If there was an award for the simplest stretch ever it would probably be this one. The middle back stretch can be done safely and effectively and most people probably do it without realizing it has an actual name. Better yet, we’ve written a full guide on this stretch below. You’ll learn how to do it with proper techniques, what the benefits are, effective variations, and more.
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Obliques
- Type: Stretch
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: N/A
- Difficulty: Beginner
How To Do The Middle Back Stretch
You won’t find a simpler stretch. Just make sure you are pain-free in your lower back and obliques before attempting this stretch.
Note: If you’re new to stretching, then it’s a good idea to start nice and slow to ensure you’re doing it correctly but also that you don’t pull a muscle or experience discomfort.
Below we’ve included step-by-step instructions.
- Stand up straight and place your hands on your hips.
- Turn to the left as far as you comfortably can until you feel a stretch in your lats and obliques. Hold for a count of two.
- Now twist to the right and do the same thing.
- Repeat for the desired duration or number of repetitions.
Pro tip: Do not use momentum or jerk your body during the stretch. Go nice and slow and focus on getting a stretch in the target muscles.
Stretching your muscles will pay dividends for your body both in the short and long term. Here’s why the middle back stretch is a good daily habit.
More range of motion in your lower back
Tight muscles affect the range of motion in the joints as the two go hand in hand. That’s because when a muscle gets used to being in a shortened position, the joints adapt and do not have as much movement. Consequently, performing sudden and intense movements with tight muscles can cause an injury. Stretching can help to reduce the force and impact on a muscle.
If you’re an active person then skipping stretching should not be an option.
Maintain a healthy posture
Good posture is important for so many reasons including your spine health, appearance, etc. Everything from your back to hips and glutes are responsible for supporting a healthy upright posture and so another reason to be stretching on a daily basis.
Feel good overall
A 2013 study found that a stretching program was moderately effective for “reducing levels of anxiety, bodily pain and exhaustion, raising levels of vitality, mental health, general health and flexibility (1).
But do you ever notice the overall relief you get after stretching first thing in the morning? The body needs to be relieved of its built-up tension due to our lifestyles.
Time isn’t an issue
There’s no setup or equipment needed and you barely need two minutes out of your day to do a few rounds of the middle back stretch.
Variations and Alternatives
The middle back stretch is the most basic stretch for your lats and obliques. These variations and alternatives will allow you to get a more pronounced stretch in these muscle groups.
1. Pretzel stretch
You won’t be eating a tasty salty snack during this exercise but you might resemble one. The pretzel stretch is a common gym class technique that stretches the lower back, glutes, and obliques. It’s very straightforward and will probably crack your back in the process.
2. Lying crossover stretch
This variation stretches all of the same muscles but especially the hips and obliques to an even greater degree. Remember, the middle back stretch is a very simple stretch that you can do anywhere even while standing in line at the grocery store. But it’s not the most intense stretch. The lying crossover stretch is a step up!
3. Single arm overhead lats stretch
One of the best ways to stretch your lats and obliques is to extend your arms overhead and lean your body to the left and right. While the focus is on the lats, if you get the good extension you’ll also feel it in your oblique muscles. And while many will do this version with both arms extended overhead and fingers interlocked, doing it one arm at a time can allow you to comfortably stretch through a larger range of motion.
How To Incorporate The Middle Back Stretch Into Your Routine
There’s no perfect routine when it comes to such a simple daily stretch that you can do from anywhere. The advantage of the middle back stretch is that it really doesn’t matter where you are and you don’t need a special stretching routine to do it. In fact, it works as a great warmup to the more intense stretches, many of which you’ll find in the variation and alternatives section.
We recommend combing the middle back stretch with other stretching techniques for the best possible results.
Sets and reps
The middle back stretch is a great addition to a pre-stretching routine which means you typically don’t need to perform multiple sets. Two to three sets of 10-20 seconds per side should be sufficient.
- 2-3 rounds of 10-20 seconds per side
Below we’ve included all of the muscles involved during the middle back stretch and a brief explanation of their anatomy.
- Latissimus dorsi – The latissimus dorsi or lats for short is a broad, flat muscle that spans the lower posterior thorax. It works with the teres major and pectoralis major to adduct and medially rotate the humerus, and it helps to extend the humerus with help from the teres major and the sternal head of the pectoralis major. The lats are also involved in moving the trunk forward and upward when the arms are positioned overhead.
- Obliques – Obliques are muscles in your midsection located on either side of the abs (core muscles in the anterior center of the trunk also known as six-pack) and are responsible for rotation, lateral flexion, and trunk stabilization. The obliques get a nice stretch during this exercise due to the rotation.
- Iliopsoas – The iliopsoas is the primary hip flexor; made up of major and minor psoas muscles and the iliacus muscle that can function separately or as a unit. They allow us to bring the thigh above hip level (e.g., drawing the knees up toward the chest like during pull-ins) and assist with posture, walking and running.
There you have it, the simplest stretch in existence but that works. People of all experience levels can use this technique to loosen up a tight lower back and there are some great variations when you’re ready for more advanced versions or even alternatives, several of which we’ve included in this guide.
Take care to perform all stretches safely and with proper form just as you would during a resistance training regime.