The exercise sounds simple, right? Well actually, it’s pretty challenging, but so rewarding for your everyday posture. Strong abdominal and deep back muscles and flexibility in your spine will be your reward.
Think back to seeing a wave form at a surf beach. The power at the bottom of the wave, as water is sucked back from the beach, supports the column of water above as it gradually curls to make a perfect tube loved by surfers around the world. The column of water is your spine
and the base of the wave, your hips and abdominal muscles.
Joseph Pilates stated “if your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.” You have so much to gain by doing this seemingly simple exercise.
Start by sitting tall (sitting back against a wall can be useful here for feedback against your spine), legs slightly wider than your hips or mat width apart if you have one. Legs are straight with feet gently flexed to the ceiling. Arms parallel to the floor at shoulder height and shoulder width, resting on a fit ball. Shoulders soft – try gently floating them upwards and then rolling them back softly. This should be a gentle movement not one of jamming the shoulders down.
Inhale to prepare, exhale to scoop abdominals and flex forward. Think of the wave as you peel each vertebra off the wall (real or imaginary). Flex forward only as far as you can maintain neutral pelvis. Let the ball roll forward with you, but make sure not to lean onto it as we are preparing to do it without the ball. Inhale and exhale to return to the start position. Do this 3-6 times. If you know your hamstrings are tight or your pelvis wants to tilt backwards into the wall, try bending your knees slightly.
As shown in the video, when you return to the start position you can also add in a thoracic extension to strengthen your upper back muscles and make you feel open across your chest. Think of shining your collarbones and heart towards the ceiling, without flaring your ribs out.
For the full Spine Stretch repeat the steps above, but without the ball. Your arms will be parallel to the floor at shoulder height and shoulder width with your hands reaching forward. You will notice that there is more work through your abdominals to support the weight of your torso in this position.
Next step (not in the video) – repeat the forward movement again, then inhale to lengthen the spine on a diagonal with arms beside ears, exhale to scoop back and stack the pelvis, inhale to complete stacking the spine back into the start position. Repeat 3-6 times.
Things to watch out for when you’re not doing this exercise under supervision:
- Head drops as you flex the torso forward – keep the neck and spine aligned
- Belly drops into the space between your legs or your back flattens – imagine you are curving up and over a basketball sitting on the top of your legs to maintain abdominal control
- If you are flexible in the hamstrings it will be tempting to hinge at the hips to get your torso close to your legs, this is not the purpose here
- Spine not erect in start position – try sitting on a folded towel – this may assist tight hamstrings or back
What you will feel:
- Flexible and young
- Do this everyday and you will feel prepared for anything with a flexible spine and strong abdominals
- You experience what we refer to as ‘oppositional force’ – as your torso is flexing forward, your abdominal muscles are ‘pulling’ back towards the wall
- Taller and more graceful as you are able to hold your spine erect without obvious effort
- Less fatigued and less slumping in your spine if you have a job that requires long periods of sitting