How to find a neutral spine in any position

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“Keep a neutral spine…” We hear this signal in fitness classes all the time. But what does that mean exactly?

The human body can move in all kinds of ways, thanks to our large number of joints. Many of these joints are found in the spine.

The many vertebrae in the spine – the set of parts of the skeleton that stack together to create the spine – each move a small amount (1).

The mobility of each part of the spine allows us to create movements like squatting, curling on the floor, twisting to look behind us, and leaning to the right or left.

Keeping all of our joints movable, especially in our spine, is essential for performing daily activities and essential for our well-being, but so is being able to use our muscles to stabilize our joints when we need them.

The spine is organized with lighter and smaller vertebrae at the top and larger and heavier vertebrae as you descend to the tailbone. Even when we “stand up straight” we are not straight; the vertebrae are stacked so as to form a series of curves.

The natural curves of the spine include a slight kyphotic curve (a slight “arch”) up the back, with curves in the opposite direction – lordotic curves – at the neck and lower back.

A spine aligned to keep its natural curves intact is called a “neutral spine”.

This curvy spine shape serves one purpose: Neutral curves help parts of the spine – bones, discs, ligaments, tendons, and muscles – to carry loads efficiently and with minimal damage (2).

It’s not just about moving couches, carrying kids, and using the squat rack that stress the spine – adult humans are heavy and our spines carry a bit of weight when they just move our spine. own straight body.

Learning how to stabilize your spine “at neutral” while standing is essential for sustaining load on your vertebrae and intervertebral discs.

In minimalistic or fitted clothing, stand sideways in front of a full-length mirror so you can assess the position of your head, rib cage, and pelvis. Move your hips back, so that they rest above your knees and ankles in a vertical line.

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Incorrect: pelvis moved forward above the knees, ribs displaced behind the pelvis
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Correct: move the pelvis backwards to stack the hips, knees and ankle joints in a vertical line

1. Adjust your pelvis

Your pelvis can tilt forward and backward, but a neutral spine is created when the pelvis is neutral (neither tilted forward nor backward).

To find this position, first locate the upper bony prominences in the pelvis, called the anterosuperior iliac spines (ASIS), and the lower front tip of the pelvis, called the pubic symphysis (PS).

Looking at your side view, stack the ASIS directly on the PS.

2. Adjust your rib cage

Your rib cage is shaped like a cylinder. Often times when we ‘stand up straight’ we tilt our shoulders back and move the lower rib cage cylinder forward, excessively deepening the curve in the lower back – which is not ideal for women. vertebral bodies and discs in this area.

If your rib cage tilts backward like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tilt the top of your rib cage forward to align the front of your rib cage so that it is stacked on the front of your pelvis – which adjusts the curve in your lower back at the same time.

3. Finally, adjust your head

High tech life can disrupt our spine. When we look at a device much of the day, we often have a) lowering the chin towards the chest and b) lowering the head towards the rest of the body.

These movements flex the vertebrae in the neck and upper back, resulting in a flatter cervical spine and excessive rounding of the upper back – greater rounding than the soft rounding of a neutral spine (6).

However, technology does not require our body to be in this position; we can adjust our body to eliminate this particular effect.

To reset the top and middle curves of the spine to neutral, reach the top of your head towards the ceiling while sliding your head back (do not lift your chin) while bringing your ears to your shoulders – all by keeping your rib cage in neutral.

When you hold your rib cage in place, this simultaneous upward and backward movement of your head pulls your spine off the ground, restoring the curves of your cervical and thoracic spine at the same time.

The benefits of maintaining a neutral spine run in many different positions. A neutral spine is portable because it adapts to different planes of motion.

The large parts of the body that we adjust to create a neutral spine – the pelvis, rib cage, and head – maintain their relative position as they adjust to the many ways we can load our bodies.

Walk and run

We have a standing body weight (you can find this by standing on a scale), but once we start walking or running, the loads placed on the body increase beyond our standing body weight.

