Aren't You Supposed To Stick Your Behind Out to Sit Down or Do Squats?
The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Aren't You Supposed To Stick Your Behind Out to Sit Down or Do Squats?

A commonly repeated phrase in fitness training and programs is "neutral spine" and "tuck the tail" for healthier lower spine posture. Many people know this, repeat this, teach this, write articles about it, then jut their hip too far out in back and overly-arch their lower spine, doing just the opposite, when they squat, bend to pick things up, sit in a chair, and exercise (photo at left).

Tilting the hip too far outward in back overly-arches and hyperextends the lower spine - photo at left and left drawing below.

Hyperextrending the spine, creating too much lordosis (hyperlordosis) can result in unhealthful compression on the spine joints called facets, and on surrounding soft tissue.

Overarching shifts your body weight onto the spine joints and compresses them in a bent-backward position, eventually increasing back pain and joint damage.

Another issue is that if you cannot squat without sticking out in back or leaning your upper body far forward, it is a sign that your thighs are weak, your Achilles tendons are tight, you are not using your ab muscles, your balance is poor, or all four.

Why do so many programs teach to stick far out in back? It is well known that the opposite problem of tucking too much and rounding forward (lumbar flexion) contributes to back pain. People hear this and assume that the opposite, over-arching backward, will counteract that. They exaggerate the arch.

Overarching often initially seems to "work" because you can lift more since you shift some of the work from the muscles onto the lower spine (and sometimes knees).

The muscles do less, so it seems easier. Competition lifters use it to lift more, regardless of the pain and injuries it causes later on.

It is trend-breaking news to say don't stick your backside out too much to squat, and instead use neutral spine, shown in the right-hand drawing. I know. It goes against what fitness organizations and pop-science exercise books teach. I know. Try this to see for yourself:

  • Stand upright with feet side-by-side, comfortably apart.
  • Face both feet in the same direction as your knees.
  • Bend both knees, keeping both heels down on the floor and over your feet, not sinking inward or bowing outward.
  • Look down and see if your knees cover the sight of your toes.
  • If you can't see your toes because your knees are forward blocking the view, pull your knees back (keeping them bent) until you are still squatting but can see your toes.
  • Keep your upper body as upright as you can.
  • Now, here is the point about the lower back - notice if you tilt too far out in back, pinching your lower spine backward like a straw. Overarching may be habit, or that you don't have the leg strength or balance, or your Achilles tendon is so tight that your heels come up from the floor. Instead, tuck the bottom of the hip under, just enough to bring the spine to "neutral." A small inward curve remains when you have neutral spine, but not a large one - Right-hand drawing.
  • Raise your upper body to be more vertical, while staying in the squat.
  • Notice how you have to use far more leg and hip muscle, and the pressure of holding your body weight comes off the lower back and knee joints.

Use healthy bending for all bending. Neutral spine helps squats for exercise, to pick up clothes from the floor, to get pet dishes, look in the refrigerator, get the laundry, pick up the kids, to sit down in a chair, and so on. You will get a far better workout for your thighs, keep weight off the joints of your knees and spine. It is healthier to squat upright than bending over forward to pick things up. It is not healthier to cause the opposite problem by overly-arching and pinching the spine back (increasing swayback).

Another point in spine health and exercise is not to "tighten" or clench your abdominal muscles to squat or lift. It is not healthy or useful to tighten muscles for movement. It is trend-breaking news to say "don't tighten." I know. It goes against what fitness organizations and pop-science exercise books have been teaching. I know. Tightening is not what supports your back. Moving your spine out of unhealthy over-arched position, explained in this post, to a more neutral position is what "supports" (you hold your spine in place) preventing pain and injury. Using the muscles to stop unhealthy position, and hold healthful position is how you support your back - not by tightening.

Fun effective exercises, without tightening or the forward bending of crunches or Pilates that causes so much back pain:

Have fun being part of this big and healthy change in fitness.

Read success stories of these methods and send your own.
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Drawings of Backman!™ © copyright Dr. Jolie Bookspan
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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.