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Pilates 101: Finding Neutral Spine

The concept of neutral spine may sound simple, but this important Pilates concept can be elusive. To keep a neutral shade of spine, you maintain the natural curves of your back while doing an exercise, such as an upper abdominal curl (aka crunches). Keeping neutral means the muscles in your back are working in conjunction with your abs, and when you get your abs and back to fire together, you are working your core. Maintaining those natural curves keeps your ab work honest and makes it more difficult to cheat.

Although the concept of leaving things as they are sounds simple, when the majority of people lie on their backs, they automatically press their low spines into the floor. This, my friends, is not neutral.

To find your neutral spine:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, with your heels about a foot from your bum.
  • Rock your pelvis up and down so you can feel the top and bottom of your sacrum, the bony back of your pelvis.
  • Stop rocking and feel the entire sacrum on the ground, allowing the five vertebrae in your lumbar spine to make a gentle curve away from the floor. It will not be big curve!
  • Your bottom rib should also be making contact with the floor.
  • The curve of your neck should mirror the curve of your low spine, so it pulls away from the floor as well.

To learn how to find neutral spine from the front of your body, simply

.

You can also monitor your neutral spine from the front.

  • Your pubic bone and top of your pelvis (ASIS) should be on the same plane and parallel to the floor.
  • To get a sense if these bones are even, place the heels of your palm on the top of your pelvis and the middle fingers of both hands on your pubic bone. These bones should be on the same plane.
  • The apex of the curve in your lower (lumbar) spine should be even with your belly button. This is another way to feel that the curve is there but not huge!

When lying on your back with both feet off the ground, you should round your low back (super scoop) and not maintain neutral. In those positions (like the 100s in Pilates), rounding the spine protects your back!

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