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Football is Back! (But how is your back?)

November 24, 2020


Mark Shelley

In what has proven to be an overwhelmingly challenging year, we have been granted one small respite- Football has returned!  However, along with the glory of the fledgling football season comes an insidious threat to your health.  No, not COVID-19 (your watching from home, by yourself, right?!).  What I am talking about is the return of the all-day couch potato. The classic “couch slouch” is one of the easiest ways to make your back feel worse.  As the muscles that support your back fatigue from over stress, they can promote inflammation, increase pressure on spinal discs, aggravate nerve pain, and exacerbate existing back problems.  Even before the pandemic, the average American was spending ~5 hours a day watching TV.  What follows are some simple exercises and stretches that are designed to keep you engaged with the game and while improving your spine health.


Your eyes aren’t leaving the TV, so here’s some exercises to help engage your posterior chain and strengthen your base. Just like how skill players may get all the attention on the field, a strong offensive and defensive line ultimately are the foundation for building a good football team.  In much the same way, having a strong base can eliminate a lot of potential insults to your spine by improving your balance and stability.

Let’s start with a warm-up, the aptly named:

Couch Stretch Progression

The couch stretch is designed to stretch your quad and hip flexor muscles. Progress through the positions below to determine your correct starting position. Once you have determined your proper starting position, work up to holding the stretch 3 times for 30 seconds each side, every day. Push your hip joint forwards to enhance the stretch in any position. If you feel pinching in your low back, stop doing the stretch and tell the PRT department tech. and adjusting doctor. If you have the time, perform this protocol multiple times throughout the day.

Next will be some air squats and lunges.  These are designed to use your own body weight against gravity to give you a manageable amount of resistance for high repetition exercise.  The purpose of these are not to “build mass”, but rather to help develop functional strength and balance.

Body Weight Squat

Description: Start with feet outside of shoulder width with toes point out slightly. Keep spine neutral through full range of motion.  Initiate the squat by first moving hips back. This will keep the glutes and hamstrings fully engaged. It will also limit the possibility of hitting end range of motion for the ankle. Ensure the knees track over the center of the foot. Drive the big toe down into the ground to create a stable foot. Perform 3×10 repetitions utilizing the greatest range of motion as possible with out pain.




Performing lunges will engage your glutes, hip stabilizers, and thigh muscles.

  • Begin with your right foot slightly in front of the left by a few feet.
  • Keep your back straight while engaging your core.
  • Bend both knees, your left knee should touch the floor as you smoothly lower yourself down. (You should not not be leaning forward)
  • Engage your abs/core and keep your back straight as you push through the right heel back up to the starting position.
  • Change your foot position and go again for a total set of 10 alternating reps for both your right and left side.

To increase the challenge, you can hold weights in either hand.  If you have difficulty going into and out of a lunge position, consider using a chair back for stability.

Commercial timeout! 

The insufferably long review of that turnover is happening, or perhaps it’s a genuine commercial break.  Must mean it’s time to run to the restroom, load up on snacks, refill your beer… WRONG!  This is a great time to get off the couch and onto the floor to work on your core!  As a bonus you can use the average length of a commercial as a built-in timer for many of these exercises. These techniques are a sampling of some of the “Floor Core” group that we train patient’s in office to help develop core strength to protect your spine.

Glute Bridge

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent to a 90° angle
  • Position your feet about shoulder width apart
  • Before every repetition, use the Valsalva maneuver to brace your core
  • Drive your hips up so that your upper and lower body create a straight line from knees to shoulders
  • Make sure your knees are not caving inward during the exercise. They should be the same distance apart as your heels or wider
  • Start by performing 3 sets of 10
    • 4×10, 4×15, 4×20
  • If you want to increase the difficulty of the glute bridge, you can do it with one leg
    • Keep one foot planted in the ground while the other hip and knee are fully extended
    • Drive your hips up
    • Hold the top position for 1 second
    • Lower hips to the floor


Bird Dogs

  • Start in a quadruped position (on hands and knees)
    • Place your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under hips
  • Take a breath in and perform the Valsalva Maneuver (contract your abs and press your belly button towards your spine)
  • While bracing your core, punch one arm overhead and kick your opposite leg straight back at the same time, making sure your toes stays pointed at the ground
    • Do not let your heel rise above your hip
  • As you extend your arm overhead, make a fist and turn your palm in towards your midline
  • Create as much tension through your core as possible by squeezing down on your breath, punching your hand away, and kicking your heel as far back as possible. This is critical performing the exercise correctly. Do not just go through the motion, SQUEEZE YOUR CORE
  • Do not allow your hips to shift on top of the knee that is contacting the ground. This indicates poor hip stability and proprioception.
  • Bring both limbs back to the starting quadruped position, perform the exercise with the other two limbs
  • Once you have moved both R. arm with L. leg, and L. arm with R. leg, you have performed one repetition
    • 3×5, 3x,8, 3×10, 4×10, 4×15


Executive Stretch

Your calm, cool, and collected b/c you know your team is going to win.  You adopt a classic power pose, that of Fantasy Football team executive perhaps.  One leg casually crossed on top of the opposite knee.  At the same time, your nerves are still there, causing you to lean in slightly towards the TV before the snap and… At this point you are basically performing the seated piriformis stretch.  This is a great way to open-up your hips and can also help with sciatica, as the sciatic nerve travels under the piriformis muscle.

  • Sit upright in a chair with both feet on the ground.
  • Keeping both knees bent at 90 degrees, cross one leg up so that the ankle is resting on the opposite knee.
  • From this position, gently begin leaning forward into the stretch. You should feel the greatest point of strain along the outside of your hips and glutes, as well as the low back on the same side.
  • To deepen the stretch, you can gently press the knee that is crossed down towards the floor as you lean forward.

Bottom Line:

All these exercises are great in their own respect, but two of the most beneficial things you can do during your TV binge are also two of the easiest.

Stay Active!

Nervous pacing, jumping jacks, high fives, and chest bumps may get you up and moving during the game.  Regardless of how you watch however, instead of letting yourself get “couch locked” for an entire afternoon, give yourself an opportunity to get some extra movement in.  If possible, set up a treadmill/elliptical/bike in your TV room.  Barring that, use every opportunity to get up and move.  Even if is just to stand up and stretch, this will help increase your circulation and allow for different spinal stabilizer muscles to engage and disengage versus over stressing them.


Let’s be real, there are times when you are watching TV and want to actually relax. At this point you probably are not going to be going out of your way to perform many of the above exercises.  However, the final and perhaps most important thing you can do for your spinal health while watching TV are some simple posture checks:

  • Make sure you are sitting up straight and keeping your head well centered and above your shoulders.
  • Try to prevent yourself from leaning forward too much, staying in as neutral a posture as possible.
  • Avoid excessive slouching back or leaning to one side or the other.
  • To prevent overstressing certain muscle groups, simply shifting your sitting position regularly can still benefit your spinal muscle groups (although to a lesser extent than movement and exercise).