Many of us struggle with tightness, stiffness, and soreness in both the lower and upper back.
Most of that is due to the fact we spend almost 8 hours a day sitting on our butts in front of computers, at desks, or some other weirdly hunched position with not enough movement.
After struggling with hip problems for years (as a result of a poorly functioning core and a lower back injury) I came across the following incredibly simple exercise.
It’s so simple in fact that even a baby can do it. Wait, babies do do it and it’s an essential part of the developmental sequence. Coincidentally, it’s a darn good way to reduce the strain on your lower back and help you start opening up your upper back.
What is it?
Yup – rocking.
Simply get on down on your hands and knees and shift your weight back and forth between your knees and your hands.
Here’s some pictures to give you an idea of just how simple it is:
This is the “start” position.
This is the “mid” position where you rock your weight forward onto your hands.
And here’s the end position, where you push your weight back into your hips.
So simple, most people will overlook or dismiss it.
Here’s why it works:
- Rocking forward and backward stimulates the vestibular system, the system that underpins all movement and balance. This means movement and balance get better, or at least have the potential to.
- Stimulates the palms of the hands and the tops of the feet, which have large amounts of proprioceptors in them, and contribute to increased movement ability and body mapping by the brain. Plus, these are major areas of tension and releasing that tension in your muscles and your body as a whole decreases the amount of tension you’ll feel in your lower and upper back.
- Also stimulates your “core” – especially your “Inner Unit” – the part of your core that protects your spine – your Transverse abdominus, your diaphragm, and your pelvic floor. This reduces tension on spine. It also ties your core back together with your hips and shoulders.
- Speaking of hips, you’ll notice that rocking “opens up” the hips. It increases their mobility. Hip mobility is key to alleviating soreness and discomfort in the lower back because the hips are meant to extend the torso, not the lower back. When you bend forward like when you’re doing your kettlebell swings and you lack mobility in your hips, your body will default to hinging off your lower back. Bad news for your spine.
- And speaking of shoulders, rocking promotes good shoulder health by teaching good scapular rhythm – the shoulder blade glides down and back and up and forward – protraction, elevation, retraction, and depression. And it does it in a closed chain (hand on floor) and therefore, relatively safe manner.
- Rocking starts to and helps reset the natural spinal curves, and other joint alignment (hips and shoulders) which leads to decreased overall tension in the body. That of course means that a) you’ll have reduced muscle soreness and b) you’re body will become instantly stronger because you won’t be fighting yourself for proper joint alignment while you’re lifting.
- Rocking also has a strangely calming effect on your mind and emotions. This in and of itself reduces stress and tension, especially in the lower back.
So those are 7 excellent reasons (there are more) for why rocking is one of the simplest mobility exercises to alleviate lower and upper back tension and soreness.
Is it the only mobility exercise you need to do for your lower back?
I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know your specifics. But I will tell you this: I’ve been using rocking personally and with my clients for over 2 years (along with some other drills) and the results have been phenomenal.
Let’s just say rocking is WAY easier than all the “precision” stuff that’s being touted as the Second Coming of Movement and Athleticism. It takes less effort, makes more sense, and let’s face it, you’ve already done it before. (WAY cheaper to learn, too.) Most of us rocked when we were babies. Therefore it’s not a new movement. It’s more like a refresher course.
And because it’s so natural and easy to do, without any special thought, compliance levels are way up.
Ways You Will Most Likely Screw Up Rocking
Like I said, rocking is simple and easy to do, so don’t over-think it.
That being said, go back and take a look at the pictures above and then take a look at this picture:
You’ll notice a few things:
- He’s relaxed. Look at his belly. There’s no tension in there. He’s not tightening his abs. You shouldn’t either.
- He’s smiling and happy. Try it. Don’t overthink rocking. It will be fun. Think happy thoughts while doing it. You’ll relax even more.
- Where’s his head and neck? Up. His neck is in the dreaded “extension” position. It’s not in “neutral” or “packed” or whatever the term du jour is today. (Of course his gaze is slightly up too, thus proving the point your head and body are meant to follow your eyes.) My son crawls around and his head is definitely up, eyes forward. So don’t think you have to tuck your chin in and hold the stick on your back. The best way to do this is find the crown of your head (the pointy bit at the top) and make sure that’s pointed at the ceiling. (See my pics above.) Here’s an interesting point I’ve noticed: The higher you keep your head (crown pointed toward the ceiling), the more you’ll feel the muscles in your body activate, including your core. *The only caveat to this is if you’re a hunchback – you have a severely rounded upper back, you shouldn’t keep your head up.
And that’s it. Rocking.
So simple even a baby can do it.
How do you incorporate rocking into your workouts?
Use it as part of your warm up.
How often should I rock?
Daily. Several times per day works very well too. Try it right before bed if you need to unwind.
It hurts my knees to be down in the rocking position. What should I do?
Simply fold up a towel and put your knees on it until they get used to the pressure. Eventually you’ll be able to do this directly on the floor.
Are there other simple exercises like rocking I can do that will help out my lower back soreness and my upper back tightness?
Yup, there sure are. I recommend you pick up this short, simple, highly informative, yet instantly implementable book called Becoming Bulletproof by my good friend Tim Anderson.
I use this stuff daily and have never moved better. I run and jump without pain in my knees and hips and this is what finally did it. I’ll be 40 in December and I feel like I’m 16 again and rolling around on the wrestling mat.
How much time will this take me to implement into my current routine?
Not much time at all. If you’re just talking about the rocking, it depends on how long you want to do it for. I simply get 20 reps in and then I move on to the next exercise in my warm-up sequence. My whole warm-up takes between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on whether there’s any particular stiffness I need to address. Most days it’s between 5-7 minutes. It’s a great add on to Kettlebell Express! workouts as well.
Are there any reasons I should NOT include rocking in my program?
Yup – one big one: PAIN. If it causes you pain, real pain (as opposed to discomfort) while doing it – STOP. Go see your Doc – you probably have an issue you need to take care of sooner rather than later.
That’s it for Rocking.
Give it a shot today before your kettlebell workout – or heck, drop right down to floor as soon as you’re done reading this and give it the ol’ college try. I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised, if not downright shocked, at how easy this is and how good you feel once you’re done.