Are Backbends Bad for You?

Backbend. Full Wheel. Bridge. Upward Facing Bow. You saw someone do it on Instagram, now you’re gonna try.

Not so fast, Sparky.

Whatever you want to call it, the backbend is a fantastic exercise–IF you do the work to prepare for it. The main problem lies at the end of the previous sentence. Most people think of training for the backbend, and training the backbend as the same thing.

Lay A Foundation
The key is in laying down a foundation and understanding the components. Let’s break it down joint-by-joint. We’ll stick to the most important areas, but you’ll want to work on your total body mobility, of course.


Thoracic Bridge

Hip Extension
If you can’t extend your hips, your low back is going to likely try to compensate by hyperextending. Better open those hips with a neutral spine before you start trying to integrate it into a full backbend.

Spinal Extension
Your lumbar spine has a natural curve (lordosis) which you want as part of a backbend, but you want a long, smooth curve rather than a sharp turn. When you start working backbends, you’ll want to keep an eye out for any sharp turns through the spine. The thoracic spine (middle 12 vertebra) has a natural curve the opposite direction of a backbend, so any immobility here is going to create major havoc. If your thoracic spine is too tight, it is going to cause one of two problems: Lock up your shoulders, or make your lower back compensate. Which leads us to #3…

Shoulder Flexion
Reaching your arms straight overhead and behind you is a very important piece of the puzzle. If you can’t get your arms close to vertical, you are going to really jack up your low back–or your wrists. Owning a nice overhead position is paramount to make sure you don’t mess up your wrists. If your arms point down at a 45 degree angle, you’ve got some problems and you shouldn’t just keep hammering away at your bridges. Get your shoulders right first. To do this, follow the recipe laid out in Simple Shoulder Solution (Core/Breathing, Thoracic Spine, Scapula, Glenohumeral Joint).

Put in the Work
So here’s what I want you to do next time you think you’d like to try some backbends.

    1. Open up the hips into extension–use a a kneeling backbend variation and support yourself with your hands. Do some glute contractions, keep the abs short (prevent hyperextension at the lumbar spine) and work on some deep belly breathing as you increase the range.
    2. Next, work on your thoracic extension. You can do some thoracic bridges to start getting things opened up, and from there you can work on some of the ring stretches in the video, that doubles as a shoulder flexion drill.
    3. Finish with some active superman, and some upward facing bow poses (also seen in video) before you jump into your backbend to get that motion warmed up and activate all the muscles responsible for that posterior chain activation during the anterior chain stretch.

The backbend is a static position, but you shouldn’t just train it statically. You will want to own the position and work on some deep belly breathing as you increase the range of motion. Additionally, work on some bridge push-ups (easier than you think) as an important component in developing a solid backbend.

exercise-ball-backbendNot Ready?
Don’t jump to a movement you have no business doing. Using a prop such as a swiss ball can be very beneficial while building a foundation. The round shape will help encourage the smooth curve in your spine we are looking for. Lay over the ball, get your hands planted, and start working on some bridges from there. Stretch, breathe, repeat.

Working on the backbend is a worthwhile endeavor, IF you have the prerequisite mobility. Without the right mobility in the above specified areas, you will hurt yourself–bottom line. Once you have achieved those prerequisites, you can build some great end-range strength with backbends.

Better Every Day,

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *