If we do not engage the muscles surrounding the spinal column, it becomes something like a wet noodle. If the spine is left unsupported for long hours spent standing and sitting, the wear and tear mounts quickly. If you add external loading to the spine, like wearing a backpack or lifting weights, the compounding stress is even greater. Back paind, here we come!
When you squeeze your glutes, you align the lumbar portion of your spine. If you stand up right now and try it, you will feel the pelvic bone tuck underneath the spinal column.
With the lumbar region set up for success and glutes still engaged, we can move to he middle third of the spine, the thoracic region. Start by letting out some air, as you do this engage your abs. You should feel your ribcage tilt forward slightly. The rib cage should be directly above the pelvis at this point.
Engaging the abs locks in both the middle and bottom third of the spine. Now, the tension in the glutes can be released. In order to keep alignment, movement guru Dr. Kelly Starrett advocates for 20% tension in the abs while standing, 40% while sitting, and 100% when performing a loaded task like squatting or deadlifting.
It is not uncommon to fatigue your abs quickly when beginning this practice. Eventually, your abdominal muscles will strengthen and setting this position will become more natural.
One Last Piece: Valsalva Technique
The 2-step bracing sequence above is great for everyday living and workouts with lighter weights. However, when lifting heavy, an additional technique can be used to protect the spine even further. This is how powerlifters handle over 700 pounds without crumbling.
Valsalva involves creating pressure inside the abdomen to help support the spine. This pressure is created by taking a big breath in at the top of a lift (like at the top of the back squat), then bracing the core and executing the rep while still holding onto your breathe. Here's how to do it:
"When we correctly breathe “into our stomach” and combine the action with bracing our core we find something special happens. With your hand on your stomach again, take a big breath one more time. After the breath is taken, brace your core muscles as if you are about to receive a Mike Tyson punch to the gut. Combining these actions increases the pressure inside the abdominal cavity (intra-abdominal pressure or IAP). This is because the volume can no longer expand."
The Valsalva technique is used under heavy loads (1 RM, 3RM, 5RM, etc.) for the big lifts (deadlift, squat, press, clean, jerk, snatch).
When we combine the the ability to brace or core and proper breathing, we protect our spine and allow our body to move properly.
Group Class Programming for Monday, June 25th, 2017: