Where is the Spine?

Have you ever wondered whether or not to press your lower back to the floor during abdominal exercises?  This is actually an important and fundamental question, so let’s think about what happens when we do that. First, lets go through some anatomy.

Our spines are normally “S” shaped with gel-like discs between each vertebrae. Your cervical spine, your neck, is shaped like a backwards “C”; the thoracic spine, where the ribs attach, is shaped like a forwards “C”; and your lumber spine, the lower back, is again shaped like a backwards “C”.  This S-curve shape functions to absorb shock and provide spring so we can move safely and optimally. To maintain a healthy S-curve, the thoracic spine tends to need more mobility while the cervical and lumbar spines need more stability. This can be seen in people with poor posture, for example those with Kyphosis (excessively rounded upper and mid backs) generally need to obtain more mobility in this area, while those with Lordosis (excessive arch in the lower back) generally need more stability.


While the discs between our vertebrae are durable, over time the gel can burst out, get thinner, or bulge. This is just one reason we want to ensure strong spines that have proper mobility and stability. So, when we press our lower spines to the floor we actually decrease our natural lumbar curve when what we actually need to be doing is provide stability for our lower spines in its natural curve. We can find the natural alignment of our spines by laying down on the floor.

How to Understand Alignment of your Spine:

1. Lay face up with knees bent and hip distance apart with feet flat on the floor.
2. Place hands on hip bones. These two protrusions should be on the same plane like the headlights of a car so that one is not higher than the other or in front or behind the other.
3. Locate your pubic bone. You can do this by making a triangle out of your two thumbs and two forefingers. The right thumb will be on the right hip bone and the left thumb on the left hip bone with the two forefingers facing in towards the pubic bone. All three points of this triangle, the two hip bones and the pubic bone should all be on the same plane. If the point of the triangle, the pubic bone, is pointed to the sky, your pelvis is in a posterior tilt. This is the same as pressing the lower spine to the floor and decreasing the natural curve of the lower spine.  If the point of the triangle is facing down toward the floor, your pelvis is in an anterior tilt and you are increasing the curve of your spine. When you place your pelvis in an anterior or posterior tilt, you can also alter the mechanics of the rest of the body.  Over time, this can lead to injury.
4. Once the pelvis is in place, turn your attention to the thoracic spine. You should feel your ribs flat on the floor maximizing your back’s surface contact. If your mid back is arched off the floor, take a long exhale so the ribs relax down. Maintain this relaxed position as you continue to breathe.
5. Lastly, you should feel the back of your head on the floor with chin down, rather than jutting out into the air, so that the neck is long.


Once we know where our neutral alignment is on the floor, we can transfer this to standing and other movements.  So rather than just aiming to strengthen the abdominals by doing an insane amount of crunches, choose exercises that strengthen the body in proper alignment. Good examples of these types of exercises are the dead bug, quadruped supermans, planks, and roll- outs.

Remember, exercise is not just to help keep us looking good, but it should also help us continue to move well and act as a preventative tool against injury and physical deterioration as we age.