The lying knee roll-over stretch lengthens and loosens the oblique muscles. The obliques -- large flat muscles that wrap around the sides of the torso -- help stabilize your spine. They're activated when you bend or twist at the waist. The obliques often shorten and tighten as a result of overtraining or lack of use, which can affect posture, hinder mobility and cause pain. Perform the relaxing roll-over stretch daily to maintain or restore flexibility in the upper body.
To perform the stretch, lie on your back and draw your knees toward your chest, hugging your shins lightly. Keeping your legs bent, extend your arms out to your sides. They should be perpendicular to your body with your palms facing the ceiling. Pressing your shoulders into the floor, slowly lower your knees to the right. Relax, breathe evenly and let your knees sink into the floor while keeping your shoulders stable. You should feel a light stretch along the left side of your back. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds, and then slowly rotate your knees back to center. Repeat up to four times, and then lower your knees to the left to stretch the right side of your back.
The roll-over stretch promotes good posture, preserves or enhances flexibility in the middle and lower back and reduces or prevents low back pain. When you engage in activities that involve rotating the torso -- such as swinging a tennis racket or golf club -- your obliques spring into action as you twist. If the obliques are tight and short, your torso won't rotate as smoothly and easily as it should and your shoulders, neck and lower back will absorb more stress. Stretching the obliques regularly keeps them long and supple, increases mobility in the lower and middle back and reduces strain and stress throughout the body.
If the standard roll-over stretch is too difficult, opt for an easier version of the exercise until your flexibility improves. After bending your knees toward your chest, place a pillow between your inner thighs. When you lower your knees to the side, your upper leg won't drop as far, so there will be less rotational pull on the obliques. If the standard stretch is too easy, extend the top leg to the side after lowering your knees to the floor. Extending the top leg brings the backs of your thighs, or hamstrings, into the stretch and intensifies involvement of the obliques.
Tips and Concerns
It's best to perform the roll-over stretch when your torso muscles are already warm and pliable. Ideally, you'll take several minutes after rigorous cardio or strength-training sessions to stretch your obliques. If you want to stretch at odd times during the day, spend five minutes warming up with light cardio activity and dynamic torso twists before you hit the floor. Always stretch both sides of your torso, even if one side feels considerably tighter than the other. The exercise should result in a pleasant stretch sensation, not pain. If you experience pain, slow down the movement or limit the number of repetitions. Report serious, persistent back pain to your doctor.
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