The quadratus lumborum (QL) can become irritated and extra tender for people who sleep consistently on one side with one hip hiked up, who carry bags or kids on one side of the body without evenly distributing the weight, with legs that differ in length, who sit for long periods of time especially with one leg crossed over another, as well as who have misaligned or poor posture.
While it is important to check-in with a physician or physical therapist about any physical pain, it is also important to continuously and proactively strengthen the body. Specifically, weakness in the QL can be a real pain in the butt because of the muscle attachments at the spine, hip and 12th rib. A weak QL can contribute to pain in the glutes and side of the hips.
Experiential Learning Opportunity:
To feel the QL contract on the right side, place the right thumb an inch or two away from the spine midway between the right lowest/12th rib and the hip bone, more specifically, the iliac crest. Press the thumb into the back as the body leans to the right and the right hip lifts in a hip hike.This can also be done on the left side.
Complementing the recent article on stretches for the QL, strengthening the QL is essential for overall health and wellness, so without further ado here are 11 poses to strengthen the QL:
1. Chair Pose
Chair Pose invited the QLs to engage with the other back and core muscles to maintain length in the upper body. Working on this pose for three sets of 15 second holds, building up to 30 second holds, and eventually up to one minute holds strengthens the QLs for a stronger back. This simple exercise can also foster the ability to comfortably maintain proper posture throughout the day.
2. Cow Tilt and Cat Stretch
Two powerhouse movements for a healthy spine, Cow tilt (inhale) and Cat stretch (exhale), with focus on the tailbone initiating the movement calls upon the QLs to contract and release. Lifting the tailbone and bringing the spine in extension in Cow tilt requires the QL on both sides of the spine to contract. Cat stretch lengthens the QLs to help release tension before engaging in another Cow tilt strengthener. Take five to ten Cow tilt and Cat stretches daily with focus on tailbone movement initiation.
3. Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose
When one leg is extended, the QL on the lifted leg side is working particularly hard to counter the torso rotation from the arm pulling on the leg. This is a great way to isolate one QL at a time. Hold this pose for three to five breaths.
4. Eagle Pose
The same concept as in Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose, the QL is activated to resist torso rotation. Whichever leg is crossed on top is the same side QL that is working to support the pose (i.e. if the right leg is crossing over the left, then the right side QL is activated). Hold this pose for three to five breaths.
5. Bridge Pose with an Optional Block
The QLs in the lower spine are active in this pose as extensors to lift the body into Bridge Pose. The QLs continue to maintain lift in the back in this extension while holding. Adding a block can intensify the core and back work in this posture. Hold for three to five breaths.
6. Downward Facing Dog Pose
The QLs work in Downward Facing Dog Pose as lower back stabilizers during inhalation as well as lifting the 12th rib upward toward the hips. Hold for five to ten breaths.
Similarly to Downward Facing Dog Pose, the QLs contract to stabilize the spine in this inversion. The QLs lift the 12th rib and help maintain overall back strength and spine length needed for headstand. Hold for three to five breaths.
8. Side Plank
One of the classic QL strengtheners, side plank requires the QL to work hard to maintain torso stabilization and not collapse or rotate. A great test to see if one QL is stronger than the other is to see if you can hold both sides comfortably for the same amount of time.
9. Plank Pose with an Optional Block
Plank Pose requires the QLs for back strength and spinal length, a block adds extra intensity to the entire body and more QL stabilization. Hold for three to five breaths.
10. Locust Pose
The QLs are active and contracted for back extension. A movement like Locust Pose requires the QL on both sides of the body to work hard to lift the body into extension from a prone position. Hold for three to five breaths.
Like prior exercises, this movement requires the QLs to lengthen the spine and maintain a strong back to hold. Suggested to hold for five to ten breaths in this pose.
Hope this list was a helpful start to creating stronger QLs. Feel free to share any other QL strengthening poses that you find helpful!
Image Credit Aneta Gäb