The neutral spine concept has been widely accepted as one of the norms for good movement by now. It is understood that it is one of the basics of functional movements, and it is extremely important when moving external loads.
With athletes lifting weights this would translate into making sure they always squat, deadlift, do core exercises, and any hip extension based movement with a neutral spine. Most high level athletes don’t have a hard time at all grasping that concept, especially when they’ve learned to lift the right way. But with younger athletes who are just learning to lift, or with deconditioned clients, what’s the first step in being able to perform lifting exercises with a neutral spine? Well, you need to teach them neutral spine first!
Including exercises such as planks, birddogs, and bridges that help reinforce neutral spine seem like a good place to start, but if your athlete or client doesn’t understand what neutral spine is, odds are he won’t be able to get it. And they won’t have the ability to keep a neutral spine under challenging situations like lifting heavy weights, or moving at high velocities.
Teaching neutral spine in different positions is the first step. Make your athletes or clients feel what neutral spine feels like in different positions, coach them as much as possible, make sure they really get it. Mike Reinolds delves into that stuff quite a bit in Eric Cressey’s and his Functional Stability Training DVD set. This is a seminar they held at Cressey Performance a couple of months ago that they put on DVD and just released to the public. Mike emphasizes the 3 step process before allowing anything to move:
1. Find neutral
Whether you’re teaching neutral spine using a plank, birddog, bridge or dead bug you should follow the same pattern. Make the client flex and extend his spine a couple of times, and make him find neutral somewhere in between. Coach the client as much as possible, and make sure that in the end they can find it by themselves. From there, brace just hard enough that you’ll maintain neutral (brace shouldn’t be a max effort unless you’re lifting max effort weights), and breathe. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t breathe through your brace, you’re bracing too hard.
One tool that we like to use to teach neutral spine that I like a lot with our athletes at Endeavor is the hip hinge with a dowel. It is very basic, it gives physical cues (with the points of contact of the dowel on your back) and it’s easy to know when you’re not doing it right. Again the same concept applies: find neutral, brace, breathe.
If you want to learn more about that and how to train according to the neutral spine concept when training your core, your lower body and with any lifting exercise really, I suggest you pick up a copy of Eric Cressey and Mike Reinolds’ Functional Stability Training. They just released it and you can get at the introductory price until Sunday at midnight; after that the price will go up. You can check it out HERE.
Don’t forget the best thing of them all….signing up for my FREE newsletter! Just enter your info below and I’ll send you 3 reports on sports performance training and injury prevention.