Quadratus Lumborum: The Muscle we want to stretch but should be strengthening!
Moving up the body from our focus last week, today we are going to discuss the Quadratus Lumborum (QL). This muscle is another important hip and low back stabilizer but can also be a problem child. Have you ever had aches and pain in the low back after dance? A weak QL may be to blame.
The QL attaches to the 12th Rib and Transverse processes of the L1-4 vertebrae and runs to the Iliac Crest. The main action of the QL is as a stabilizer muscle but it also acts to side bend and extend the trunk.
When the QL is weak this can result in technique errors and injuries. Technique errors include "sitting" in the hip on the standing leg, decreased arabesque height, and limited turning ability. These technical errors can lead to tightness and pain in the low back, Pelvic alignment issues leading to hip and low back pain, and even ankle injuries due to trunk instability.
The following are some of my favorite QL exercises to improve trunk strength and stability and improve ballet technique.
1. Isometric QL stabilization
Begin in a wide stance (wider than shoulder with apart). Lean towards the weight stack and push the opposite hip out. The trunk should remain in a neutral position with the side bend happening at the hips not the spine. Lift the weight over head and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times on each side.
2. QL Stabilization with perturbation
You'll need a friend for this exercise! Assume the same position as the previous exercise, this time using a friend to hold a Theraband with resistance. Once you find the correct position, your friend will start to apply resistance and different angles and intensity requiring you to stabilize with the QL.
3. QL Side-Bends
Begin with a wide stance, then turn out the foot on the side to which you will be leaning. bring your opposite straight over head, with or without weight. Maintain the top arm in this position as you side bend towards the turned out leg, touching your toes then returning to the starting position. If you feel that you are limited by tightness in the legs, you can bend the knee to accomplish a full side bend. Again, this motion should happen from the hip, not the spine. Perform 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions with a 30 second rest in between sets.
4. Plank with QL Hip Hike
Begin in a high plank with a neutral spine. Lift one leg to the back making sure to maintain a neutral spine. Slowly hike your hip then reach the leg back past neutral alignment. Perform 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions with a 30 second rest in between sets.