We often hear about a neutral spine. The easiest way I find to get someone into neutral better, is by teaching them how to move their pelvis (no, not salsa dancing) and this will correct their spine, making for safer lifts.
So, first of all, what's a neutral spine?
A neutral spine will differ from individual to individual. We all have a natural curvature through our spinal column. It will look somewhat like an S when we look at it on profile. Some people will be prone to certain pains through the back, glutes, shoulders and other various places if they tend to have a poor back position (i.e. not in neutral). Lifting weights can help correct this. But if they aren't able to find neutral, it can get real tricky. Here are some steps to help you find neutral.
This is my go-to exercise to show how the pelvis changes the position of the spine. On all fours, tip your pelvis forward and look up. Tipping your pelvis forward (anterior tilt) should drop your spine towards the floor. More often than not, this is the sort of position people find when they are fatigued in a plank position, or a press up position. Pressure will be placed upon the lower portions of the back.
Now tip your pelvis backwards, tuck your chin in and push your shoulder blades apart. Your spine should now arch up towards the ceiling (or sky if you are outdoors, how fancy, outdoor website surfing!). This is a posterior tilt. Do 10 reps of these and pause at the end range of motion each time. Feel what's going on with your back, feel how your pelvis adjusts the back position, make a note of your abdominals in each position. Create a mind-muscle connection between both these positions.
Now that we know what forward and backward tilts at the pelvis feels like, we want to find neutral. Neutral should look mostly flat (depending on your arm and leg length, as well as your natural curvature). Try engaging your transverse abdominus (pull the belly button in) and your pelvic floor muscles (muscles that help you stop you peeing yourself, think like you need the toilet and bring those muscles in, also think like you need a number 2, pull in rectally).
Also, you can try engaging your latissimus dorsi (or lats). Bring your shoulders down your body, away from your ears. I like the cue; 'Tuck your shoulder blades into the back pockets of your trousers'. Look to squeeze your glutes in this position also (lots to think about, right?). Not all of these cues are always required when trying to find neutral. This is a Pilates-based look at finding neutral and keeping it. Powerlifting becomes a bit of a different story, but we can look at that another time.
There we have it, that's forward and backward tilt, and finding neutral. Now you'll want to try to apply a neutral position to your lifting. Think of exercises like bent over row, squat, reverse flyes and plank (and many, many more). Protect that spine!
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Always wanted to get the word rectally into my writing. Now I have. This is a good year.