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Neutral Spine vs Anti-Fragility

Neutral spine.

It gets a lot of press.

It seems that if you don’t live in neutral spine you’re committing a crime against nature and you’re going to die young.

I get the concept and for a large part agree with it.

But is there an argument against neutral spine?

I think so.

First argument:

My skull is made of 22 bones, yet they are firmly fused together because I sure as hell don’t want them to move.

My spine is made of 33 bones, but only 9 are fused, the rest articulate against each other. The 7 cervical vertebrae in my neck move The 12 thoracic vertebrae in my upper back move The 5 vertebra in my lumbar, or lower back move. The 5 sacral vertebra are fused, but as these form my sacroiliac joint articulating with the pelvis, is probably for the better. The 4 coccygeal are also fused, but then we stopped wagging our tails a long long time ago.


So it’s fair to assume that the body knows when to allow movement (24 of the 33 vertebra) and when to prevent movement, the sacrum and the skull.

Second argument:

Watch your favourite sport, be it MMA, Boxing, Rowing, Tennis or Ninja Warrior.

Watch closely.

Ermahgerd!  Look at that spine, it's loaded outside of neutral!!! Call the Posture Police!

Ermahgerd! Look at that spine, it’s loaded outside of neutral!!! Call the Posture Police!

How much time do the competitors spend in neutral spine?

In fact, if they did restrict themselves to neutral spine, how well do you think they’d perform?

Probably not very well.

So what we have is a conundrum.

And here’s my answer.

The neutral spine theory is all good in theory. It works perfectly well in the weight room, while overloading the spine in the saggital plane with bilateral exercises such as squats, deadlifts etc.

This is where neutral spine lives

This is where neutral spine lives

A shift away from neutral spine can very quickly end in disaster. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve had the disc herniation, the SI joint misalignment and the years of pain, numbness and discomfort. There was a time where I’d have to lasso my foot and pull it towards me with a towel in order to get my socks on, the whole painful process could take 5 or more minutes per sock!

Bragging aside, it did give me an appreciation for spinal mechanics and it’s relationship with movement as a whole.

It also gave me a filter with which to look at all other forms of movement teaching, strength coaching or whatever.

This filter allows me to determine if

1 – The instruction is bullshit or not

2 – If the instruction context specific, ie only applicable in this exercise

3 – If this a good guide for real, unrehearsed, improvised/responsive/reactive movement

Most of the time we find the neutral spine instruction fits into category 2: Context Specific.

If you place a heavy bar on your back, you damn well better stay neutral, because in this context, to do otherwise may well do serious damage and leave you having to lasso your foot with a towel each day.

Away from the specific situation/context, neutral spine is a myth.

You don’t stay neutral when you walk or run. You don’t stay neutral when you throw or swim You don’t stay neutral when you roll or crawl You don’t stay neutral when you do anything other than a bilateral saggital plane exercise.

And an exercise is a contrived movement designed to elicit a particular stimulus.

Whereas movement is just that. Movement.

And our spines are where movement initiates.

But only if it is allowed to go outside neutral.

In WG I like to use a LOT of single kettlebell and bodyweight exercises, which are contrived movements designed to elicit particular stimuli, but do to their nature they allow us to train outside of neutral spine safely. Which means that when we move outside the gym and shit happens, we’ve a better chance of being able to generate or absorb force without injury.

If we never train outside neutral spine, we never develop / reinforce this ability.

And we never become bulletproof or as a mate of mine calls it, Anti-Fragile ( <—- great term!)

Steve Cotter, legendary Kettlebell Coach, martial artist and encyclopaedia of conditioning methods will be in Wild Geese on Thursday 21st May.

If anyone understands bulletproofing or “anti-fragiling” a body, it’s Steve. After all, his methodology has been a huge influence on my own.

Click here for details:

Eventbrite - Steve Cotter Dublin Workshop


Dave Hedges

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