Are you thinking about getting into heavy lifting? Already doing a good bit of heavy lifting? Maybe you are a competitive weight-lifter and you can't quite get over a hump? Well then, this article may be of interest to you.
Many of us that played sports in middle school or high school were introduced to squats, deadlift, snatch and/or clean and jerk. For those of you just starting to learn what these movements are all about, the last 2 being the fundamental movements of Olympic lifting. For most of us, regardless of when we were first introduced, we were just thrown to the wolves with a bit of coaching on form and plenty of peer pressure to "go big or go home"! There were a few that got sufficient coaching, but that may not even have been as good as we thought. Yes, some are better than none and they had good intentions but these old/current coaches may not fully understand the most efficient stabilization techniques.
Think back to when you first stepped into the squat rack, what were your cues? Shoulders back? Head back? Arch your back? Stay on your heels? Squeeze the shoulder blades together? Keep your knees behind your toes? I'm sure there are more, but these are the most popular. Unfortunately, all are INCORRECT. These are all extension patterns that take you out of neutral. A neutral spine position is the most efficient means of weight bearing. All of these are also requiring the posterior fascial chain to crank into overdrive, which results in compression of the posterior elements of the spine. Long term this stabilization pattern can cause ruptured disks in the lumbar spine.
If you look at the worlds best weight-lifters you may see these men and women in extension during competitive settings. Considering the weights that these folks are moving there will be a little loss in form. When pushed to extremes there will be some loss in form. I challenge you to find videos of these folks during practice, they will have perfect form. But what does that mean? That's easy: a neutral spine, the foot is equally loaded in the 3 arches, maximal abdominal stabilization, knees in good position (varies based on athlete and type of lift), head in neutral (not extended or flexed). Not very descriptive, I know but I'm trying to keep it simple!
The Idea of maintaining a "Neutral spine" is fundamental when pushing the body to the limits. For those of you not looking to become an olympic level athlete that;s ok, the concept applies to you as well. When you train a movement long enough it becomes habit. Which means it becomes subconscious. When an activity becomes subconscious you do it without having to think about it. Like walking, talking, chewing gum; when was the last time you thought about how to walk? We've been doing it for so long we don't think about contractions necessary to stabilize the body to create the movement. Ideally when you begin your weight training you start with proper form and maintain said form throughout and if you do it long and enough times it translates into your daily life, helping you maintain good posture in all movements.
Neutral spine and abdominal pressure allow for optimal "Joint Centration" which is the key to optimal muscle activity. Joint centration is the process of aligning the articulating surface of the body in a position allowing for maximal surface area in contact. Without joint centration the pressure of the weights is increased on the joints causing premature degradation of the joint surface resulting joint replacement surgery at a much younger age.
Maximal abdominal pressure is achieved through diaphragmatic and abdominal co-contraction. This means your breathing into the belly and contracting ALL your abdominal muscles (Rectus, obliques and transverse) equally. This only occurs when you can maintain a neutral spine. An extended spine puts the abs on stretch and stretch reduces the maximal contractility of a muscle. The diaphragm is fundamental to lumbar spine stability. Sucking the abdomen to the spine doesn't increase stability. Contracting the diaphragm, pushing down into the abdomen, with the abdominals engaged drastically increases intra-abdominal pressure resulting in lumbar stability.
The point of all this is to help you stay healthy and active. Improper stabilization patterns can and do lead to dysfunction and pain. When in pain we move differently, causing further dysfunctional movement and substitution patterns. If you'll take the time to commit good movement patterns to your subconscious you'll be able to stay active longer today and 30-40 years down the road. So if you have any questions about any of the above material please feel free to schedule a free 15 consultation and I'll be happy to clarify.