Braced and neutral spine – the first requirement for good and safe training

The only right principle during training is working from core to extremities. That means that each quality movement is preceded by stabilizing your core. If your core is not stable, that is, if your spine is not in a braced and neutral position, your body is unable to do a quality movement. This results in the loss of stability, power output and force production as well as increased chance for injuries.

Each person should possess the knowledge of how to properly organize your spine. This is key during training, but also in our everyday life. Because, we should already be aware of that our movements define the way in which our body functions. The same goes for our body posture. If we do not know how to organize our body posture, then our body will accept bad body posture as its default position.

If a physically inactive person becomes adjusted to bad body posture, in time they will suffer the consequences. They will manifest through pain and inability to fulfill your everyday chores. Also, it is possible to sustain certain injuries over time, e.g. when a person who does not know how to organize their spine properly lifts a heavy couch or any other heavy object. The chance of experiencing negative side effects of bad body posture is increasing with age.

While negative effects of bad body posture affect the inactive population, their effect is even greater regarding the athletes. Although this represents a widely acknowledged fact which nobody can deny, few athletes, and we could also say that for their coaches, know how to organize your spine properly and maintain this position during various movements.


Why is the neutral position of the spine so important?

A stable and organized spine is key to safe movement as well as maximizing your power output and force production. Simply said, bad body posture calls for injuries and hinders our performance.

Athletes who perform movements without properly organizing their spine in the controlled training conditions will repeat those movements during the competition. However, external forces that affect our body at that moment (e.g., when landing or changing the direction) will be multiple times stronger. They will continue to perform inadequate movements in the future as well – when training progress enables them a higher training load and more advanced exercises. They will not experience difficulties in the beginning, but in time, due to higher training and competition requirements, that risk will increase drastically.

Squat is a good example with which we can paint a picture of what you’ve just read. Let's say that a young athlete has not learned to perform a good air squat. He initially performs only such a squat and remains safe. The problems arise later when we start adding weight and doing the exercises with a variety of jumps. Now our athlete performs inadequate weighted movements, and the poor squat technique is reflected on the poor jumping or landing technique. This makes the training less safe. The forces have increased, and the technique has remained poor. Over time, our athlete is growing up and becoming heavier and stronger. The forces that his body has to overcome in competitions and training are still growing and now there is a risk that the injury will eventually take place.

We are giving three additional reasons for those who do not consider all the reasons from the above to be as important for maintaining a neutral position of the spine:

  1. If you learn how to properly organize your spine, you will minimize the risk of one of the biggest threats to man’s everyday life and functioning – spine and spinal cord injuries. Consequences of such injuries are really hard. Why risk such injuries if we can easily overcome it by properly organizing our spine?
  2. Inadequate organization of the spine results in the biomechanic compromises. In other words, many problems we suffer from in the other parts of our bodies can be solved with a properly organized spine.
  3. Inadequate organization of our spine leads to loss of shoulder and hip function, and prevents the full stability in those parts of our bodies.


Bracing your spine in a neutral position: the bracing sequence

In order to avoid problems caused by not being able to maintain a neutral spine position, it is necessary to learn the sequence for bracing your spine. By following the sequence we can properly organize our spine in every situation. It’s a mistake to do it exclusively in the gym; it is also necessary to do it during movements you perform outside the gym. Only then will the proper organization of our spine become the "default" organization of our spine.

The sequence for the organization of the spine:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and keep your feet parallel to each other. Once in that position, squeeze your butt (glutes). By doing this, we set our pelvis in a good and neutral position.
  2. Pull your ribcage down. By tightening the glutes and pulling the chest down, we bring our pelvis and ribcage into a neutral position. The pelvis and ribcage are now aligned with each other.
  3. In the third step, engage your abs and get your belly tight. It will help to lock the pelvis and ribcage in a good position. We bring ourselves to this position by using our glutes and we keep ourselves in this position by using our abdominal muscles. To engage the abs properly, it is necessary to take a deep breath followed by a deep exhalation. When we start to exhale we start contracting our abs. After we have engaged the abdominal muscles, we can relax the glutes. In order to keep the spine in a neutral position, it is necessary to constantly contract the abdominal muscles. With the increase of the weighted movement and application of advanced tasks, the contraction of abs also increases. If you skip this step, you will quickly realize that the fully activated glutes will stop you from moving.
  4. The last step entails brining your head into a neutral position and bringing your shoulders into a stable position. The head must be aligned with the rest of the body. As for the shoulders, turn your thumbs forward and slightly pull your shoulders back, as if you want to spread your collarbone. You don’t need to keep your shoulder blades together.


Neutral spine position during training and in everyday life

It is necessary to properly organize your spine before doing a certain movement, both in and outside the gym. This means, before we start walking, running, doing squats, deadlifts, snatches or any other movement, your first need to get your spine into the neutral position. We will repeat once more, glutes set position, abs brace position. The intensity of engagement of abs must be increased together with the increase of the movement complexity.

Some will surely wonder how it is possible that some powerlifters work with enormous weights without being in the optimal position. The answer to that question is actually pretty simple. They present athletes who consciously accept the risk brought about by their technique and they know that a greater deviation from the optimal position also includes a greater chance of sustaining an injury. They are compromising and accepting a poorer technique which will allow them to lift heavier weights. Athletes whose primary task is not to lift as much as possible should never concede to taking such a risk.


Final word

It is of the essential importance, regarding both improved performance and your safety, to learn how to properly organize your spine. The provided description, despite the fact that it may seem to simple, will bring you good results. Perfect your knowledge with what we are offering you here and make your training better and safer, regardless of whether you do CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding or any other physical activity.


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