An Outstanding Exercise for the Lateral Flexors of the Spine

The lateral flexors of the spine (i.e. quadratus lumborum, iliocostalis cervicis/lumborum/ thoracis, intertransversarii, levator costarum, scalenus anterior, scalenus medius, scalenus posterior, spinalis cervicis and the external obliques, minimally), move the spine laterally (i.e. to the side).

These muscles need to be strong to work in conjunction with our spinal flexors, extensors and rotators so that we may move safely, freely and functionally.  While there are dozens of exercises which address the lateral flexors, the lateral flexion exercise we will concentrate on this week will focus upon laterally flexing the spine from the displacing base of the rib cage moving it toward the top of the hip bone (pelvis), carrying with it the head/neck/shoulders as one unit.

This exercise requires a stability ball and meticulous form/technique to master.  Consequently, follow the instructions carefully and progress slowly.  For those with certain spinal restrictions, these exercises may not be appropriate, so as always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

*For all of the following exercises, rotate your shoulders down/back, rib cage lifted, pull the navel toward the spine compressing the abdomen firmly, pull up your pelvic floor muscles and keep the spine long and tall throughout.  Perform 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions of this exercise, with complete control, 2-3 non-consecutive days/week.

Lateral Flexion – stability ball – body weight

*Why use the ball?  In this case, the ball enables us to use a greater range of motion as well as providing a stability challenge, engaging the entire core.  Be patient as it takes time to effectively work with the ball. Choose a ball size (i.e. 55cm/65cm) that will enable you to achieve the full range of motion and to accommodate your body size (i.e. the larger the body and longer the torso, the larger the ball, in general). *Note:  you may also perform lateral flexion from a BOSU Balance Trainer.

-Begin kneeling on the floor, facing sideways (i.e. 90 degrees from the ball) with the stability ball against the right hip.

-Right leg is flexed 90 degrees at the knee joint and the knee on the floor; left leg is extended straight out providing additional stability on the floor so you do not slip. Thighs should be parallel.  *If you are on hardwood or tile, cushion the knees if necessary, place your left foot on a baseboard for stability and push away from the wall until the left leg is straight, right knee close to or on the floor.

-Place your right arm over the ball approximately half-way down the downward slope of the ball opposite of your hip and your left fingers placed lightly near the left ear.

-Lower the body over the ball until the right armpit touches the ball, then engaging your left lateral spinal flexors, lift the base of the rib cage toward the outside of the hip (i.e. think rib cage into an imaginary “side pocket”).

-The right arm should extend fully, but do not push off with the arm, use your lateral flexors to pull you up until the top of your head almost points to the ceiling.  *Avoid initiating movement from the head/neck—head/neck/shoulders should lift as one unit.

-Then, lower yourself back to the beginning position and repeat.  Complete the repetitions and then perform on the other side.

Jackie Wright is the owner/manager of Mountain Life Fitness, LLC located in Granby, Colorado.  She may be reached at her website at and her email at

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