In a recent YouTube video, physical therapist and MobilityWOD founder Kelly Starrett demonstrates a series of decompression exercises that he recommends to his clients for dealing with back stiffness and soreness after a heavy lifting session.
“If you’re feeling stiff, oftentimes what you’ll see is that the solution to that is to put a little flexion into the system,” he says. A good way to do this is to hang from a pullup bar, walking your feet forward. “Just getting some restoration of movement in this position can do a lot.”
Another move that’s especially popular among powerlifters is the reverse hyper, which gets the spinal sacrum to work together with the pelvis. “It allows me to completely rotate and get global spinal flexion,” says Starrett. Similarly, the good morning movement can be used to restore normal range of motion.
Alternatively, lying on your back with your feet raised up against a wall, with the pelvis tucked, can lengthen the erectors and posterior fascia. “We might not actually be compressing or decompressing, although that can happen, and if I’m extension sensitive that can give me a little reprieve certainly through traction, but the restoration or restitution of this little bit of flexion positioning can do a lot to normalize and make backs feel less stiff after training.”
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Starrett also recommends “Donnie Thompson’s walk,” which involves walking the body back while in a seated position and holding a weight; this creates a lot of opportunity for rotation and flexion in the spine. “It’s really about making sure that my movement language is sufficiently robust that if I feel stiff after training, I’m making sure that, the same way if I couldn’t flex my elbow, hey maybe my accessory work is restoring and maintaining that range of motion.”
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