After the success we’ve had with our two previous series of exercises, we’ve decided to publish a third one, to complete our take on posture, spine and core flexibility, stability and coordination. To recap, we previously wrote about:
- Exercises to improve your posture and bring relief to your back and spine, and
- Exercises to improve flexibility and movement precision of your back and spine.
This time around, we’ll concentrate on exercises for spinal and core movement and stabilization with a particular attention on the abdominal area and its importance in spinal flexion and core balance. When taken as a whole, these three series of exercises will be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in improving their overall core stability and flexibility, bettering movement and coordination and significantly lowering the risk of injury, whether we are talking about back muscles, the spine, or the abdomen, in either everyday activities or athletic performance.
It is important to pay close attention to technique and precision of performance so that both adequate strength and the desired movement patterns are developed. Wrong execution will fail to produce the desired results and may even result in injury. Additionally, some exercises are not suitable for everyone so if in doubt, please confirm with your physician to see what is appropriate for you, and use modifications whenever necessary.
Many of the exercises in this series are closely related. It is highly recommended that you follow the order established here and only advance on the next exercise after you have mastered the previous one.
The series so far:
- Exercise #1: Leg Circle
- Exercise #2: Roll-Up
- Exercise #3: Hundred
- Exercise #4: One Leg Stretch (you are here)
- Exercise #5: Stretching the Hamstring
- Exercise #6: Double Leg Stretch
- Exercise #7: Crisscross
- Final Exercise: Teaser
This series include exercises that use the abdominals in a variety of modes. In today’s exercise, One Leg Stretch, the abdominals are used in an isometric manner to maintain a position of spinal flexion while the legs are held out straight and moved in the air and off the mat.
Exercise 4 – One Leg Stretch
Initial position. Lie on your back with the head and shoulder blades off the mat in chest lift position and one knee pulled towards your chest. With the hand on the side of the bent knee hold the shin just above the ankle. Bent the other arm and place the hand on the knee. The straight leg is placed at a height at which the lower back can maintain contact with the mat. Keep both feet gently pointed:
- Inhale and begin to bend the outstretched leg and straighten the bent leg;
- Exhale and complete the leg switch, using an exhale as the leg fully straightens and the hands switch to the other knee as shown in the illustration. Just like before, the hand on the side of the bent knee grasps the shin above the ankle, and the other hand holds the knee that is pulled into the chest. Repeat the sequence 5 times on each leg for a total of 10 times, concluding each switch of the legs with an exhale.
Make Sure You:
- In the starting position, firmly pull the abdominals toward the spine. Maintain solid contact of the lower back and pelvis with the mat as you use the hip flexors and extensors to switch the legs in phases 2 and 3;
- It’s important to try to constantly lift the upper trunk upwards and forward off the mat with a firm contraction of the abdominals, so that it stays lifted at a constant height instead of dropping down as you switch the legs;
- Next, with the strengthened leg, reach out in space and keep the leg of the mat. The knee extensors (that straighten the knee) and ankle flexors (that point the foot) help to create the desired straight line;
- Keep the shoulder blades in a neutral position and prevent them from lifting, while the shoulder flexors work to keep the arms from dropping toward the mat when the arms switch to the opposite leg. Use the elbow flexors on both arms to help pull the knee close to your chest. Then keep the knee stationary as your hands press down on the lower leg, and bring the elbows down toward the mat so that the shoulder extensors assist with keeping the torso lifted off the mat;
- Mental image: visualize your legs moving precisely like pistons while the engine, the powerhouse of your body, remains completely stationary.
One Leg Stretch is a valuable stability exercise that emphasizes the abdominals which perform a variety of roles: keep the trunk lifted, maintain contact between the lower back and the mat, and keep the abdominal wall pulled in. This abdominal action is essential to maintain pelvic and spinal stability, which the vigorous movement of the legs can easily compromise.
This exercise can also be performed without bringing the knee into the chest. In this case, the thigh of the bent leg barely passes beyond the vertical line. Both hands are on that knee and the lower part of the bent leg is kept parallel to the mat (see image below). This alternative position can be used to emphasize curling up the trunk higher to create a greater load on the abdominal muscles.