Extension the spine is the opposite of flexion. From a terminology standpoint, it’s helpful to be specific. If the cue is “bend the spine” it could move in one of three directions. Forward (spine flexion), Backward (spine extension), or Sideways (lateral flexion). The other direction our spine moves is to rotate or twist. Normally “bending” means flexion, or moving the body forward towards the legs. Extension would be taking the body backwards in the opposite direction, OR un-bending.
A Back Out of Balance
Without active thought during daily life activities, we can lose the three natural curves of the spine, and all of a sudden our posture is well, kind of poor. Our head may be sitting forward on the neck from too many hours straining to look at a computer screen. Our shoulders and upper back may be hunched forward from slumping in our chairs, or spending all day doing things bending forward. After all, we really don’t do anything in daily life with our arms behind us! If this upper body slump is extreme it’s called kyphosis. If we’re standing, we may get lazy and forget to maintain some support through the mid-section. With the abdominals hanging farther out to the front, the lower back will get pulled forward too, creating a more noticeable lumbar curve. If extreme this sway in the low back is called lordosis. The body will strive for balance. If there’s too much going on at one end, it’s going to make some changes at the other end to compensate. Over time it will tell the brain that these changes were done to be in a normal, balanced position. At some point, the brain will accept the changes as the way it’s supposed to be, and voila! You now have a body that won’t fight for a better position, because it thinks it’s placed where it should be.If you’re looking for ways to help get your back in balance and improve your posture, check out this great resource, “Posture Principles for Health,” at https://centerworks.com/collections/pilatesstore.html
The Importance of Practicing Spine Extension
Spine extension is very important for posture and health. Since there is very little in life that we do bending backwards, taking time with exercise to move this direction can help keep our backs in balance. Ideally, every segment of the spine should move freely and easily in all directions. The real goal with good spine extension is to get the entire spine actively participating, which means the middle back has to learn how to extend – movement away from its natural curve. Practicing extension exercises also provides an opportunity to stretch and lengthen through the front of the body. In the long run this will help improve movement of the spine in all directions. A great quote from Joseph Pilates is, “A man is as young as his spinal column.” Practicing sequential, segmental spine extension will help keep you feeling young!Swan Lift Tips to Improve Your Technique (lay on your stomach, tip of the nose to the mat.)
- Lengthen your spine as you inhale, before beginning to lift into extension. As you do this, pull the shoulder blades down towards your hips and it will be easier to feel this lengthening action.
- Be sure the head doesn’t crank backwards and the neck over extend to initiate pulling you up. Let the head ride on the neck, start your lift from the base of the neck and work from the top downwards to the lower spine.
- Feel the breastbone slide upward as the spine lifts, and slide downward as the spine lowers.
- Work to feel even engagement with all the muscle close to the backbone, throughout the entire spine to hold your extension. (If anything, work to feel more in the upper back. Because it’s not as strong when moving in this direction – it may need a little extra effort to lift & hold you in this position.)
- When you begin to push with your arms to lift higher, use the muscles in the back of the arm & shoulder and be sure that the upper back muscles are still engaged. (if the arms start working and the upper back lets go you’ll lose your extension where you need it the most.)
Get details and pictures for a great preparatory exercise to help you practice and improve your extension with a copy of the full article, Mastering Movement of the Spine: Extension.
**If you have any doubts as to the appropriateness of learning or practicing new habits and/or exercises – you are advised to check with your doctor to be sure it is safe & appropriate for you to participate.