In order to get the most out of your workouts and feel your best each day, you need to incorporate maintenance/mobility exercises into your fitness regime. There are two approaches to this: 1) Dedicate a “workout” day entirely to mobility/stretching/maintenance work or 2) Incorporate daily exercises, shorter in length to get the same total volume as the previous option. I’ve personally done both and am currently using option 2 with great results. In this article I’m going to show and describe 5 daily exercises you can perform, lasting roughly 15-20 minutes, each day to improve function, mobility, and longevity.
Hip Flexor Stretch: Many of the clients I’ve worked with, both athletes and the general workout enthusiast, who suffer from lower back pain/tightness/soreness often find themselves with tight hip flexors as well (myself included). A simple, effective way to lengthen the hip flexors to combat the tightness is to perform a hip flexor stretch up against a wall.
1 How to perform: Begin by backing your feet up to the wall while on your knees. Then, bring one knee all the way back to the wall with your shin lying flush up the wall. By bringing the other knee forward (in the 1/2 kneeling position) you created a stretch of the hip flexor in the trail leg. Over time you also get the additional benefit of dorsiflexion of the trail foot as you progress and evolve with the stretch. As you continue to progress you an also incorporate a thoracic mobility aspect into this routine as well. As shown in the 3rd photo, I rotate toward the lead leg and focus on rotating the entire trunk to enhance the overall stretch.
2 Important points: The biggest mistake here is to posteriorly rotate the hips/pelvis. It is very important to maintain a neutral pelvis as well as a neutral spine. To increase the stretch of the trail leg hip flexor, think of “sitting” into the hip or leaning forward while maintain the same neutral position of both the pelvis and spine.
Glute “Smash”: Another common “down stream” issue of hip/back pain is tightening of surrounding muscles. When the glutes and hips don’t do the work they are suppose to do, the lower back often times takes on that work which ultimately leads to fatigue and pain. As a protection mechanism, muscles can tighten and try to restrict movement to prevent damage. Of the muscles that tighten, the glutes are often the worst. Know someone with back pain, check the tension in the glutes…it’s probably very high! A friend of mine working as a physical therapist recently told me she had an older client suffering from sciatic nerve pain. During the assessment tension of the glutes was tested and she couldn’t believe how tense she was! This is a very common thing, one that requires consistent attention to make any lasting changes.
1 How To Perform: Place a lacrosse ball under one glute to start. While seated,with the legs straightened on the ground, roll side-to-side across the belly of the muscles. This “flossing” technique digs into the fascia to ultimately release some of the pressure. Don’t rush! Spend time on the most uncomfortable areas, this should take 4-5 minutes per side. If you find a “hot” spot, work some ranges of motions through the same leg. Elevate you leg, internally or externally rotate the hip and/or knee as well. There is no wrong way to perform this. Simply apply pressure and check for changes after 5 minutes (you will be surprised).
2 Important Points: This is a quick tension relieving fix, but in order to get maximum benefits it really needs to be done multiple times per week. Spend 5 minutes each side one night and don’t do again for a week. You will notice little to no changes. This mobility tool is simply an opportunity to relieve tension to go back to performing movements ideally to avoid future tension. It does not fix the problem, it allows you to move better to fix the problem!
90/90 Stretch: I’ve talked about the 90/90 stretch before in the past. It has many benefits and may be the most commonly used stretch among personal trainers/strength coaches/coaches in general. Anyone having low back issues, lack of range of motion through the hips or general tightness will likely find great relieve by consistently implementing this into their routine.
1 How To Perform: Starting on the floor, place one leg at a 90 degree angle in front of you and the other trailing at a 90 degree angle. While keeping a neutral spine, hinge forward to your limit. Your limit is the point at which you begin to flex through the spine (round back). To get the most out of this stretch, focus on the hips and less on the rest of the body. Less is more, and subtle changes make big differences. As shown in the 1st picture, your upper body should track above your lead leg’s shin, not falling outside the knee.
2 Important Points: The first point is to not be overly tense. Maintaining neutrality does necessarily mean being rigid or stiff. Relax and let your hips move. Think of pushing your hips back as your upper body slightly hinges forward. In picture 3, I am thinking of pushing my hips toward the left (in the photo) while falling forward toward my knee as if folding a lawn chair. A common complaint is experiencing tightness of the trail leg hip flexor. This may be do to lack of hip range of motion. Simply adjust and modify your position. The biggest thing here is to play with this movement, first making small adjustments and learning along the way. I have personally made the most improvement with this movement and have been performing off and on for 2-3 years.
Foot “Smash”: If you’re not giving your feet the attention they need than you may be surprised how drastic of an improvement you will feel throughout your entire body once you do! Every day we are on our feet walking to and from places, exercising, etc. yet when we thinking of exercise and corrective exercise often time we neglect the feet. The fascia in the feet can affect much more than just the feet. Be correcting the feet you can work to correct the entire body. This is one of the biggest addition to my personal routine that has caused dramatic results.
1 How to perform: Place a lacrosse ball under either foot and spend 2-3 minutes rolling both up and down and side to side along the sole of the foot. To do this, be seated on a chair or bench and shift as much of your weight as you can onto the lacrosse ball. You will find certain points to be much more sensitive than others, spend more time here! Roll all the way from heal to toes, allowing your toes to act as fingers to grip the lacrosse ball. This also makes it an exercise for the toes to become engaged as well.
2 Important points: Because there aren’t many factors going on here, it is a relatively easy exercise to perform. The only thing to be aware of is the amount of pressure you put into the lacrosse ball. Do not go easy on yourself, apply as much pressure as you can!
Legs Up The Wall Stretch: My favorite exercise for anyone who struggles with the hip hinge. Many times tight hamstrings are the results of improper hip function and once the hip function improves then the hamstrings improve by being continually lengthened and strengthened. Ideally, if you were to bend over and touch your toes or perform a deadlift, you would have a neutral spine. Many times this is not the case. To ensure you keep a neutral spine, you can use the floor to your advantage in a safe and no risk fashion. The 90 degree angle of the floor and wall meeting creates the ideal angle of the hip and lower back for you. The first thing you will notice is your hamstring light up!
1 How to perform: Lay flat on your back, with you butt against the wall. Raise both legs straight up the wall, as flush as possible. To help create ideal 90 degree angle of the hips (which is what we want to translate into upright exercise) think of “pulling” the posterior/back of your hips into the floor. Even the slightest pull should increase the intensity of the stretch. Spend time here, take 3-4 minutes sitting into this position and increasing the intensity as the hamstrings loosen up.
2 Important points: You may find that your body has natural compensation points. For instance, when I first started this exercise my fight leg would externally rotate. This was obvious when my toes on the right foot were point at an outward angle. To combat this, pull the hips down, back flush, and briefly point your toes inward facing each other. If both legs at the same time is initially too much, bring one leg down while keeping the other up. This allows a decrease in intensity while still getting the benefit of the one working leg at that time.
It is important to remember that these exercises are not designed to cure your pain and disfunction rather simply allow you to alleviate your pain and increase your range of motion through in a safe, effective way. The goal is to feel better, move better, and incorporate proper technique into your daily exercise routine. In my circumstance, these (and other) exercises allowed me to alleviate lower back pain, increase hip hinge ability and range of motion, and ultimately “reprogram” my body by incorporating proper technique and form in the weight room and on the field. This routine can be thought of as the foundation to lasting changes and relief!