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I've been doing the Strong Lifts 5x5 program for about 4 weeks now, and I'm starting to get to some substantial weight. I follow that with cardio work and finish with a bunch of stretching. Up until I do the stretching, I feel good. I don't have any pain after I do my squats, deadlifts, or barbell rows (the lifts that might affect my lower back more if I do them wrong).

However, it's after I do my stretching that I start to have some lower back pain. It goes away before the next time I lift, but for a day and a half I'm sore. I have a feeling that I'm doing something wrong, or at least should be avoiding one of the stretches (and I know which one it is). However, I want to make sure I have some decent flexibility overall.

I have some stretches that are recommended for doing squats properly and they will remain:

However, when I get to stretching the following:

  • Hamstrings
  • Back
  • Quadriceps
  • Hips (specifically the hip aducters)

I'm feeling like I need some improvement. My hamstrings are more flexible than my lower back. As a result when I sit and lean forward, the only place I feel the stretch is my lower back. When I hold my legs to deepen the stretch I get lower back pain like I stretched the back too far. It goes away by the end of the second day, but this is the stretch that I'm thinking I need to remove.

So how do I correct the flexibility imbalances that I have?

NOTE: My goal is increasing my range of mobility (ROM).

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2 Answers 2

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Possible sources of low back pain and ways to avoid them:

  • You may be tilting the pelvis forward and arching your low back during the lunge stretch and quad stretch to compensate for tight hip flexors. This compresses the lumbar spine and may cause low back pain. I am one of the most flexible people I know, and I still tend to do this if I'm not specifically focusing on preventing it. Try backing off the stretch and finding a neutral spine by contracting the low abs, directing the tail bone straight down toward the floor, and lengthening up through the back of the torso (if you lengthen through the front, you'll tilt your rib cage back, which also sends an arch into the low back). One you have this neutral position, maintain it as you deepen into the stretch. You may not have to go as deep into the lunge or quad stretch to feel a stretch. I find it easier to maintain a neutral pelvis and spine doing a lunge with the back knee down and doing a quad stretch on the side. Considering the tightness discrepancy you described between you low back and hamstrings, you may have a muscle imbalance contributing to an exaggerated low back arch. This article explains further and provides some rehabilitative exercises.

  • You may be overstretching the low back by wrenching it during the hamstrings and hip aductor stretches to try to feel a stretch in the targeted areas. In these stretches, keeping a long spine rather than rounding into the spine will help prevent this. I can't give you too much personal experience on aductor stretches, because I have some of my own imbalances, but you can try out some of these (right column) to find out which ones will allow you to keep your spine neutral. I find doing a hamstring stretch on the back helps keep the spine long because it's anchored to a flat surface--just focus on keeping your sacrum grounded.

supine hamstring stretch

  • You may be stretching the back in an uncontrolled way. If you do a forward fold with the torso hanging without support or bounce while you're stretching, this puts the low back at higher risk of injury. I'd say cat stretch is one of the safest ways to stretch your low back, because it's completely controlled by your trunk flexor muscles.

cat stretch

If you want to explore more stretches for yourself, ExRx is great resource with exercises/stretches arranged by muscle.

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My guess is that your hamstrings are not as loose as you think. They attach proximally to the ischial tuberosities. If the hamstrings are tight they prevent the pelvis from rotating as you lean forward which causes your back to round. Instead of getting motion at your hip joints, your motion comes from your low back. So if you are feeling the stretch (overstretch) in your back, or if your back is rounding then you are probably not actually stretching your hamstrings.

To isolate the hamstrings when you stretch, lie on your back. Bend your hip and knee to 90 degrees. Hold your thigh so that your hip remains at 90 degrees and see if you can get your knee straight without your thigh changing position. If you can’t, then your hamstrings are tight. You can use a strap to stretch them in this position while protecting your back.

If your hamstrings are tight, your back may also be rounding when you do squats which would add strain. How is your form when you squat?

Sometimes the onset of back pain may be delayed after an activity, and you could be experiencing the pain as you cool down. However, your question sounds like it is more specific to when you perform the hamstring stretch. Hope this helps.

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The form is pretty good. I'll have to make a video to have the StrongLifts folks review it, but I keep my back straight on lifts. There is some rounding when I do the stretches for sure. However, it's more the hips/glutes than the hamstrings where I feel the stretches most. –  Berin Loritsch May 25 '11 at 12:00
    
So how about the other part of the question, i.e. how do I properly stretch to fix what I'm doing? –  Berin Loritsch May 25 '11 at 12:01
    
When you isolate the hamstring stretch by lying on your back, how straight were you able to get your knee? –  BackInShapeBuddy May 25 '11 at 12:19
    
When I'm on the hamstring stretching machine (I know, get off the machines), I'm able to keep my leg straight and crank it to 110° (the max). I'll even apply a little pressure to the leg to make sure the leg is straight (without overdoing it). –  Berin Loritsch May 25 '11 at 12:34
    
Sorry, don't know which stretching machine you are on, can't see if you are getting a true stretch or substituting. If you can so this and let me know the results: "To isolate the hamstrings when you stretch, lie on your back. Bend your hip and knee to 90 degrees. Hold your thigh so that your hip remains at 90 degrees and see if you can get your knee straight without your thigh changing position." Aslo, when you do this does your other leg lie flat on the floor or lift? If you do that stretch and let me know how straight you get your knee, I may be able to answer you better. –  BackInShapeBuddy May 25 '11 at 13:11
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