It was more than 15 years ago. I had already been working out for 20 years, and was currently as fit as any 30-something would need to be, thanks to weight training and basketball mostly. One day, after getting adjusted, my chiropractor-at-the-time said that I should do this exercise. He told me what it would be like doing it: how I would have trouble with the flexibility, there would be plenty of joint noise as things moved in my spine, and that my flexibility would improve greatly.
I didn’t believe him. I figured that I was in such good shape that the flexibility would not be and issue and whether there was joint noise or not didn’t matter to me.
Anyway, I did it. And I did have trouble with the flexibility. There was a lot of joint noise – especially in the beginning several weeks. And my flexibility did improve greatly; and continued to improve until the motion was free and there was little or no joint noise (because there was little or no joint restriction)!
This is a “chiropractic” exercise, designed to make joints move and keep them moving. It also stretches all the lower back muscles, and the hip, and the muscles of the back of the leg. It’s done slowly at first, but the intention is for it to eventually be quicker and more dynamic than any of the other Basic Back Exercises. BE CAREFUL!
In fact, this exercise is a little beyond “basic.” But it it still an appropriate exercise for someone with a reasonably healthy back who is not having any back pain and who is in adjustment – or at least hasn’t been out of adjustment for very long.
It’s done by first lying spread-eagle on your back on the floor (the first reason most people end up not doing it after we recommend it – they don’t have the floor space). With the arms straight out from the body and the legs apart as far you they will go, you place the hands flat on the floor for stability.
From there you alternately swing first one foot over to attempt to touch the opposite hand, then the other foot over the other way to touch the other hand. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, 10, 12, 14 times or so. Again, do the first 5-6 reps slow and easy so you will be convinced that it won’t hurt to do it. Gradually, perhaps over a periods of weeks, build up the speed and try to get the foot a little closer to the hand.
In the beginning, the feet won’t reach the hands. There will be joint noises as you lower spine joints are freed up. Oh, and you won’t be able to straighten the leg – the back of the leg will likely be too tight.
After however long – weeks or months of daily practice – your leg will be straight; you foot will reach the hand; and you will get less joint noise. When you go in to get checked, your chiropractor will find less work to do in your low back.
Be careful. If it hurts, don’t do it! This exercise involves the combination of movements most notorious for causing lower back injuries: both forward flexion of the lower spine and twisting of the lower spine. There is no load, i.e., you are not lifting with your lower back, so it is relatively safe.
After doing the Low Back ROM #1, I do #2, which is to put the two legs together vertically, and then move them all the way to the left and back to the right in a touch-and-go fashion. This moves the joints a little higher up in the spine where the rib cage starts. Some people discover to their amazement that they are so weak that they can not even do this movement. If that’s the case, bend your knees so it is easier and work from there.