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Straight Spine, or not?

Spinal movement is a controversial topic

Many seem to believe it needs minimising, stabilising.

Many of those seem to think that stability is the same as immobility.

This, quite simply, is wrong.


How can I, some shaved monkey who lifts weights and hits things, say this with such authority and confidence?

Well if we look at the spine we see an incredible amount of articulating joints from the Atlas at the very top all the way down until there isn't.

There's a section of the spine called the sacrum that doesn't move, those vertebrae are fused.

There are no articulations.

Atop the spine is a collection of bones we call the skull.

These bones have a slight bit of movement, no voluntary movement, more movement potential.

My point is simply, if we can move a joint, we should move a joint.

Except for in the squat rack, we require movement in the spine.

But we require GOOD movement

There is a theory put forward by Gracovetsky known as the "Spinal Engine Theory" which opposes the common view of core stability.

In essence Gracovetsky suggests that the spines ability to move in all three planes of motion For those for you not familiar with the planes of motion (and if your not a movement specialist, why would you be!) these are generic planes of motion that help us talk about the complexities of human motion: Saggital Plane - Front to back movement, Saggital plane motions can be viewed from the Side Frontal Plane - Side to side motion. Frontal plane motions can be viewed from the Front (or rear) Transverse Plane - Rotational movement. Sometime called Coronal Plane as motions in this plane are best viewed from above (coronal view) or below.

No joint or muscle only acts in a single plane of motion at any one time, so these terms are only useful in describing what that joint/muscle is doing in one plane at a time, or trying to paint a picture by describing each plane in turn to gain understanding of it's full 3 dimensional action.

Anyhow, back to the spinal engine, have a look at this:

This is a dude walking using his spine and core. You may notice the poor guy is a quadriplegic, so there's no legs to drive the motion. Imagine this guy trying to walk while maintaining a "stable core" or a "neutral spine" Now think of your favourite athlete. Outside of the lifting sports of power lifting and olympic lifting, how many athletes can you think of that play their sports with a neutral spine?

Certainly not this guy:

This guy is Yohan Blake, one of the fastest men in the world.

Try this image of Heptathlete Lyudmyla Yosypenko performing the Shot Put:

There's a great shot of a spine that if Extended (S), Laterally Flexed (F) and Rotated (T) You can see in both these images how this spinal movement has tensioned the abdominal muscles, loading them up much like drawing the bowstring back loads up the Bow This stretch load, this potential energy is what gives you the power, the spring, the oomph! So how do we train this?

There are many ways to train for spinal motion. We are best served by starting with unloaded movements, especially those that are concerned with cleaning up the rhythm of joint actions, such as those advocated by the Anatomy in Motion principles Here's 2 floor based movements that make for great warm ups / active rest periods or morning routine movements:

Box Cogs:

Somatic Cogs:

Both these exercises do have progressions, but for most people most of the time these are very safe options for almost everyone.

From here we go to loaded exercises.

Almost all single kettlebell exercises offer loading with some spinal motion, because we are using external load, the motion is limited for safety. As most lifts are extension based, we like to use flexion exercises such as Roll Up variations, V-Sit variations, Hanging leg lift variations And circular / multi planar type actions such as angled barbell, medicine ball and bulgarian bag / mace exercises. There's a lot more to training that Squat, Bench Deadlift But they're still important


Dave Hedges

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