First, before anything, you need balance between your strength, cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility training. Working on just one element isn’t effective. Once you’ve established that balance, then you can attack flexibility issues.
To get the flexibility we want, I have my athletes warm up using a foam roll, or by jumping rope to get blood flowing into their muscles. These activities make your muscles more elastic and give you some sort of flexibility before static stretching. Then, after a complete stretching session, I have them stand up and do a gentle—not too aggressive—lunge matrix or lateral movements, which help with muscle memory, so lengthened muscles are with them all the time, not just when they’re stretching.
We perform the following back stretches year-round on the three days a week they train with me—and I ask them to perform them on their days off as well.
• Lie on stomach with palms flat on ground and shoulder width apart
• Push torso up by extending arms as far as you can, comfortably
• Arch back and press tops of thighs to ground, making sure to keep hips on ground
• Hold for 15 seconds; repeat 3 times
Payoff: You’re using your lumbar region to push yourself up, and you are in a fully extended position for a complete low-back stretch.
• Begin in four-point stance with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips
• Exhale and tuck chin toward chest, and arch back towards ceiling
• Hold for 8 seconds
• Exhale, drop stomach to floor and stretch back in reverse arch
• Hold for 8 seconds
• Repeat both stretches 5 times
Payoff: Helps stretch both angles of the back for better flexibility to support rotation.
• Begin kneeling with hips pushed back and toes pointing straight out
• Lower chest towards thighs
• Extend arms forward and overhead so they rest on floor, and curl midback
• Hold for 10 seconds
• Without moving body position, walk hands to right and hold 10 seconds
• Walk hands to left and hold 10 seconds
• Walk hands to middle; return to start position
• Repeat 3 times
Payoff: Walking your hands to the left and right opens up your rib cage and lengthens the oblique area.
Trey Zepeda is the strength and conditioning coach for men’s track and field at the University of Texas.