A great choice of stretch for targeting the lower back muscles, the prayer stretch gives your lower back a break from supporting your upper body and is often used to help to relieve pain and built up tension in this area and reduce the risk of future injury.
With some easy to follow variations, it’s also handy for stretching out the lats, shoulders and chest and can help to improve lumbar range of motion (more on the variations and benefits later).
First, let’s start with the basics. Follow the steps below and relax into the stretch for a moment of ‘zen’ in your fitness regime.
How to Perform Prayer Stretch
- Step 1. Kneel on a yoga mat or padded surface, with your knees slightly apart. Allow your hips to rest back onto your heels, or as close to your heels as is comfortable. This is your starting position. Top Tip – add a pillow or extra support between your calves and thighs to help relieve pressure on your knees.
- Step 2. Reach your arms out straight, hands on the floor as you lower your torso towards the ground.
- Step 3. Tuck your head in and walk your hands further up the yoga mat until you feel the stretch in your lower back.
- Step 4. Hold the stretch for around 10-20 seconds, making sure you breath throughout, before slowly returning to the starting position. Remember a good stretch should be fairly comfortable and certainly without any pain. If you feel pain, stop immediately.
Prayer Stretch Variations
By simply reaching both of your arms out to one side of your body, rather than directly above, you’ll experience a deeper stretch in your lats, whilst also working on your lumbar range of motion.
To further deepen the stretch in your lats and also engage your triceps, perform the movements as above but this time, from the starting position, reach your hands out onto an elevated surface such as a bench or even a sofa. This is a great modification to help improve overhead arm positioning, which is key to many other exercises such as cable face pulls.
By resting your hands on a foam roller as you lower your torso to the ground, you’ll likely be able to reach more into the stretch and feel the increased length of the muscles in your spine. Take extra care if you chose to use a foam roller, making sure the stretch is slow and controlled so that you don’t allow yourself to stretch your muscles too far and cause any pain.
Benefits of the Prayer Stretch
Ease lower back pain
Stretching is often recommended for rehabilitation from injury, in this case injury or pain in the lower back, as it encourages blood flow to damaged areas, which is vital for heeling. As always, if you are recovering from an injury, seek advice from a professional before you attempt the stretch.
If you feel tightness in the chest, shoulders, lats and lower back muscles, the prayer stretch can help to relieve the built-up tension causing you discomfort in these areas.
Reduce chance of injury
As with any stretch or exercise, by encouraging blood flow through movement, whilst also building strength, you ensure muscles aren’t left neglected and lesson the likelihood of injury to these areas in the future.
Often referred to as the ‘child’s pose’ in yoga, the prayer stretch is commonly used thanks to its gentle nature, whereby your body relaxes into the position. By practising deep breathing as you hold the stretch, you’ll likely enjoy a moment’s calm in amongst your fitness regime or daily routines.
Increased lumbar range of motion
Aside from having to carry the majority of our weight, the lumbar spine (more commonly referred to as the lower back and the predominant focus of the prayer stretch) also helps with the range of motion in the thoracic spine.
As a spine stretch, the prayer stretch is predominately focused on the muscles in the mid and lower back. It will also help to open up the muscles in your shoulders and chest whilst stretching out your lats, particularly with the side stretch variation.
The prayer stretch is great as a warm-up, to get the blood flowing to the muscles in your lower back or as a cool down and even a stand-alone exercise. We recommend consistently incorporating it into your fitness regime 2-3 times a week to reap those all important benefits.