Let’s Talk About Spine Health

When quarantine started, it was hard to find a “new normal”
for everything – work habits, eating habits, exercise and
everything in between. We’re significantly less mobile than we
were three months ago, and our backs have taken the brunt of the
work. As the resident Pilates instructor on the MM team, I’ve
learned a thing or two about the importance of a supple spine in
this digital age. I’m a firm believer that if your spine isn’t
happy and healthy, you won’t be either.

Your spine is supported by all of the muscles that make up your
core. A strong core increases your ability to maintain good
alignment. However, the answer is not to think “Ok, I gotta do a
million crunches a day!” to have a strong core. What is commonly
known as your core, is actually made up of four separate muscles,
and are activated by different movements of your trunk. In this
blog, I’ll explain each core muscle group, the upper body
movement that strengthens it, and a Pilates exercise or stretch you
can do at home that is spine-friendly.

The rectus abdominis are the most visible and most commonly
known muscle of the core. Variations of sit-ups and crunches that
lift your chest towards your pelvis are the simplest ways to
exercise the superficial layer of your abs. One of my most favorite
mobility exercises is the Pilates Roll-Up, as it exercises flexion
of the core but also creates a gentle massage for each vertebrae of
the spine. Practice how to do the Roll-Up here.

The transverse abdominis are the deepest layer of your core.
They span across your two hip bones, and are connected to both the
lumbar spine and the pelvis. Due to their deep connection into the
pelvic floor, large movements won’t help you engage these
muscles. Instead, it’s key to sync the breath to your core
movement, which you can do through practicing Single Leg
and Double Leg

Your obliques have two layers, external and internal. The
external obliques wrap from around the mid-back, around the
thoracic rib cage, and down towards the hip bones. The oblique
muscles are crucial in helping your lower back, and are best
activated by sidebending and rotating. For a simple side bending
movement, sit down criss-cross and place the left hand down to the
floor. Reach the right arm overhead, keeping the hand in line with
the shoulder and you reach towards the left side. Breath into the
rib cage to lengthen. Do as many as you desire, then repeat on the
other side.

Your internal obliques lie above your transverse abdominals and
underneath your external obliques, and are used through movements
that involve rotation. You are less likely to feel your internal
obliques the way you feel your external obliques when you do
certain movements, but know they play a big role in moving the
spine safely. To activate your internal obliques, sit either
criss-cross or with your legs extended in front of you. Sitting up
tall, take both palms and place them behind the base of your skull.
As you inhale, stretch your spine towards the ceiling, and begin to
exhale as you rotate your rib cage to the left. Repeat 3-5 times
then switch sides. After doing this, you can practice the Saw, a basic
Pilates exercise that uses these same principles.

The key to keeping your spine healthy and minimizing back pain
is to strengthen your core muscles by stretching it in all planes
of motion. Start by mastering your own body weight through simple
movements. These seemingly simple stretches will activate the
muscles that help you stand up, bend over, balance, or play with
your dog — and should be a priority before you pick up those
heavy weights or go for that long distance run. A strong, supple
spine may not always seem like a priority, but do it for the sake
of longevity and vitality. Your 60-year-old self will thank

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Let’s Talk About Spine Health