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Back exercise

Why exercise?

Tight and/or weak muscles are often at the root of back pain, especially lower back pain. The muscles of the back, the abdomen, and the buttocks all support the spine - these muscles are called the core muscles.

Strong and flexible muscles help maintain proper posture and help prevent back pain. Remember to warm up the muscles with 5 minutes of light mobilisation such as walking or riding a stationary bike before either stretching or strengthening exercises. If in doubt, check with your doctor.

Here are Kairen's top stretching and exercises for a better back. 

Exercise 1: Arch up and Arch down

  • Corrects poor posture
  • Releases muscle tension
  • Increases flexibility in spine


  • Kneel on a mat or towel
  • Take a breath in and breathe out as you arch your back up (like a cat)
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths
  • Sink your back down and hold for 5 to ten breaths
  • Repeat 5 times
  • Relax hips back towards heels and relax


  • Keep your abdominals tensed
  • Relax your head and neck in arch up position

Exercise 2: The Cobra

  • Corrects poor posture
  • Treatment for back spasms
  • Releases muscle tension
  • Increases spine flexibility


  • Lie on your front with your arms bent under your torso ready to raise your upper body away from the floor.
  • Slowly raise your torso away from the floor and lengthen your spine by reaching up and out with your chest (this is Low Cobra).
  • Hold for ten to thirty seconds in then return to start position.


  • If you have neck problems tuck your chin in to relax your neck muscles. Relax your ankles, hips and legs.
  • Progress to a higher cobra pose as your flexibility increases but do take it slowly.

Exercise 3: Spinal Twist

  • Stretches and mobilises the hips and lower back

  • relaxes the spine


  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor (Place your arms out to your side in
    a T shape).
  • Take a slow breath in and on the out breath tighten your tummy and lower your legs over to the left.
  • Turn your head to the right as you relax your legs and allow gravity to stretch your legs towards
    the floor.
  • Hold for 10 - 30 seconds then return back to centre.
  • Repeat on the other side


  • To increase the stretch extend (straighten out) your top leg, relax and hold this stretch as before.
  • Keep your tummy sucked in towards your spine for the full exercise

Exercise 4: Upper back stretch

  • Works on the neck and upper back muscles
  • Releases tension
  • Relaxes shoulders


  • Stretch arms out in front of you and interlock your fingers then turn your palms away from you.
  • Drop your chin towards your chest and round your shoulders pulling your shoulder blades apart.


  • Relax the neck muscles and allow the weight of your head to stretch your upper spine.
  • Keep your tummy pulled in towards your spine

Exercise 5: Backward bend

  • Increases lower back flexibility

  • Strengthens back muscles

  • Stretches abdominals


  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart
  • Place your hands on your gluteus muscles and bring your hips forward. Or, place the hands on the lower back region with the palms facing the body and the fingers pointing up.
  • Allow your head to drop back and breathe long and deep through the nose


  • Hold the position for a minimum of 10 seconds and aim to increase your time to 2 minutes.
  • Try to release the tension in your neck and shoulders as you perform this exercise.
  • Progress to advanced backward bend

Exercise 6: side bend

  • Stretches the lateral abdominal and lumbar muscles (including the Quadratus lumborum)
  • improves the flexibility of the hips
  • Stretches the back and waist


  • Place both feet together and raise the left arm, leave your right arm by your side.
  • Inhale and as you breathe out reach your left arm over to the right
  • At the same time slide your right hand down your right leg.
  • Hold this position and breathe long and deep through the nose.
  • Return to your start position then repeat on the other side.

  • Move directly to the side.
  • Relax your head and shoulders completely for a deep stretch.
  • Keep your tummy sucked in towards your spine.

Exercise 7: Knees to chest

  • Releases the lower back
  • when your back feels tight


  • Lie on your back
  • inhale slowly then exhale bringing the knees towards the chest
  • wrap your arms around your legs
  • Hold this position and take some slow relaxing breaths


  • Unroll your spine against the floor
  • start with your lower back, upper back and finally the back of your neck
  • Bring your chin in so the back of your neck can rest flat on the floor as well
  • Hold the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds

Exercise 8: Neck stretches

  • Relieves neck and shoulder pain
  • Improves mobility

  • Place hands behind you back and take hold of your

    right wrist with your left hand, apply gentle traction to

    the right arm

  • At the same time bend your head to the left, hold for

    5 breaths

  • Repeat on your other side

  • Always perform the exercises slowly with control
  • Relax and allow the weight of your head and to stretch your neck muscles.

Exercise 9: Hip/gluteal stretch

  • Relieves back pain and sciatica
  • Improves posture


  • Sit on a dining type chair and cross your left leg over the right bringing your foot as close to your hip joint as you can.
  • Hold for 10 breaths
  • Repeat with right leg
  • You can try the variations of these exercises pictured right.
  • Relax your feet and thigh for a deeper stretch.

Exercise 10: Hip flexor stretch

  • Relieves back pain

  • Improves posture


  • Kneel on the floor ( a mat or towel will reduce the strain on your knees) lunge forward with your right leg.

  • Feel the stretch across your hip joint hold for 10 breaths.

  • Repeat on the other side


  • Lean your upper body back from your hips to make the stretch more intense.

Exercise 11: Hamstring Stretch

  • Relieves back pain
  • Improves posture


  • Stand with feet hip distance apart.
  • Take a breath in and as you breathe out roll down towards the floor
  • Pause for 5 to 10 breaths then roll back up, your head should come up last.


  • As you roll down, relax your head, neck and shoulders - your neck and arms should be floppy like a rag doll.
  • Your tummy should be sucked in towards your spine
  • Try a stretch on the floor (pictured right) using a exercise band or scarf