Each day you get out of bed, you are sitting, standing, lifting and carrying against the force of gravity, all of which can take its toll on your spine if you do not possess a strong, stable core. There are plenty of articles that will tell you a strong core comes from doing crunches, side bends and planks, but this is only part of the equation. Until you are able to properly position your head, ribcage and pelvis, you will never truly be able to maintain a neutral spine that is essential for fluid movement without injury. The steps to maintaining a stable core are easily incorporated into everyday life, and can save you from early spinal degeneration and unnecessary back pain.
Protect Your Spine
A properly positioned spine remains "neutral" - not rounded too far forward or arched too far back, which allows for the least amount of energy expended and strain on your muscles and joints. You are faster, stronger, and less likely to experience the unwanted symptoms of fatigue (Scherger, 2013). Improper posture places abnormal stress on your spine and robs you of the ability to stabilize your hips and shoulders. This means that any pain in your shoulders, knees, or back may be attributed to poor posture.
Bracing Your Lower Body
When bracing your lower body, the first thing to do is properly align your knees and feet beneath your hips and set your pelvis in a neutral position. To do this, stand with your feet in a comfortable position, approximately shoulder width apart. Plant your feet firmly into the ground, and tighten your buttocks. The muscles of your buttocks, not your abdomen, control the position of your pelvis. Engaging these muscles will tilt your pelvis into a neutral position and stop you from creating too much of an arch in your lower back (Starrett, 2013).
Bracing Your Upper Body
In an effort to improve posture, many people make the mistake of pulling their shoulder blades together, which throws the upper back and neck backwards. Instead, pull your lower ribs in to balance your ribcage evenly over your pelvis. Once your ribcage and pelvis are aligned, spread your collarbones and allow your shoulders to drop downwards, away from the ears. Your head should be centered and ears aligned above your shoulders (Starrett, 2013). Throughout the day, be careful not to let your head and shoulders slump forward.
Engaging Your Abs
Once your lower and upper body are aligned, it is time to engage your abs in order to lock this position into place. Take a deep breath, inhaling from your diaphragm and contract your abdominal muscles as you exhale. Make a conscious effort to maintain light tension in your abs while steadily breathing from your diaphragm (Starrett, 2013). Shallow breathing from your chest can result in chest pains, rapid heartbeat, and feeling faint, lightheaded, and weak (Rivera, 2013). Retrain your body to take deep, slower breaths from your diaphragm while keeping your abs braced to maintain a strong, stable core.
Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services. She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.