A Simple Daily Routine to Make Old Spines More Supple

The yogis say you’re only as old as your spine. Follow this simple session and you’ll quickly agree with them.

When, in a split second, your life is threatened, do you say, “Let me make sure my hand is on my hip and my style is ‘the’ style”? When your life is in danger, do you argue about the method you will adhere to while saving yourself? Why the duality?

– Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee was far ahead of his time in his book. Tao of Jeet Kune Do is not just a book for martial artists, but for any serious fitness enthusiast. You want functional fitness? That quotation above is the epitome of all that functional fitness should entail.

The Path of Imperfection

But it leads to the question of how to handle imperfection? Life has a way of making sure that the times that test us have us doing odd things. Sure, your deadlift may be impressive, but how many people have hurt their backs lifting furniture despite being a powerhouse in the gym? A slight change of position, an uneven weight distribution, or an imperfectly balanced load with strange handholds can all lead to a sore back no matter how strong you seem with perfect posture in the gym.

Do we then chase down this path of imperfection? Ido Portal works with getting people to gently and cautiously move into “wrong” patterns to help prevent injuries. The rationale is that you will end up in the wrong position one day so you may as well begin teaching your body how to cope with it.

“As you get older, you probably need more of this type of work to help the spine stay strong and resilient than you need to work on your maximum deadlift.”

Likewise, strongmen do a lot of flexed-spine lifting as that is part of their sport so they need to know how to cope. Yet we never teach the deadlift in the gym with bent-spine mechanics because it’s generally viewed as dangerous.

A sign of a good training program is that it fills in the gaps and helps you avoid injury. As you get older, you probably need more of this type of work to help the spine stay strong and resilient than you need to work on your maximum deadlift.

I’m sure many readers past forty will nod their heads as they think of a time when they bent down to pick up something trivial and felt an unpleasant twinge in their back. That’s just one of the things that goes with getting older, particularly if you don’t address spine movement continually.

A Daily Suppleness Workout

Let’s introduce a daily suppleness workout that focuses on key aspects of spine health. (It’s not actually a whole workout but an “exercise snack,” as I wrote about recently.) I made a video called the Daily Dozen some time ago, which is whole body focused, so we’re going to use parts of that as well as some other great drills.

As in all good warm ups, we’re going to progress from the floor to standing in order to switch on the body as efficiently as possible. If at any point you feel like you haven’t achieved maximum range out of a drill, then add some extra time on it. Do not move up a position until your body is fully ready. The final move is the most testing so be sure to be ready for it as the body opens up best for bridges once it is fully warm.

  1. Kettlebell armbar x 10 breaths each side (:32 in the video below)
  2. Kettlebell crooked armbar x 10 breaths each side (:50)
  3. Kettlebell brettzel x 10 breaths each side (1:16)
  4. Up/down dog x 10 reps, 3 breaths in each position (1:50)
  5. Side kneeling windmill rotations x 10 reps (4:17)
  6. Face the wall squat x 10 reps
  7. Overhead face the wall squat x 10 reps
  8. Windmill x 5 reps each side, 2 breaths in each position
  9. Hollowback handstand x 10 breaths
  10. Back bend 5 x 3 breath holds

Caution: This not a warm up prior to lower-body strength training. You do not want to make your back more flexible prior to heavy lifting. It will work well as a warm up prior to upper-body lifting, but please don’t do it prior to heavy lower body work. It works best as either a cool down or as a separate exercise snack at another point during the day.

Keep a Supple Spine

The format goes from lying through quadruped, kneeling, and then standing classic FMS developmental sequencing that slowly introduces more complexity. This progression is perfect for teaching the body how to gradually handle the possible imperfect situations life throws at us.

The above sequence will leave you feeling supple and resilient rather than stiff and fragile regardless of how often you lift heavy. The yogis say you’re only as old as your spine. Follow this simple session as many times per week as you can and you’ll quickly agree with them.

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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