Flat Back….But My Back Isn’t Flat….Or is It?

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Yikes…. Is this you?…

Exhale flat back fold forward” or “wide arms flat back rise up” are common cure in the fitness industry and one deceptive and very misleading on many levels. A cue I teach all my teacher trainers not to use and for many reasons.

We don’t have a flat spine, and why would you ever imply such a possibility? Our spine is curvy, and has four curves to be exact; curves that have been strategically placed in our body for several viable reasons. First, being they help with impact, without them jumping and landing would kill our disc, vertebrae and giggle our head right off our bodies. They assist in shock absorption, ever jump on a bed, the springs allow the sock to be absorbed, now imagine a bed with nails and take jump, ouch is right.

The curves help our organs stack properly and create pockets for larger organs to sit and push other organs into position. Those much needed curves should be cued properly rather than ignorantly overlooked. Nothing against any form of exercise or any one training, but lack of real knowledge of the body and a mimicking of one teacher to the next on top of never really understanding the body, instead mirroring movements, leads us to cues like the one above. Another cue in disrespect to the spine which I hear quite often is “press your back into the floor”, like a loss of our lumbar curve isn’t already an issue, lack of proper back muscle and misuse of hip flexors, especially in core work needs more encouragement, stacked right on top of our eight to twelve hours a day we sit in ill supporting chairs, couches and even on fitness equipment, isn’t a cause for concern.

A quick review:

·         We have 33 interlocking bones that make up the vertebrae, the top 24 are moveable and the lower nine are fused together.

·         Our cervical column (or neck) has seven vertebrae (C1-C7), and the neck is unique because the top two vertebrae allow the head to nod, due to the fact that C1 and C2 are like a peg in a round hole, allowing the head to look in most all directions.

·         The thoracic column in the mid torso/chest region, spanning 12 vertebrae  (T1-T12), here the spine helps hold the rib cage in place to protect the heart and lungs, there is limited mobility for a very good reason here.

·         Our lumbar region spans five vertebrae (L1-L5) and its main function is to bear weight, the vertebrae are larger in size allowing them to carry more weight and deal with heavier loads as needed.

·         The main function of our 5 fused sacral bones called the sacrum, is to connect the spine to the iliac or hip bones, this is a fused area, and together the iliac and sacrum create one oscillating ring called the pelvis.

·         Finally our coccyx, which is made up of four fused bones creating a place for ligaments and muscles to attach to, helping to create the pelvic floor.

·         Keeping in mind that when our spine curves one way it then curves back the other to help support the body with gravity and every day movement’s.

So if you are a teacher and are reading this, ask yourself “why are you using such cues”? “What are you trying to imply or convey to your students”? What if simply by learning better cueing you could end the misleading guidance and offer more functionally based cueing? And then you say to me as you read this, “but my students get what I’m saying, or I don’t really mean flatten your spine”. So then why are you saying it? Why even suggest such a possibility, why not take a stand and educate your class and use cues that reinforce just that. The goal of every fitness class is to live a better life, is to feel better, number one hands down. But if it’s just uneducated cues, fun choreography and feel the burn moves, your students are not gaining much more than what they started with and among all of that the spine surely suffers.

So what do I do?

Learn neutral, from the ground up, start with the feet and learn proper placement of the pelvis, ribcage, shoulders, base of the skull, chin, and head.

Change your language, throw to the wolves cues like: flat back, navel to spine, press your back into the floor, straight spine; and trade them in for things: like elongate your spine, find or keep neutral, extend, make space in your vertebrae, honor the curves of your spine.

Try rolling down into forward fold or at a minimum making sure the deep pelvic-core is turned on and if your mind will allow it bend your knees so the back has a fighting chance.

Experiment with things like rolling up in the spine using your inner core power or what I like to call core pump, where the core is used like a trampoline and the spine can float up from the rebounding of the deep core.

Reflect on the poor postures of society and question if your teachings or practice is feeding into those issues, or helping to lessen them.

Learn about the spine, on a very basic level there is not much too it:

·         4 curves

·         33 vertebrae, broken into several sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, coccyx

·         The disc are much like jelly donuts between each vertebrae that should not be abused continuously in only one direction, but rather brought to more space and moved in all directions mindfully.

·         Just because our spine goes there doesn’t mean it belongs there. Many peoples alignment is skewed, meaning it’s out of balance, learn how to recognize these imbalances by observing people walk, stand, sit, and yes exercise.

·         And once people learn neutral their ability to move in and out of neutral will be more balanced and supportive.

·         When our spine is out of alignment the shock absorption abilities of it are reduced, and pain is most likely a result.

These tips are just a starting block to better spinal health and better spinal cueing for a lifelong success of health and happiness and you are only as healthy as your spine is (healthy, flexible, stable, supportive take your pick).

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