So what does it mean to optimize spinal alignment and how can that help you generate more power and decrease pain?
It’s actually quite simple and can be very effective when implemented properly.
First, lets talk about spinal alignment. As you know our spines have a specific curvature to them; some curve more than others but generally it is a slight S curve. The curvature of your spine or alignment of the spine is a product of individual growth and development as well as your daily habits and posture. If you look at the image above you will see a “neutral” spinal alignment on the left and some different curvatures as you scan right. The two most common postural issues we see are excessive “lordosis” (Arching of the lower back) and ‘Kyphosis” (Hunch back look in the upper back) or a combination of the two. For us, a neutral spinal alignment would be considered the optimal position.
So what does this mean for pain and power?
Pain – When exercising, especially when lifting weights overhead or holding weights on your back, excessive arching in the lower and upper back will create sheer forces on the spine resulting in a great deal of pain. These positions are less than ideal for transmitting forces efficiently through the spinal column. Adding a load or participating in high intensity sporting movements will prove to be uncomfortable and painful over time.
Power – Lower body strength and power output can be diminished from improper alignment of the spine. Specifically, when the spine is in excessive lordosis the hip can not extend fully. Why does this matter? The muscles that make up the posterior chain (backside of our body) create the majority of power needed for running, jumping and other high intensity lower body activities. Specifically, the action of hip extension is very important for generating power. If our lower back has giant arch in it our hips will not be able to fully extend, therefore decreasing our strength and power potential.
How do you fix it?
Teach yourself to align your spine in a neutral position and brace your core musculature. A quick drill for learning this is to simply breathe! But breathe properly! Take a deep breath in through the nose using the diaphragm to push as much air as possible into the lungs. Then forcefully blow all of that air out through your mouth. You will notice that automatically your rib cage will lock down, your abdominal muscles will contract and your hips will move into a more neutral position. Once you have reached this position, work on using your core to hold yourself there while continuing a normal breathing pattern. Check out the picture below to see a before and after shot of the effects of one deep breath!