What does “neutral spine” mean in Pilates?

At the beginning of most Pilates exercises, the instructor will tell you to either imprint your spine onto the mat or reformer – or whatever you’re lying on in a supine position – or to maintain a neutral spine. Do you know what these terms mean? The good news is that we’re about to tell you!

A neutral spine is the position a back should be in

There are 33 vertebrae which make up your spinal column:

  • Seven in your neck – or cervical – region,
  • Twelve in your chest region which, anatomically speaking, is called the thoracic region,
  • Five lumbar vertebrae which can be found in the region of your lower back,
  • Five vertebrae which make up the sacrum that supports the back of the pelvis, and
  • Four which make up the coccyx that helps you sit.

Your spine is not in a dead-straight line. It curves naturally:

  • Your cervical spine curves gently inwards,
  • Your thoracic spine curves gently outwards, and
  • Your lumbar spine curves in the same manner as the cervical spine.

So when you’re in a Pilates class and you’re lying on your back – or in a supine position – and your instructor tells you to maintain a neutral spine during a particular movement, you will need to make sure that these naturally occurring curvatures remain as they are. This means that you should feel that there is a space between your lower back and the mat. The goal is, here, to take all the effort out on your abdominals and not to feel anything in your lower back. However, if you’re a beginner at Pilates this may be difficult as your abdominal muscles won’t be that developed.

What does it mean to imprint your spine to the mat?

Other times, when you perform Pilates exercises in a supine position, the instructor will tell you that you need to imprint your spine on the mat. This means that your spine will be flat on the mat. The reason why this is done is to protect the lower back muscles. If you’re suffering from lower back pain, rather work with your spine imprinted on the mat so that you’re not putting more strain on your muscles and are rather activating your deep abdominals.

Neutral spine in action

If you’re a Pilates beginner and are struggling with how to find neutral spine, there are a number of exercises that you can do to help you become aware of your back. One of these is the pelvic tilt. (It’s also a great exercise to help you alleviate lower back pain.) Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on your back. Bend your knees at 90 degrees and ensure that your feet are hip distance apart.
  • Your arms must be by your sides with your palms facing downwards.
  • Make sure that your shoulders, rib cage, neck and jaw are relaxed.
  • Inhale, activate your abdominals and contract your pelvic floor.
  • As your exhale, slowly peel your body off the mat articulating one vertebra at a time. When your back is off the floor, inhale and slowly come down to the mat again. Articulate one vertebra at a time.

For a demonstration, watch this video:

For a list of other great exercises to help you get rid of lower back pain read our article entitled Exercises for lower back issues.

It’s so important to protect your back be it in Pilates or just everyday life. Injuring your back is not like injuring, for example, your leg or your arm. You can work around an injury to a peripheral part of your body, however if you injure your back you are incapacitated for as long as it takes to heal.

Contact Trifocus Fitness Academy

Pilates is a great form of exercise to help in rehabilitation. This is because it involves slight movements and muscle activations that allow you to work within your currently limited range of motion and to expand it slowly. If you’re passionate about helping others rehabilitate injuries why not become a certified Pilates instructor through Trifocus Fitness Academy? Our comprehensive Pilates course will make you into the most respected Pilates instructor out there who gives solid advice to their clients. Read here for more information and to register.

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