I see folks with low-back crankiness every dang day. When a cause isn’t obvious — like…..I moved 6 tons of mulch with a wheel barrow over the weekend — tight flexors are the often the culprit.
If you sit for long periods, that puts your hip flexors — aka: psoas muscles — into a shortened position. Do that for a couple decades, and they might be chronically tight. Ironically, if you take many more steps than usual in any given day, that can also trigger your hip flexors to tighten. When they tighten, they pull at your skeleton, tipping your pelvis forward. This forward tilt hits you with a double-whammy: it shortens the muscles in the low-back and causes compression of the discs in that same area. Adding insult to injury, this posture type can also make you look heavier than you are — see the pooch-y belly in that diagram?!
Many of my students are able to fix their cranky low back and improve their posture with one simple exercise: Toe Taps
The Toe Taps exercise on the small ball releases low-back tension, flattens your lower abdominals from belly button to public bone and gives you better posture.
Before starting the movement, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Without adjusting anything, notice how much curve you have in your low back and where your low-back may be feeling cranky.
Place a 9” ball or a rolled-up towel under your hips. The ball should be mid-way between your tailbone & your waistband. That boney triangular piece above your tailbone is called your sacrum — that’s what should be on the ball.
Tuck your knees into your chest. Your back ribcage should drop onto your mat. Scoop up the kittens to keep it there.
While maintaining your scoop, come to a tabletop position: float your knees over your hips and make your shins parallel to the floor. That’s a bit of work to keep your back ribcage down, right? Keep your arms on your mat; it’s legal to use them to not fall off the ball.
Slowly lower one knee down until your toes tap the floor and then float it back up. Switch legs. Move slowly, tapping one foot at a time. Slow is better than fast, as it’s the weight of your leg that is stretching your hip flexor in this position. Ok, you don’t have to move glacially slow, just don’t be zippy with this exercise. This gristly muscle needs slow movement to find its length.
Option: if you can keep your back ribcage on your mat, you can increase your range of motion by extending your leg and tapping your foot farther away from your body. This will give you more stretch, but you have to earn it. The position of your back ribcage is the key here. If a student can squish my hand under their ribs in class, then they’ve earned a bigger range of motion during Toe Taps.
Continue alternating legs for about 2 minutes and then take the ball out.
How does your low-back feel now? If it feels closer to flat against your mat, you’ve released your hip flexors. Over time, this movement pattern will also tone your hip flexors, which leads to a flatter low-belly.
A word of warning: don’t go overboard, and do 20 minutes of Toe Taps on the Small Ball. Working any muscle causes tiny tears that mend over the next 24 hours. Over-do this exercise too quickly, and you’ll feel very sore in the hip flexor area. Better to do 2 minutes everyday, than to load up all in one day.