Lateral Flexion of the torso (Picture D).
The primary muscles used in a side bend are: External/Internal Obliques, Quadratus Lumborum and the Erector Spinae.
(Source: Body Smart)
Quadratus Lumborum (QL) are muscles located deep in the sides of the lower back. Contracting one side of the QL results in a side bend, while contracting both sides of the QL muscle results in a spinal extension. The QL plays an important role in the stability of the lumbo-pelvic area as it connects the pelvis to the spine.
Erector Spinae (Spinalis Group) is a group of muscles that extends vertically up the length of your back, and are involved in both lateral flexion and spinal extension. Weakness/tightness in the Erector Spinae may result in overworking the QL muscles to pick up the slack, hence resulting in back pain. If left untreated in the long run, shoulder pain and kyphosis may also occur due to tightness in the QL, erector spinae and obliques.
Our body always tries its best to perform any movement we want. However, performing the movement correctly visually does not necessarily means that the right muscles are used to do the job. Any muscle compensation will lead to imbalances and ended up with pain.
Remember, your muscle is painful because it is overworked, not because it is weak! The overworked muscle is often the stronger muscle. If you push the stronger and painful muscle to work further, it will lead to injury or a total breakdown (sprain or tear) – so that it do not need to work anymore (sames goes for our mind!). Hence, to relieve any painful muscle, you have to train the weaker muscle to start working to reduce load on the painful (and stronger) muscle. Once the weaker muscles tone up and share the load, the stronger and painful muscle will learn to work less and the ache will naturally go away! It’s almost like magic.
HOW TO STRETCH & STRENGTHEN IN LATERAL FLEXION TO REDUCE SHOULDER/LOWER BACK PAIN
A basic stretch you can do daily at home is the seated mermaid.
- Make sure to ground the opposite hip before reaching the arm overhead
- If you are reaching your top arm to the right, make sure the right shoulder is not touching your right ear lobes. Shoulders should be relaxed.
- Keep the chin away from the chest, and the collarbones nice and open
- Reach the energy through the fingertips of the top hand to deepen the stretch
- Repeat on opposite side
If mermaid seating is uncomfortable for you, perform this exercise in a cross-legged seated position instead.
To strengthen the muscles involved in lateral flexion, try the side plank:
- Keep the elbow in line with the shoulder, hips stacked, feet flexed and together
- Energize the legs, and reach the hips up to the ceiling.
- Make sure shoulders stay away from the ears, especially when lifting the hips
If you find it difficult to balance with the legs stacked, bring the top leg forwards on the mat instead to increase stability.
Simply take 5 mins a day to do these 2 exercises daily (6-8 reps on each side) to increase lateral spinal flexibility and strength, and eventually build a better posture!
Here are some tips to ace this month’s side bend flow in class:
- Keep the hips square and stacked
- Shoulders relaxed and away from the ears
- Chin away from the chest, and chest nice and open as you go into a side bend
- Continuously reach and lengthen the sides rather than just pushing and holding
- Match your breathing to the movement to allow better core engagement and a deeper stretch
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PRACTISE PILATES MAT SIDE BEND EXERCISES AT HOME!
STRETCH DAILY WITH OUR MAT PILATES SIDE BEND EXERCISES PART 2
STRETCH DAILY WITH OUR MAT PILATES SIDE BEND EXERCISES PART 1
Do each of the exercises 8 – 10 times for each side. It will take you 5 – 8 minutes. You should do it on the floor with the support of a Yoga/Pilates mat or a soft towel on a carpeted floor. These exercises should not be performed on the bed! You can do these exercises first thing in the morning to increase flexibility of your spine or at the end of the day to stretch out those tired muscles.