Let’s start simple before making it complicated
Moving with integrity is essential to getting the best output from your exercise and with that, understanding the principals of neutral spinal position play a primary role. You could be pushing off to sprint or jumping up to block a shot or preparing for an Olympic lift, finding a neutral spine provides your limbs with a stable base to engage.
What is a neutral spine?
The design spine provides a wide range of movement in different directions, helped by having 25 mobile vertebral segments. This allows you to be highly functional. But not all spinal positions are efficient. It’s a neutral spine that evenly distributes stress through the complex tissue structures of the spine. This reduces the risk of injury when challenged and provides a strong platform for the arms and legs to work from. It also provides the least amount of tension on the nervous system as it branches out from the spinal column.
Looking at the supportive network of the spine, it’s made up of 3 arches. A slight inward cervical arch (neck), an outward thoracic arch (mid back) and inward curve at the Lumbar (lower back). Underneath the lumbar is the sacrum connecting to the pelvis.
Cannons being fired from a battleship have more power, stability and accuracy than once fired from a canoe.
Why do we need a neutral spine?
Physically it’s the most efficient position, but it doesn’t mean we need to be fixed in this shape at all times.
It does however become important when we throw complex movements into the mix. A complex movement is something that requires speed, power and timing from multiple muscle groups across multiple joints. Lacking the coordination of maintaining this posture during difficult movements not only compromises the spine but offers poor performance output.
An easy example of poor spinal position can be the dead lift. Often people race to get a heavier lift while ignoring the potential risks to the tissues of the spine. Finding a neutral position will not only be safe, but will offer better outcomes in developing strength.
Another example I see is the pull up. Coming over the bar there is often excessive chin poke and neck extension to clear the head over the bar. This compromises the neck, shoulders and upper back.
If you’re struggling with maintaining this spinal shape when doing complex movements you might want to remove an element of difficulty, such as weight, speed or scaling the movement. Develop better body awareness before making it more more challenging.
How to find your neutral spine
On the floor –
- Lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Tilt your pelvis up and down to feel the top and bottom of your sacrum, at the back of the pelvis.
- Then you want to feel the middle of the sacrum, adjusting your pelvis, it will lie between the top and bottom of the tilt.
- Then tuck your chin in without fully flattening your neck to the floor.
Once you’re confident with the shape, get up into standing and attempt to maintain it through movement. The video below, using a stick will provide feedback to keep you well positioned.
… and then once you’re confident with keeping this shape, slowly start incorporating it into heavier, faster movements. This will put you in a safer position and improve the results of your training.