Two months ago, I started working on my back flexibility. Up until this point, I focused only on getting my splits. Working on my back was a completely new challenge and at first, I really didn’t know where to start. After taking a few physiotherapy sessions, I had an ‘aha-moment’ where could feel my upper back and shoulders begin to open up. I’m starting to see results in my backbend stretch progress and I’m excited to share my current progress compared to where I was 2 months ago.
- My Backend Stretch Progress
- Tips for Opening Up Back in Backbends
My Backbend Stretch Progress
In April 2020, I decided to work on my back. I was experiencing a lot of pain between my shoulder blades and it got to the point where my back pain would wake me up in the middle of the night.
My goal for starting this journey is to get rid of back pain by strengthening my upper back. Eventually, I would love to work on more advanced stretches like toes-to-head, bridge, piked bridge pose, splits with leg grab, dancer’s pose etc. I’m amazed by people who are both strong and flexible, and I know now that it’s never “too late” as long as you keep at it.
After my physio assessment, I started to do back strengthening exercises by learning how to properly engage my shoulder blades. In the past, when I was weight-lifting, I was working out my upper trapezius thinking that I was doing my back. It took some time to learn how to use my shoulder blades instead. I also worked on stretching out my pec minor since muscles on the front and back side work together.
Recently, I learned how to engage my upper back while doing the Cobra pose. The knees, chest, chin variation in yoga (pictured below) helped me understand how to engage my upper back by using my chest to scoop forwards and up.
Knees Chest Chin Transition into Cobra
Starting in a plank position – lower your knees down, chest then chin to the mat. Begin to lengthen forward and through with your chest to get into Cobra. I did this transition over and over again until I could feel the stretch in my upper back instead of my lower back! To be honest – this movement is quite weird and took me many tries.
I’m still learning how to open up different parts of my upper back for the full Cobra – collarbone, chest and lower rib cage should be engaged before walking your hands back. I’m currently techniques from Hannah Finn – The Contortion Girl.
Learning how to open my back in this way helped me get my toes-to-head stretch!
I used to be able to do the toes-to-head stretch as a child. Yesterday (June 30), I can finally do this stretch again as an adult. Prior to working on my back flexibility, I would just try to bend my head back towards my toes thinking that I was close (I really wasn’t- said everyone). That didn’t stop me from trying!
Instead, what I needed to do was to gradually improve my thoracic extension (using my back arch closer to my toes).
Bridge Pose (Wheel)
This was another pose that I could do as a child – I just never know how to do it correctly. Looking at pictures online, I knew that I needed to open up my shoulders somehow and press forward but I felt like I wasn’t able to go any further. I felt the most strain in my lower back. Again, not realizing that backbends should never be felt in the lower back…
After learning how to engage my shoulder blades, stretching out my pec minor and rolling out some areas in my lats / “money spots”, I started to feel more of a stretch on the upper side of my body while doing the bridge pose. There was no longer tension in my lower back. Instead, I felt a stretch in my abs, shoulders and quads! There’s still a lot more to work on as I explore this new range of motion but I’m so proud of how far I’ve come.
Tips for Opening Up Back in Backbends (Gets Results in Your Backbend Stretch Progress!)
- Develop body awareness: Knowing where you feel a stretch in order to do backbends safely.
- Don’t force yourself: Be gentle with your back, it will take time to open up.
- Strengthen your back: The best tip for learning how to backbend is to strengthen it.
- Always protect your lower back: Backbends should always come from your upper back. To stretch your lower back, do gentle twists.
- Bring your chest forward and up: backbends are “heart openers”. Lengthen by pushing your chest forward and turning up rather than crunching your back.
- Always breathe to relax and lengthening into a stretch.
- Practice the cobra pose using your finger tips: Engage your shoulder blades, lift up in a scooping motion. Hold and make sure you are feeling it in the upper back.
I used to think that to get rid of my back pain meant that I should be rolling out the areas that hurt. In this case, I used a peanut massage ball to roll out the area between my shoulder blades. It felt very painful but good. However, this only provided me with temporary relief.
In order to get rid of my back pain I needed to target what was causing me pain – weak back muscles, tight pecs and shoulders. Working on the right areas makes stretching and back flexibility less of a guessing game. I could strengthen and stretch everyday knowing that I’ll get results over time.
See More of my Flexibility Progress:
- My Backbend Progress (Before Pictures)
- My Front Splits Journey (5 months)
- My Side Splits Progress in 2 weeks
- Pancake Stretch Progression