Our spine is probably of the most important structures in our body. It is the main freeway for our nervous system as it allows communication back n’ forth between joints and muscles in our periphery to the central command center which is considered our brain and spine. Without a healthy spine, we cannot expect the signals traveling to the brain to be efficient and optimized. Although much of the sensory information that is received from our periphery ends up being translated and sent up to the brain to then decide on a plan of action, our spine actually serves as a secondary command center as sometimes a quick response is needed for certain reflexes and reactions. This is one of the most important evolutionary adaptations for survival for us as humans when we think of something as simple as pulling your hand away quickly from a hot stove, or being able to quickly react during bouts of physical activity and competition.
Our spine consists of: the cervical spine which has 7 vertebrates and can be thought of as our neck and upper chest region. Our thoracic spine which can be looked at as our chest and mid-section has 12 vertebrae and lastly, our lumbar spine has 5 vertebrae and can be considered our hip and pelvis region. Now, when it comes to movement, many people believe that your spine is this unified joint that should always be moving in unison. When in reality, the spine is consisted of 3 different regions that all have different capacities of movement potential. For example, our lumbar spine has a more limited amount of rotation when compared to our thoracic spine. Just like any other joint in the body that doesn’t receive direct blood flow or nourishment, the spine and its individual joints require movement in order for them to stay functioning at a high rate.
Understanding that we have to be able to move and articulate our spine, let's look at one of my absolute favorite movement patterns that I engage in on a daily basis, really within 5 minutes of me waking EVERY-DAY! The kneeling spinal wave is a great drill as it relies on the stability and feedback from the ground. As we mentioned in our article “Benefits of Ground Based Movement” , the ground is one of the most rewarding training tools we can use for the amount of information our brain is able to receive about how our joints are moving through space. With this sensory information going to our brain and spinal cord, it allows us to manifest more movement at each of the vertebrates which ultimately grants our joints more nourishment and potential. Although it is easy to simply do this movement at a fast pace and lack of intention, we will not get the full benefits of this movement practice without actively engaging into the ground with every pint of contact we have with the ground. It may sound simple, but the more we engage into the ground, the more we will feel, leading to a higher quality signal and resulting movement pattern for our spine. Try completing 5 slow, intentional spinal wave reps and see how you feel after the fact.
Now as much as I love to utilize the ground for its rewarding information and access to deeper ranges of motion, it is also a skill to be able to move and articulate different regions of our spine without the biofeedback from the ground. That is why this next movement is a standing mobility drill that consist of lengthening and shortening the tissues on our lateral portion of our body. What is often referred to as the “lateral line” are the muscles and tissues that run from our shins all the way up to our rib cage and shoulders. These set of tissues are often called upon to stabilize us while we are walking to ensure that we are not tilting over side-to-side with each step. Usually, this set of tissues gets stuck working in the same pattern which results in the lateral tissues being under utilized to produce and absorb force. To try and avoid this lack of movement variability and overtraining of other tissues oriented in various parts of our body, it is very simple to work in this standing lateral reach throughout your day, regardless if you are in the gym or not. Try to complete 10 reps on each side and see if your body feels any different after the fact.
Now the last spine focused mobility movement we will focus on is the standing vertical counter-rotation. The majority of our day is spent either feeding into purposeful rotation or fighting the desire and want for our body to rotate. In today’s society, it has been said that the majority of people are “anterior dominant” meaning that they are stuck in postures and patterns that have forward rounded shoulders, chest and neck that ultimately diminish the health and function of surrounding joints and tissues. Due to this over-abundance of movements in a single plane of motion, it is important to move your joints and spine in a plethora of ranges of motion to really take advantage of your full health and movement potential. This movement does exactly that; it requires the spine to understand the sophistication of movement and specifically, the amount of rotation that your body has. Try out this simple standing movement for 5 reps on each side and let me know if anything in your body feels any different.
I understand that these movements might be new for some people and thats awesome! Do not worry about completing the drill “perfectly” as in all reality, there is no such thing as a perfect rep only perfect intentions. If this is your first time trying to take care of your spine in this fashion, try these drills out a couple times a day. Again, it is very easy to look at each one of these drills and complete them swiftly but try and conceptualize the movement in your head before and as you are moving through them. Envision the joints and tissues you are trying to stabilize and move; the mental aspect that plays into accessing more movement potential is real and should not be taken for granted.