Thursday 8 November 2018

Seated Forward Bend stretch

The Seated Forward Bend is a stretch that stretches the posterior chain muscles from head to toe. It is also a yoga pose where it is called paschimottanasana (POS-chee-moh-tan-AHS-anna), meaning "west stretching", where west refers to your back. This is due to your back facing west during morning worship, which is done facing towards the rising sun in the east.

Good seated forward bend
This is a pretty good intermediate seated forward bend that most beginners should build up to. Picture borrowed from Yoga Basics

How to perform

  • Sit on the floor with legs straight in neutral alignment, with torso and head upright and hands resting on your thighs.
  • Most beginners will need to elevate their seated position by sitting on a yoga block or something similar. They will also most likely need to have a bend in their knees.
  • Aim to lengthen your spine first whilst taking deep breaths to expand your chest. Press down and retract your shoulder blades towards each other. This aids in preventing over-arching the upper back. Then focus on your hamstrings.
  • Whilst doing this, hinge from your hips with an exhalation and bring your torso closer to your legs until you feel a mild stretch in your posterior chain. Drawing your navel in as you perform can help relax the muscles of the lower back.
  • With long deep breaths maintain current position until the stretched feeling starts to subside.
  • Once your muscles feel like they have loosened, exhale and gently move your torso forward again until you feel the stretch again.
  • If you feel a lot of resistance in the hamstrings and the need to over-arch your back, then bend your knees to help release the spinal and hamstring tension. Your posterior chain will still be stretched but in a milder and more comfortable manner.
  • Hold for desired length of time. To maintain current muscle lengths: about 10-15 seconds; to elongate the muscles about 30+ seconds. Due to the nature of this stretch it may be preferable to hold it for up to 3 minutes to really let it be effective.

Do not worry if you cannot move much from the starting position. It takes time and practice to loosen up the posterior chain muscles to be flexible enough to perform the full pose.

As you continue to practice and progress, try to reach your ankles, feet and then toes. Ultimately you should aim to be able to interlock your hands behind your feet.

Full seated forward bend with hand interlock
The full forward seated bend pose with hand interlock. Picture borrowed from Yoga Basics

To increase the stretch even more, move your toes towards you. This elongates the calf muscles and also impacts the hamstrings. If you needed to perform the stretch with your knees bent, start to straighten them as you progress.

Common mistakes and remedies

Mistakes that commonly occur when performing this stretch include:

  • Needing to contract your abdominals (not the inner core muscles involved in drawing in the navel) and hip flexors to move your torso forward rather than letting gravity be the prime driver. This is a sign of a tight pelvis and hamstrings. In such a case, you need to elevate your sitting position so that gravity can affect the movement more. This can be done with folded up towels, a yoga block or other implement.
  • Over-extending (over-arching) the back in an attempt to bring your torso closer to your legs. This places stress on your vertebral discs. The movement is meant to be executed at the hip with mild flexion of the spine. Bending your knees can help free up the tightness in the spine.
  • Over-straightening the back when performing. This pose is meant to incorporate a mild flex in the spine to get the best out of it.
  • Bringing your head towards your knees. This tends to cause you to excessively round your neck and thus spine. Instead you should envisage moving your chest towards your knees and keeping your neck neutral.
  • Letting the legs internally or externally rotate. External rotation especially affects those with tight legs and gluteals. Neutral alignment of the legs is required.


Only go as far as you find comfortable when feeling the stretches. Over-stretching the muscles can cause injury and pain is a pretty good indicator that you are stretching to much to quick.

You should feel the stretch along the length of the muscles. If you feel it at a joint or where a muscle attaches to a bone, then you are stressing your connective tissue.

For those with existing lower back problems, this stretch can place strain on the lower back, so proceed with caution.

Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


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