Cat-camel back stretch

Strengthen your back with this gentle, "spine-friendly" stretch

Cat-camel back stretch

Source: Best Health Magazine, Jan/Feb 2009; Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Ask a spine expert how to stretch the back and you’ll probably get a reluctant answer. That’s because the back doesn’t play by the same rules as our limbs, says Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. So some of the rules of fitness we’ve come to live by, such as moving a joint through its full range of motion while using weights, just don’t apply. In fact, research has shown that the more mobility you have in your back, the greater your risk of having back problems.

But don’t neglect strengthening your back; instead, pick an activity that is ‘spine-friendly,’ and perform it correctly. McGill suggests the cat-camel exercise. His research has shown that ‘it is the gentlest way’ to mobilize the back since body weight is essentially removed‘and that will go a long way toward reducing stiffness, and maintaining and improving muscle tone.


On your hands and knees, slowly alternate between arching and rounding your back so that all three sections of your spine’lumbar (lower), thoracic (middle) and cervical (upper)’extend together and then flex together. Do this slowly and gently, and don’t force it. One cycle will take three to four seconds. Repeat stretch five or six times.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!