Alignment, Alignment, Alignment… It’s SO important
I spent a whole year in Pilates school, protecting my poor ears from my Pilates teachers shouting ‘SPINE’.
Making sure your spine is in the correct alignment is the most important part of any exercise you do. Whether it’s Pilates, running, swimming, however you love to move your body; the alignment of your spine matters. Even when you sit, lie down or reach for something.
Did you know that the average head weighs 8% of the whole body mass. Now, considering it is roughly proportionately 1/7th of the entire body you start to realise just how heavy it is.
If we don’t align our spines properly (think skeletal here) than we make our body’s work harder than they need to and we run the risk of injury through compensation. Think how much extra weight is put on those muscles that support the head if it is even slightly out of line with your center of gravity.
How do we align our SPINES?
Simplify everything… Think of your skeleton here. Picture one of those plastic skeletons your biology teacher had at school. (Ours is called Fred).
Fred’s feet are hip distance apart. Really hip distance. As in, his hips… Not the width of his child-baring hips because he doesn’t have any muscle or fat. His pelvis isn’t tilted forwards or backwards, its ‘Neutral’ his spine has a natural (neutral) curve and his rib cage is stacked on top of his pelvis. His ribs don’t flare and they aren’t pulled-up and full of air. His shoulders are very relaxed and his arms are not directly at the side of his body, if he was more modest you would notice that his arms hang slightly in front of the side seam of his clothes. The back of his neck is nice and long and his heavy head is in line with his pelvis.
His center of gravity goes straight through his head to the ground between his feet.
When walking and running it’s a good idea to keep this in mind. When you walk there will obviously be a shift of weight from one foot to the other but practice walking without twisting the waist. On flat ground you only really need to be bending your ankles, knees and hips to walk. If you find you have lower back pain when you walk then chances are you aren’t extending your hips properly and your body finds this movement in your back instead by tilting your pelvis.
Now, if Fred had tummy muscles he’d use these ever so gently to support the neutral shape of his spine and pelvis while he moved.
When lying on our backs we need to replicate the stacking of the spine (neutral). Obviously we have the opposition of the floor here, so a little more work is required in those tummy muscles to make sure that natural shape of the spine is intact. Use the mat as feedback… if you can feel the small of your back in the mat then you need to nod your pelvis away from you slightly and check you haven’t flared your ribs. Most people will need a head cushion too. If you look at your skeleton from the side whilst standing, you will notice that the back of your head sits forward from the back of your shoulder blades. A head cushion can be used to gain this shape whilst lying. Don’t forget that your feet and knees should be hip distance.
You will need to turn your tummy muscles up again for this one. Now you know how to stack your spine, just think about that here. So your hips will be stacked, as will your shoulders and both sides of your waist need to be even (no collapsing into the floor) and then check the shape of your spine from above, make sure your ribs aren’t flared and you have the natural shape of the spine and your chin isn’t tilted forward back, up or down.
Riiiight… That’s a lot of info Charlette. How do I do this in everyday life, and incorporate it in to my exercise routine?
Well, practice makes perfect and actually it’s Pilates that teaches you how to do this. It does become habitual with practice and after a few classes of making these small adjustments and creating this awareness with your body you really do notice a difference.
But yes, in short I recommend Pilates!