When it comes to correcting and strengthening movement functional everyday movement patterns, like squatting and dead lifting, the importance of generating and maintaining a strong and stable core is paramount to long term health and success. In order to safely and effectively generate and utilize force through your mid line into the arms, legs or neck you need to organize your spine in a neutral braced position. This braced neutral position is what we refer to as mid line stabilization.
Now this idea is not new, and if you have been training or coaching in the fitness industry it is one of the first things you will have covered during your qualification process, the importance of alignment and posture. Bracing the core for heavy lifts is often an obvious point made by coaches in every gym, but its not just the importance of good positioning for heavy lifts, but for every move you make.
Now before we dive into this, YES, your spine is supposed to bend, and YES it isn’t going to do serious damage if you bend your back to tie your shoe laces. But when you consider the reasons why you round your back, tight hamstrings, hips or ankles, and you consider the thousands of times you do round your back whilst bending over or lifting objects from boxes to children it quickly becomes obvious that maintaining good posture is key to avoiding any unnecessary pain, stiffness and visits to your physio.
Why should we care?
When your spine is stacked in perfect alignment with the rib cage over your pelvis, ears and shoulders aligned, and your glutes braced slightly it provides the optimal position for your body and spinal cord to handle weight and force effectively. In most cases you do not want your spine to deviate from this position. Doing so risks injury through shearing or compression to the disks or spine in general and this is not a good idea for anyone, be you an athlete or average Joe. The spine is the key to generating stability, force and motion in all of the other major joints, from hips, shoulders, knees, ankles and neck. Think of it as the core or centre, the rest is decoration, you cannot properly address issues in mobility or weakness in those other areas if the spinal mechanics are faulty first. Begin at the source. This can cause you to lose strength and as an athlete this is definately not what you want to happen. Correcting faulty mechanics could add up to 20% onto you current PR especially if you are relatively new to weightlifting or power lifting. Even advanced lifters can see some big gains if they discover and solve these spinal alignment errors in their own technique.
If you are losing range of motion or the ability to develop the required level of torque at a muscle or joint because of faulty spinal alignment then you are not only leaving a lot of weight and potential strength on the table, but you are also teaching your body to move in a less than optimal way which will transfer over into daily life. More often than not it is not the lifting in the gym that causes injury, it is the little daily things. Because in the gym we are cautious of the heavy weight, but at home you just grab at it and that’s when you ‘tweak’ your back and are out of actions for weeks on end.
So how do you generate stability?
There is a simple bracing sequence you can follow and a few rules to remember to help you set up properly and maintain this strong centre while moving and exercising.
The sequence: start by standing up and positioning your feet on the floor, hip width apart, toes facing forwards. Externally rotate through your hips to contract your glutes and gently brace your core. Keep the rib cage balanced above the pelvis and externally rotate your shoulders pulling your Shoulder blades back and keep in g your head stacked above your spine. This is perfect posture this strong braced line from heels to crown. When setting up for any lift one thing is vital to remember:
If you deviate from this braced position prior or during your set up you will fault during the lift. Therefore is it key to get into a braced position first then move to grab the bar or object, maintaining a strong core and stable mid-line throughout.
Also it is important to remember that if any fault should appear in this line at anytime during the lift that the entire system breaks down. So that includes the common fault of looking up when deadlifting or squatting. You should keep you head in line at all times with the rest of the body. As soon as your head tilts down or up you lose stability and power and risk faulting further down the chain in the thoracic or lumbar spine and doing a lot of damage.
Finally for squatting and overhead work especially there is a common theme of arching your back with the head and shoulders leaning back and belly going forwards in order to utilise your chest muscles to aid the press or simply because you lack thoracic spine mobility or shoulder mobility and have to get into this funky position to press overhead or hold the barbell on your back for a squat. This is still a seriously bad position and one that is both causing you to lose strength and torque but also one that is risking a large amount of compression damage on the spinal cord and spine in general.
Always focus on moving correctly and with good mechanics. Generate this stable spinal position and stay strong as you move through the day, training or otherwise.