Neutral Spine Is Not A Thing! Neutral Pelvis Is.
I am not sure when I started hearing the phrase “neutral spine” popping up from clients and other Pilates pros, but it has been quite awhile. For whatever reason, I am hearing it a lot lately.
But when I ask people to define the phrase, they cannot. I have been told that neutral spine is the spine’s natural curve, but we know that looks different between individuals. My client with severe scoliosis certainly has a different neutral than I do. Her neutral is not necessarily one that works for me, and vice versa!
Most fitness and pilates professionals conflate Neutral Spine with Neutral Pelvis, much to the detriment of themselves and their clients.
Neutral Pelvis Is A Thing
I have been teaching exercise for over 27 years, and in that time the most useful concept I learned was Neutral Pelvis. Seriously!
So what is a Neutral Pelvis? Neutral Pelvis is defined as when the hip bones or ASIS (anterior superior iliac spines) are in line with the pubic bones or PS (pubis symphysis). They are in the same horizontal plane.
Pelvic tilt is then defined from neutral.
A Posterior Pelvic Tilt is when the hip bones are behind the pubic bones, which will flatten out the lower back and push the ribs back, make the upper back rounder. This is also known as a Tuck.
An Anterior Pelvic Tilt is when the hip bones are in front of the pubic bones, which will arch the lower back and thrust the ribs forward, making the upper back flatter. This is called an arch.
The pelvis can also rotate a bit, with one hip bone being more forward than the other, and shift laterally, with one hip bone being closer to the ribcage than the other.
Pelvic Stability = Healthier Movement
When the pelvis is stable in a neutral position, the spine will be in as close to a “Neutral” position as possible. But this will look and feel different on everybody. The hallmarks or bony landmarks, however, will stay the same. It is easiest to feel them when our lying down supine, on your back with knees bent and feet on the mat.
When the hip bones and pubic bones are in alignment, you will feel your sacrum and tail very heavy, with even weight on both sides of your sacrum (the large, triangular bone at the bottom of your spine). Your lower back will probably not be on the ground, and that is OK! Your ribs will be on the mat, with more connection at the upper ribs and shoulder blades. Your neck will not be down, but your skull will be.
The degree to which parts of your spine are on the mat or not depends on your structure and your muscle tension. Once my clients find neutral pelvis, I then cue them to have a long spine, with the trajectory of their spines always being “forward and up” from the sacrum to the skull, no matter what their relationship to the ground (gravity). This allows for maximum length and minimum compression, which will ultimately allow for healthier flexion, hyperextension, rotation, and side bending (yes, I am looking at you, golfers and tennis players).
And when you move your pelvis and spine, you will be able to do it with intention for a specific movement or reason, but you won’t have to live there!
Plus, being able to stabilize the spine in this pelvic position and hold it allows for healthier weight training, including hip lifts, squats, planks, and most upper body exercises. Neutral pelvis and long, lifted spine leads to healthier movement, period!