By Jeremiah Dees
The most important characteristic of healthy movement is the ability to stabilize the lower spine and pelvis while mobilizing the other parts of the body; especially the hips, thoracic spine and shoulders. Your focus when doing any type of exercise should be on quality of movement and appropriate muscle activation patterns.
Exercise: Practice Achieving A Neutral Spine
Sit on a stability ball (or chair if you don't have one) with your feet flat on the ground. Take a deep breath into your belly. Go ahead – let it get fat! Now exhale. Notice how you got a little bit taller with deep inhalation into the belly. You may also have gotten a little shorter on the exhale.
Take another deep breath into your belly and allow it to make you tall in your spine. When you exhale this time, stay tall. What did you have to do to accomplish this? Most people report that their abdomen firms up a bit (say 20 percent activation). This is the goal.
On your next big belly breath, you’ll notice that your abdomen doesn’t have to be on when your lungs are full. This is because when you belly breath, your diaphragm is fully activated and it creates postural stability. It’s taken the load away from the abdominal muscles.
When you breathe out and your abdomen regathers that 20 percent, I would like you to also relax your neck and shoulders. Did your shoulders drop? Congratulations! The weight of your shoulders and arms are now resting on the rib cage, rather than hanging from the back of your head.
Now, take one more deep belly breath. When you exhale this time I want you to also lightly gather the muscles on the backs of your shoulder blades.The key concept here is lightly gather the muscles. They merely aid the drop of the shoulders and position the arms in a functionally stable position.
Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve achieved neutral spine the natural way. No longer are your muscles playing a tug of war inside your body. Instead you’ve coached them to cooperatively work together in an effort to hold you upright against gravity.
This strategy is one you’ll be able to sustain for the rest of your life. In fact, with a little conditioning, all these cues to “gather here” and “squeeze there” will become the way you move all the time.
Next: Bend from the Hips