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Bending down brings two points on the front of your body -- your torso and your legs -- closer together. This action stretches a variety of muscles on the back of your body. The stretch occurs whether you are bending down to pick something up or if you are bending as part of an actual stretch. Forward-bending stretches from a stranding position are common in yoga classes; one example is Standing Forward Bend or Uttanasana. Other stretching programs frequently employ this common stretch, where you bend at the hips to touch your toes.
When you bend down, you flex your spine. This lengthens a group of muscles known as the spinal extensors. These muscles include the erector spinae and the multifidis. Additionally, because bending down compresses your abdomen, the muscles on the back of your rib cage must stretch so that you can inhale deeply.
Bending down also flexes your hips by activating the muscles on the front of your hips. The muscles on the back of your hips stretch to allow this movement. Bending down stretches the gluteus maximus -- the large muscle that covers your buttocks -- and your piriformis -- a small muscle that connects your femur to your sacrum. When you bend over, you also stretch the posterior fibers of the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. These two muscles, located on the sides of your hips, abduct the hip joint, moving the thigh away from the center of the body.
Bending down stretches the hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus, the primary muscles that run along the backs of your legs, as well as the adductor magnus and gracilis, two muscles located on your inner thighs. This stretch particularly targets the hamstrings; however if your hamstrings are tight, bending down can cause problems in your lower back.
When your hamstrings are tight, your spine has to flex more to allow you to bend over. This additional flexion takes the natural curve out of the lower back and places pressure on the front of the discs between your vertebrae. This pressure can damage the discs and cause serious problems such as bulging and herniated discs. To lessen the pressure on your lower back, bend your knees while bending down, if you have tight hamstrings. This will let you bend from the hip, not your lower back. Because of the potential for back injury, individuals who suffer from osteoporosis or back injury should not perform forward-bending movements, except under the guidance of a trained professional.