T Nation

The Importance of a Neutral Spine

I am an intermediate lifter, and like many on this site, I consider my lifting to be training rather than exercise. I’m able to lift more today than I was a month ago and hope to be able to lift even more next month. Perhaps a powerlifting meet is in my future.

I have a friend whose opinion I value. He comes from a exercise background having trained people for nearly 10 years and recently completed his doctorate in physical therapy. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from him especially as it relates to prehab, mobility, etc.

One thing I am having some trouble with is his insistence on a neutral spine, all the time, in all lifting activities. In my mind, there are times when a neutral spine either is not possible or is not necessary. This situation culminated yesterday after I had completed a set of pull-ups and he told me that I should be keeping a neutral spine throughout the movement.

I told him I thought it was unnecessary during a low risk, body-weight activity and in fact, may even work against building strength as it imposes a (somewhat) arbitrary limit on how much weight can be moved. Of course, he’s the Dr. and I’m just a schmuck in the gym so I don’t have the knowledge to defend my (defenseless?) point.

So, imho neutral spine during DLing, squating, bent rows, et al is good and necessary. However, neutral spine during pull-ups, triceps extensions, and skulls is neither necessary nor desirable due placing the body in a mechanically disadvantaged position, albeit one that’s “safer” perhaps as measured by spinal compression…

Can anyone else weigh in on this?


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

[quote]bushidobadboy wrote:
Well without seeing your spinal positioning during the exercise and the other ‘non-neutral’ exercises you listed, I can’t comment on whether you might be risking your spinal health or not.

Generally though, he’s right. If you CAN hold neutral without it impeding the exercise, then IMO you should - it’s just good practice and a good habit.

Holding neutral at ALL costs and in EVERY exercise is of course complete rubbish and not possible or desirable.



Yup, this /\

Also, your LOW back having excessive movement is worse than your upper back. Because of the lordosis of the lumbar spine, you are more likely to herniate a disc or strain something if over-exerted than the same situation in the upper back. You have a bit more wiggle room in the thoracic spine, but the more you practice that neutral spine top to bottom, no matter what kind of training, the better off you are. Just don’t get crippled by the constant attempt to stay neutral.

I agree with the other fellas. One thing I’ve noticed lately as I’ve tried to focus on stable core and neutral spine is that I get the added benefit of working (though not much in relation to how hard you must work to be stable in a squat, for instance) my core even while I’m a ways up the kinetic chain (rope tri pushdowns was when I was focusing on this the other day… I know, not the best example of a time where it’s ‘useless’). Anyways, why not work on tightening up the core every chance you get.

How would you ‘kip’ on a pullup (yesterday’s article) if you had to maintain a perfectly neutral spine (I’m not saying tailwhip your back like a fish flopping around on the beach, but it is going to move a little when you flex your hips to generate momentum)… you’d be paralyzed to get that added boost moving you in the right direction; something I find extremely helpful in banging out a few extra reps at the end of a set.

if you build your core strength enough, won’t neutral spine just start to happen naturally for all lifts?

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

[quote]bushidobadboy wrote:

[quote]jskrabac wrote:
if you build your core strength enough, won’t neutral spine just start to happen naturally for all lifts?[/quote]

Not at all. Strength and stability are different things.


But still related, right? I thought the purpose of a strong core was to stabilize your lumbar spine. That’s why brotards at my gym who never workout their legs or core can never keep a neutral spine when they are doing curls or even picking the weights up to do a set.

Well, if you mean functional strength of your core… then yes… your spine will be stable by good core strength training and will happen automatically.