Williams Exercises for the Spine


A strong, flexible spine is needed in order to support the muscles and tissues of the upper body adequately. There are many exercises designed to increase spinal strength and flexibility, including Williams' flexion exercises.

What Are Williams' Exercises?

  • Williams' flexion exercises are exercises designed to stretch out the spine, particularly in the lumbar region. Williams believed that most back pain happens because the curve of the spine in the lower back is too great, so his exercises are designed to flatten this area. Although few therapists subscribe entirely to Williams' rationale, his exercises still are in use to achieve a full range of motion in spinal exercise.


  • Normally, when we sit or stand, gravity naturally pulls the upper body down, putting stress on the lumbar curve of the spine. To stretch out the lower back, switch the way gravity acts on the body by lying on the floor. The weight of your body will bring the curve back toward the floor without you doing any work. While in this position, bring one or both knees up toward the chest as much as you can. Then let the knees come back down, one at a time. These sometimes are called knee bends or knee hugs.


  • Make sure the abdominal muscles stay engaged with whatever flexion exercise you do. The engagement of the abdominal muscles helps to stabilize the spine as you stretch, preventing injury. One Williams exercise to try for this is the combined pelvic tilt and partial sit up. Lying on the floor with knees bent, try to flatten the small of the back against the floor while bringing up your head and shoulders off the floor.

Lower Body

  • The lower spine can be pulled out of alignment by muscles that are tight in the hips and legs. Try flexion exercises that stretch out the lower body to make sure that the spinal muscles truly are relaxed. For this, a good example is a simple forward lean while sitting, which stretches the hamstrings. The exercise is done by sitting up straight with legs extended, toes up, and then lifting the arms over the head and reaching forward toward the toes. Another exercise that focuses on the hips is to lie on the floor, place one foot in front of the other with the front leg slightly bent, and then bring the legs up to the chest as far as possible. This is similar to knee hugs, except that the extension of the one leg stretches the legs and hips more.

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