1. Health

Strengthen & Stretch Your Back

 The following is a simple workout to stretch and strengthen the back with a mix of dynamic and static stretches as well as elements of yoga.  Perform this workout as often as you like, modifying whenever necessary to fit your fitness level and goals.  If you have specific back problems, see your doctor before trying these exercises.

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Sun Salutation
Begin in a standing position and exhale as you sweep the arms up and overhead.  Exhale and engage the abs as you tip from the hips and lower into a Forward Bend, with hands on the floor or feet--bend the knees if you need to. Inhale and come up until the back is flat and exhale into forward bend.  Inhale and come back up, sweeping the arms overhead until palms touch. Repeat the series 4 to 8 times.

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Torso Twists
Stand with feet wide, knees bent and bring the arms up in front of the chest.  Slowly twist the torso to the right, squeezing the abs, then twist to the left repeating for about 15 reps on each side.  Keep the movement slow and controlled, only rotating as far as your flexibility will allow. 
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Standing Cat Stretch
Lower into a squat with the hands on the thighs, back arched.  Pull the abs in and round the back up towards the ceiling.  Lower and repeat 15 times. 
 

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Pelvic Tilt on the Ball
Lie at an incline position on the ball with the hips down, head supported by the head and feeling a stretch in the abs.  Without rolling on the ball, squeeze the hips up then lower and repeat for 15 reps. 
 
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Crunch on the Ball
Lie on the ball and place the hands behind the head.  Lift the shoulder blades off the ball as you crunch up, squeezing the abs.  Repeat for 15 reps.



Bridge
Lie face up with knees bent and hands at your sides.  Slowly, uncurl your spine off the mat, one vertebrae at a time until you're in a bridge position, body in a straight line from knees to head.  Arch up as high as you can, squeezing the back, then lower back down by slowly uncurling the spine onto the mat.  Repeat for 5 reps.
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Knees to Chest
Pull the knees into the chest with the hands behind the knees.  Try to keep the tailbone on the floor to stretch the lower back.  Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. 
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Knee Drops
Bring the knees up and bend them to 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor and arms out to the sides.  Contract the abs and rotate the torso to lower the legs to the right, bringing them down to the floor.  Bring the knees back to center and lower to the left side.  Repeat for 10 reps to each side. 
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Spine Twist
While lying face up on the mat, bend the right leg and place the right foot on the left knee.  Slowly twist to the left while taking the right hand straight out on the floor, the left hand gently pressing on the right knee.  Relax into the stretch and feel it in your lower back and hips.  Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side. 

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Cobra with Leg Lift
In a prone position, place the hands next to the chest and squeeze the lower back to push the chest off the floor.  Keep the shoulder blades pulled down.  Lift the right leg off the floor and hold for two seconds, lower and repeat on the other leg for 15 reps on each side.
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Child's Pose
From the previous exercise, push back onto the knees then sit back on the heels as you stretch the arms straight out in front of you, forehead resting on the floor.  Breathe and relax the muscles of the back.  Hold for 15-30 seconds.
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