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I just wanted to share something I’ve been dealing with for the last couple weeks, mainly for the sake of sparking some interesting discussion about spine position, but also in case any of you happen to be in the same boat I was.
Discovering MobilityWOD was a pretty big deal for me a few years back. I was a newbie trainer who had only recently come to realize that moving well should be our first priority when it comes to building fitness and athleticism. My own movement was terrible, and Kelly Starrett finally gave me the tools I needed to start undoing some of the damage I had worked very hard to incur. So this thing has been a pretty intense process of self-reconstruction, as I’m sure it has been for many of you.
I’m now a fresh and undereducated physiotherapy student, and our early training in orthopaedics has shone a lot of light into the more detailed corners of movement. The spine has been the theme of the month, and during our lumbar spine lab (wherein we struggle to learn basic assessment and treatment tools) I was horrified to learn that I was all out of whack.
As it turns out, I had been overcooking the whole “butt tight, neutral pevlis” thing a little bit. When I got into what I thought was a good standing position, my whole spine was flat as a board. (How embarrassing…)
So, the reason the whole “butt tight” things is good for setting your pelvis is that the glutes can posteriorly tilt you out of that excessively anterior tilted position. Problem is, if you don’t know what’s up (I didn’t), you run the risk of going to far the other way and tucking your tail bone under. This causes your lower back to lose its normal curvature, which compromises the load-bearing qualities of the torso and putting your discs at risk.
On top of all this, my training focus for the last few months has been the Handstand, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in hollow body. Where a braced neutral posture has your lumbar spine in slight lordosis (forward curve), the hollowed position is one of slight global flexion, meaning the whole body is gradually curved forward. What this means for your lower back is that it is taken out of its normal curve and straightened out. This is great for many gymnastics skills, but, as has been mentioned by both Kelly Starrett and Carl Paoli on several episodes, its not good for things like the squat or deadlift (which rely on a strong neutral spine).
So, yeah, if you’re unaware of the details of what constitutes good position/posture, it can be easy to misconstrue information you glean from online resources. (Remember that whole uproar about the “knees out” cue last year?) And it’s not like the info isn’t there. Kelly even says in Supple Leopard (p.29) that when you squeeze your butt to set your position you shouldn’t think about rotating the pelvis. The problem is, I had no idea I was doing that.
Since then I’ve been able to reconcile the cue and get it right. Focusing more on glute activation through screwing my feet into the ground seems to work pretty well. It’s taking forever to get a good feeling for what lumbar neutral is, though. I guess the lessons here are to (a) know what constitutes a good position, and (b) get eyes on you more often. If I was fortunate enough to have a coach, I probably would have learned about this problem many many reps ago.