If you’re looking for an effective way to stretch out your lower back… look no further than the prone cobra push up.
Sometimes referred to as simply a “prone press up”, this movement is beginner friendly, requires no equipment and has the ability to make a significant difference to your overall mobility.
It’s a great way to prime your body for functional workouts and everyday activity. It can also help combat a sedentary lifestyle that includes lots of sitting.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about the prone cobra push up, including how to perform it properly, muscles worked, benefits and things to consider.
If you are experiencing lower back pain, we’d recommending visiting a healthcare provider, such as a Physical Therapist, to help get to the root cause of your pain. Lower back pain can be caused by a multitude of reasons, and prone cobra push ups might not be recommended for certain conditions.
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What is the Prone Cobra Push Up?
The prone cobra push up exercise is a type of spinal extension, fundamentally designed to stretch and strengthen your lower back and core. Lying down on your front in a “prone” (lying face down) position, the stretch can be performed by lifting the torso up into a “cobra” (upper body / head lift) pose by straightening your elbows.
The movement is popular in Pilates, Physical Therapy, and yoga.
Unlike the “cobra pose” in yoga, the cobra push up involves multiple repetitions as opposed to holding the extension for a duration of time. This repeated movement helps to strengthen as well as stretch, and works on mobility as well as flexibility.
Push Up Vs Press Up
You may sometimes see reference to prone/cobra push ups and prone/cobra press ups. The terms “push up” and “press up” are interchangeable and describe the same movement. Press up is more commonly used in UK and push up is more commonly used in US.
How to do Prone Cobra Push Ups
To do the prone cobra push up:
- Lie flat on the ground on your stomach, face down, legs out straight, toes pointed.
- Place your hands under your shoulders, elbows out.
- Gently push against the ground to lift your torso in a vertical position, keeping your hips and legs on the ground.
- Try to lock your elbows to keep your arms straight.
- Keep your head straight, eyes looking ahead.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Release your arms and gently return torso and head to the ground (original position).
- Repeat for repetitions (5-10 would be a good range to aim for).
Coach’s Tip – Try and keep your hips down as you lift your torso up. This creates the stretch in your lower back. If you lift your hips, you’ll find you actually just end up in a plank position. If keeping your hips stable is proving too difficult, you can lift your hips slightly and then dip them back to the floor afterwards.
Half Prone Cobra Push Up
If you currently have limited flexibility in your back, you can opt for a half prone cobra push up. This follows the same process but you only extend your elbows to 90 degrees, as opposed to fully extending them. This creates a gentler stretch in your back and is a good choice for beginners getting used to the stretch.
The prone cobra push up will lengthen your anterior (front) muscles and strengthen your posterior (back) muscles.
This means the hip flexors, biceps, chest and core will all be lengthened and therefore stretched passively during the movement.
Your hamstrings, glutes, spinal extensors, and triceps will be strengthening and active during the movement.
The prone cobra push up isn’t designed to build muscle in the posterior like weight lifting does, but rather it is designed to get the muscles activated to help promote better upper body movement.
Benefits of Prone Cobra Push Up
With regular practice of the prone cobra push up, the lower back muscles and front quads, abs and glutes are allowed to stretch and strengthen in a safe and gentle manner. This will help to perform everyday activities such as bending down, leaning backwards and stretching up.
May Relieve Lower Back Pain
Because this exercise gently stretches the internal abdominal muscles which are connected to the lumbar region, this exercise aims to build lumbopelvic control, which may help in eliminating sharp pain in the lower back area.
(As previously stated, back pain can be complex and in some instances, you may need advise from a Physical Therapist or Doctor for help combatting your back pain).
The gentle movements of the torso and head from the ground to a straight position supported by the arms, enable the lower back muscles to become active without applying too much pressure. When these muscles are weak or tight, you may experience low back pain or tightness in the torso. This is why it is essential to keep the lower back muscles active.
Spinal extension movements help to counterbalance a more rounded, hunched posture that many of us adopt during the day (e.g. whilst sitting at a desk and driving).
Allows Flexibility in Workouts
As no equipment is needed to perform the prone cobra push up, it’s easy to include it in any warm-up or stretch-based exercise program. The key technique to practise in the exercise is to gently stretch the muscles of the lower back and to relieve tension in the torso and neck.
Our recent guide on the best mobility stretches is also worth checking out, to help prepare your body for any workout thrown its way.
Things to Consider
As with any stretch exercise, it is important to be aware of performing the movements gently and in a controlled manner.
The key dangers, therefore, are overstretching the muscles of the lower back and torso or performing the movements too rapidly, thereby causing sharp pain or possible damage to these areas.
When lifting the torso into the cobra position, it is essential not to move the back passed the vertical plain and not to pull the head back which will cause tension in the neck.
Remember when performing the prone cobra push up, there should be no tension felt in the neck, arms or lower back. If you feel any strain, tension or pain in these areas then you should stop this exercise immediately.
Back Stretch Routine
The cobra push up pairs very well with stretches like prayer stretch/child pose, book opener stretch, knee tucks, thread the needle, and downward facing dog. Doing these movements a few times a week can really help improve flexibility and mobility in your back, supporting better functional movement.
The prone cobra push up is a wonderful exercise which should be enjoyable and relaxing. The fact that it is aimed at stretching key muscles in the lower back and torso regions means it provides a way of building flexibility in a vital area of the body.
If we were to design a daily stretching routine, the prone cobra push up would undoubtedly make the list.