A well aligned spine is usually in a neutral upright position, with the natural spinal curves preserved. The natural spinal curves help you to balance your body and absorb shock that comes from impact and movement.
A movement that we are all very familiar with is spinal flexion. Gravity and activities we repeat throughout the day (typing, texting, driving, cooking, carrying children, etc.) have the tendency to pull the spine forward into flexion. Our necks and low backs tend toward extension easily since that is their natural position. However, the mid back is normally in a flexed position. It happens over time and you might not even notice it until it results in an injury.
The real goal for a good and healthy spine is to achieve a perfect balance between flexion and extension. Ideally, every segment of the spine should move freely and easily in all directions. If any segment, or a whole section of the back gets stuck and immobile the joints above and below will become hyper mobile to compensate for the stiffer sections. Not forgetting to mention that it can lead to back pain and poor posture.
Practicing extension exercises provides an opportunity to stretch and lengthen the front of the body. It’s also important to mention that the extension of the spine will stimulate a truly active and effective flexion of the spine. In the long run this will help improve movement of the spine in all directions.
A great quote from Joseph Pilates is, “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it’s completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
Here’s an exercise that uses flexion and extension to balance the spine using the Pilates Cadillac. It’s a great exercise to help build a healthy, supple spine.
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Who will benefit or not with this exercise:
For a variety of reasons, Pilates has become an exercise program recommended by many healthcare professionals for those with some spine conditions, as well as for the prevention and wellness benefits.
The exercise that we are demonstrating today can be considered good and safe for everyone with no major spine issues, people with poor posture, general back pain, stiffness in the shoulder and neck area.
If you tend to a Kyphotic posture position, the muscles through your chest, arms and front of shoulders may be tight and restricting your ability to practice good spine extension.
For some people kyphosis causes constant pain. This is the case of people with osteoporosis. This pain happens when the spine becomes more curved and the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the back are strained and stretched.
This exercise can help to strength the muscles that hold the spine straight and upright (erector spinae ) and also helps to keep the spine limber and flexible.
This exercise is not indicated for people with spinal stenosis, herniated disc in an acute phase, arthritis.
Describing the exercise:
1) Engage the pelvic floor to draw the tailbone down between the legs, elongating the lower spine;
2) Engage the lower abdominals to assist in supporting the spine;
3) Roll the shoulders up and back while elongating the middle and upper spine away from the tailbone;
4) Let the arm bones turn out (spiralling) as you peel breastbone away from the ball. Nod head back and reach long through front and back of neck.
5) Push feet into the bars and straight the legs. Contract the high hamstrings and gluteus to continue lengthening the low back and help hold the position. Let the thigh bones spiralling out as well.
* 1 to 4 – inhaling
5 – exhaling
How to build up to it:
As with any big exercise, it’s important to prepare the body by mobilizing and stabilizing the major joints involved. Here are a few great exercises to use as a build up for this exercise.
1) Full foam roller – lay on your back, knees bent and arms long by your sides. Breathing.
Move the arms away from the body, sliding on the mat with palms facing up. Like doing a “snow angel”. While you are breathing feel the muscles of the chest and arms relax and spreading away from the breastbone. With this exercise the gravity is assisting you with a stretch.
2) neutral shoulder bridge
3) supine shoulder rotation
4) prone shoulder extension
5) prone hip extension
6) prone spine extension