Neutral Territory of Pilates: the Strong and Stable Middle Ground.

Neutral Pelvis, Neutral Spine

Ok, so it can’t be too hard to work out what inspired this Blog post: the middle way that is  secure, and ( I can’t believe I’m actually going to write this…) strong and stable.

Who says Exercise Instructors can’t make political jokes eh?

So leaving the Body Politic in return for the, well, Body……. what is this Neutral malarkey?  Does it matter?  Can we all agree on it?

There are two different definitions for the two different entities that are the spine and the pelvis.  They are interlinked and each influences the other.

The Neutral Spine

Neutral spine is the position where the bones of the spine, the vertebrae, are aligned so that there is maximum congruence and minimal strain across the joints.  That is manifested in the classic “S” shape that is familiar to us from pictures of the spine or the skeleton.a diagram of the spine side on and from the back showing the shape and regions of the spine: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, pelvic

It is really important to remember though, that humans are not static creatures.   We are built to move about – all day and every day, so that we don’t live much of our lives really with our spine in neutral.

When would we have a neutral spine?  When standing still, walking, weight training and aerobic exercise in the gym, sitting in a chair or on a bike

So does neutral spine matter?  It is not necessarily a conscious act to be in neutral or “do” neutral, not should it be, but we need our body to be healthy enough to maintain neutral if desired and for it to be a mid point through which our spine transitions on route to other positions

Can our bodies regularly maintain a neutral spine if desired?  Possibly not.

Why is neutral spine tricky to achieve?

Issues with the bones:  age related changes and deformities of the vertebrae, for example: Osteo-arthritis (where joint changes can affect the bone), Scoliosis

Issues with the muscles:  tightness and weakness affecting the spine locally or globally

Issues with bones and muscles caused by too much sitting down, too little movement, too little physical work in the body, poor posture.

If maintaining neutral is tricky because of poor posture, then we can definitely have a crack at remedying the situation by adopting simple solutions which we can bring to bear on the body all the time.  These are relatively simple things and ones we kind of know we should do….!

  • Stand tall
  • sit tall – gravity tends to cause the body to slump down.  Grow the spine back to length
  • take care to ensure that the head is not poking forwards.  This disturbs the cervical spine (neck).
  • take care to ensure that the ribs sit on top of the pelvis and aren’t displaced backwards
  • use width the help support in the body – position of the collar bones / arms /shoulder blades is of relevance.  Wide collar bones, arms by your side

The spine should remain neutral during other types of movements.  A prime example is during squatting, or when in the gym, doing Leg Press or Dead Lift.  The fact that we struggle to keep a neutral spine in these movements is due to problems elsewhere and  I won’t discuss them further at present – that is whole other topic

The Neutral Pelvis

Again, the aim for that neutral position is maximal congruence and minimal strain of the pelvic bones, and importantly, of the muscles that cross the pelvis.  At the front these muscles are the hip flexors, at the back the hip extensors (buttocks and hamstrings), the lower back spinal muscles, and various others like the pelvic floor muscle group.    Despite neutral pelvis being a real position,  the pelvis position on a day to day basis is even more dynamic than the spine.  It moves with every step we take, and yes, to quote The Police, with every breath you take.   No kidding folks :  when you breathe in the pelvic floor relaxes and the pelvis widens slightly

Neutral matters,  not because it is some kind of magical position of itself, but because of the fundamental, vital role of the pelvis in our movement. This is pretty much all movement but definitely in running, walking squatting, stair climbing, sitting.   The base of the spine dovetails with the pelvis and so neutral pelvis will influence neutral spine and vice versa.

How to find Neutral Pelvis

The pelvis is much more contained than the spine.  You can put your hands on it, feel it and move it.    Especially when lying down you can move it around and feel those movements.

Rather than give pictures, or a description, here is a clip to show you what Neutral looks and feels like.

Our body does not automatically sit, lie or stand with a neutral pelvis and it is fairly common for the pelvis to be in a rotated position   Why?   You can probably guess:  bone stuff, tight muscles, weak muscles, sitting to much, injuries, falls.    In addition, having a job involving asymmetric repetitive moments, pregnancy, sitting down too much thus weakening some muscles and tightening up others.

Biggest drivers of loss of neutral

The inability to easily maintain neutral pelvis is very common and our bodies compensate for this and continue to function but with an inevitable loss of efficiency and increased risk of injury and pain.   Almost everyone needs to work on this.  It is a very democratic problem and we are definitely all in this together!   The problems are caused by:

  • tight hips – that is the muscles at the front of the legs
  • weak buttocks
  • tightness at the back of the legs – the hamstrings
  • sitting too much – causing all of the above
  • tight overworked, over trained abdominal muscles
  • weak abs
  • shoes with high heels
  • standing. swaying, leaning into one leg
  • visceral fat – the proverbial apple shape compared to the pear.  This tends to decrease pelvic and spine mobility

Improving your ability to sustain neutral pelvis will:

Improve gait and walking

Promote functionality in the muscles of the bottom  – the gluteals, and in turn better standing.  There is a bit of “chicken and egg” here: better gluteal function will enable you to sustain neutral pelvis

Help to maintain  the spine  in the right place  with the lower back muscles  in better alignment and under less strain

Enable you to run more efficiently, faster, further

Promote functional abdominal work – they are involved in sustaining neutral via their attachment to the front of the pelvis and the bottom of the rib cage

Neutral Placement: Important & Worth Achieving

Although it is a real physical place that the body occupies, the body is, or rather should be, constantly moving and thus in and out of neutral, through and past neutral.    This movement in and out of neutral is as important as neutral itself.  For  that both the spine and pelvis need to be mobile with freedom to move.  That mobility, that suppleness of the joints is also promoted by  stretching tight muscles, by generally keeping moving as much as possible.  The mobility is enhanced by specific mobility exercises, for example, Pelvic Clock, Cat Stretch, Roll Down

Neutral should be easy, not require much effort or thought.  That it isn’t is because of lifestyle factors.  We need to think about neutral and apply ourselves to it cognitively, we should practice the use of neutral through corrective exercise, through plenty of stretching, through mindful standing and walking.

To conclude: it’s a position of strength and stability.  A bit Vanilla, but not everything in life can be exciting.  It’s ok to have neutral territory: the spine and the pelvis need a place of safety too.


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