When we locomotion, our parts have to cope with 1.5 (walking) to 3 (running) times our body weight (7)!

To align your spine when traveling on foot, simply adjust your pelvis, rib cage, and head as you would when standing.

On your hands and knees

Many exercises begin with a four-legged, or “tabletop,” position, and bringing a neutral spine to this hand-and-knee position can put you in a position of strength to deal with the loads that come with a variety of exercises.

On all fours in front of a mirror, practice folding and unfolding your pelvis. Watch how these tilting movements change the curve of your lower back – from a flat line to a deep bowl. Next, adjust your pelvis so that there is only a small “bowl” in your lower back.

Keeping the shape of the bowl, lift the lower front of your rib cage toward the ceiling until it is flush with the front of your pelvis. Holding your pelvis and rib cage in place, move the top of your head away from your hips while bringing the back of your head toward the ceiling.

This lengthens your spine from head to pelvis and, again, restores the neutral curves of your spine.

While squatting or lifting

Squatting and lifting weights often requires the body to lean forward. To find a neutral spine when performing a move like this, simply align your stacked pelvis, rib cage, and head with the torso angle required by your move.

It is also important to note that the “neutral spine” is not a fixed position – there is a range.

Many exercises, especially lifting exercises, involve changing body positions throughout. In these cases, your spinal curves will also change; you’re just working to minimize those changes by using the core musculature to stabilize your spine as best you can.

On your back

Lying on the floor, place one hand under your lower back. Tuck in and unfold your pelvis, noticing how your lower back moves toward the floor when your pelvis is tucked in and how it arches as your pelvis tilts forward.

Again, you are only looking for a small space under the lower back (a small amount of lumbar lordosis).

Note: If the muscles in the front of your thigh are tense, simply straightening your legs against the floor can tilt your pelvis significantly forward, creating an excessive curvature of the lower back. In this case, you will need to bend or strengthen your knees so that your pelvis (and therefore your spine) is neutral.

Lower the front bottom of your rib cage to align it with the ASIS and PS on your pelvis. Now your rib cage and pelvis are aligned horizontally. Finally, move the top of your head away from your feet, which will lengthen your spine along the floor.

Finally, the ability to adjust your spinal curvature depends on the mobility of the individual vertebrae. When parts of your spine are stiff, organizing your body into a “neutral spine” is not entirely achievable.

In that case, make any possible adjustments, strengthen your head or knees as needed, and spend time working on exercises and habit changes that specifically deal with the problem of stiff parts of the spine that make a spine neutral. less accessible.

While the neutral spine position itself is an effective tool to use in a variety of situations, there is tremendous value to be found in the process of learning that your many parts are adjustable. There are different ways to wear your body for better results.

Stable and strong spines that effectively load the vertebrae and discs allow us to transport all parts of our body in a more durable way.

This makes it easier for us to move around in life no matter what we do: stand in front of the sink to do the dishes, bend down to lift a child off the floor, or walk into the grocery store to pick up something for him. having dinner.

We can all learn to wear our bodies better all the time. And by doing so, we will be better able to maintain health for years to come.


Best-selling author, speaker and leader of the Movement movement, biomechanist Katy Bowman is changing the way we move and think about our need for movement. His nine books, including the groundbreaking “Move Your DNA” and “Movement Matters”, have been translated into more than a dozen languages ​​around the world. Bowman teaches movement globally and speaks about sedentarism and the ecology of movement to academic and scientific audiences. Her work has been featured in various media such as Today Show, CBC Radio One, The Seattle Times, and Good Housekeeping. One of Maria Shriver’s “Architects of Change” and the America Walks “Woman of the Walking Movement”, she has worked with companies like Patagonia, Nike and Google as well as a wide range of non-profit organizations. profit and other communities, sharing its “move more, move more body parts, move more for what you need”. Her movement education business, Nutritious Movement, is based in Washington State, where she lives with her family. Learn more about her website, to Facebook, Or on Instagram.



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