"Spinal articulation is the ability to move the bones of your spine, or your vertebrae, in segments, piece by piece, sequentially," says Aliyah Hatcher, a Pilates teacher and founder of the Pilates Center of Rockville who is currently offering virtual Pilates workshops. This involves moving it backward and forward, and it's an important function for your everyday movements.
According to Hatcher, not many people are actually able to bend their spine in segments, and instead do it in what she calls chunks. "That means that there are whole sections of the spine moving as one piece, so they're not able to individually move," she says. "That is an essential thing that you should be able to do. When you can't, it shows up in everything." She points to having hips out of alignment or neck and shoulder pain, which can both happen if your spine is really inflexible.
When you think about your day-to-day life, a lot of times your back is hunched forward for a lot of the day, which is one key reason why spinal articulation is so important. "We don't bend backward in everyday life," says Hatcher. "If I had to pick one thing in your body that's the most impactful, it would be having a strong and flexible spine." By articulating it in certain exercises, she says that it can prevent a lot of injury throughout your entire body and quash a lot of pain and stiffness. Not only that, but it's the ultimate example of functional fitness: "Having that functionality can make a huge difference in everything from daily movements to hiking, dancing, running—any kind of physical activity," she says.
If your spine is flexible and mobile, you'll be able to bend your spine forwards and backward with ease. "Your spine is the center of your body, and if it's healthy, you'll feel 10 times better," says Hatcher. Keep scrolling for the Pilates spinal articulation exercises she recommends doing three to five times a week for optimal mobility.
6 Pilates spinal articulation exercises
1. Leg lever
Sit on your mat with your legs out straight. Grab a yoga strap and hook it around one foot, leaving your arms out straight. Lift your leg up and push your foot into the strap, using your abdominals to help you articulate your spine down onto the mat. Then, lift your head back up and push through your extended leg as you peel your spine off of the mat back into the starting position. Do this slowly and with control.
2. Rolling like a ball
Bend your knees and grab your ankles. Curl your spine into a ball and roll forward and backward on your spine while keeping your chin tucked. "What most people find is that instead of smooth movements, there are bumps, which is because those parts of your spine that are stiff are going to be flat," says Hatcher, who adds that the more you do this, the smoother it'll start to feel.
Grab a foam roller and lie down on your belly. Place your forearms over the top of the foam roller, and use the movement of the roller to help you roll your back off of the mat. Stretch your abdominals and lift your spine for a smooth movement.
From quadruped position with a neutral spine, articulate your spine, starting at the tailbone and arching as you look up to the ceiling. Then from the top of your spine, curl your back up and tuck your tailbone as you look towards the floor. Breathe as you move fluidly between both positions.
5. Roll-back arch on an exercise ball
Sit on the front edge of a large exercise ball. Curl your pelvis underneath you and begin rolling over each vertebra of your spine to hit your lower spine. Then arch backward over the ball to hit your upper spine. Roll several times over it to hit all parts of your spine.
6. Shoulder bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press through your upper back and roll up slowly through your spine into a bridge with your hips in the air. Try to do this segment by segment rather than just raise your hips up to really build that healthy flexibility. Then roll your spine back down to the mat slowly and repeat.
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