What is Neutral?

What is Neutral?

Remember Two Truths:

  1. The best posture is the one you don’t spend too much time in. You want to move, not pose in “perfect posture.”
  2. “Neutral posture” is a zone, not a position you click into.

Many of us habitually stand, sit, and move in ways that don’t do our tissues, muscles, abdomens, or pelvic floors any favors. Probably. Maybe. I think.

I don’t want to overstate the role of “alignment.” To be honest, much of the evidence suggests “neutral” doesn’t matter as much as we thought, but some preliminary findings warrant paying more attention to the relationship between posture and the pelvic floor.

In other words, obsessing about correct alignment is not worth your time. Still, you could benefit from tweaking (not to be confused with twerking), especially if you have diastasis recti and pelvic floor problems.

Although the evidence is sparse (read Does Neutral Posture Matter?), and the definition of neutral posture is vague, avoiding postural extremes is probably a good thing, both functionally and aesthetically.

Finding Neutral

Therefore, let’s find neutral.

The simplest working definition of neutral posture or “neutral spine” “is the proper alignment of the body between postural extremes.” Physical Therapist Diane Lee has a good page on her website addressing some of these postural extremes, such as “butt gripping,” “back gripping,” and “chest gripping.”

At its simplest: Keep the natural curves in your spine and stack your ribs above a neutral pelvis. A neutral pelvis maintains the natural lordotic curve in the lower back. (Keep in mind, we don’t all have the same pelvis, so natural variations in the angle will occur).

Therapists and trainers have come up with many ways to find neutral posture (and even different versions of “neutral”).

For example, my first physical therapist told me my pelvis tipped too far forward. But another physical therapist told me my pelvis tipped too far backward and my chest shot upward. Don’t get too hung up on one particular person’s version of neutral.

String Theory

That said, as a general guide, picture a string extending from your breastbone to your pubis. Leaning your torso too far back pulls on the string and slumping your torso too far down slackens it. Down below, tipping your pelvis too far forward pulls and tipping too far back slackens. Try not to habitually stretch or slacken that string.

Strike a Pose

I spent a lot of time in front of mirrors, picturing an imaginary string, but only after I took pictures to literally see my own posture did I feel a metaphorical click.

Warning: If you take the pictures, do not obsess. Just say no to obsession.

I recommend 6 different pictures. Use a camera timer and a tripod, or get someone else to do it for you. My husband is a good sport. He doesn’t even ask why anymore. Probably good marriage advice in general.

  1. Stand as you normally do.
  2. Tilt your pelvis as far forward as possible (without feeling silly).
  3. Tilt your pelvis as far back as possible.
  4. Return your pelvis to its natural state and lift your chest to the sky.
  5. Now lower your chest and feel your back round.
  6. Consciously adjust your posture so your pelvis neither tips too far forward nor tucks too far back. Additionally, make sure your chest neither lifts to the sky nor points to the ground. (This assumes you are wearing a decent bra. Your untethered boobs might have a mind of their own, independent of your posture).

My Pictures

  • Picture 1: My natural not thinking about it posture (about 18 months after the birth of my 2nd kid. Side-note: I was pregnant with my 3rd but didn’t know it, blissfully unaware of the vomit coming). Notice the position of my upper back and my pelvis (but ignore my face. Meredith, why so serious?).Picture 1
  • Picture 2-Faux Butt: My pelvis tilted forward, also known as swayback or what I call “faux butt.” I do this if I’m not paying attention. (The rest of the pictures were taken 10 months after the birth of my 3rd kid).Picture 2
  • Picture 3-Flat Butt: My pelvis tucked underneath, often called “flat butt.”Picture 3
  • Picture 4-Miss America Syndrome: My chest pushed upward. Diane Lee calls this “back gripping” because your upper back falls backward. I call this “Miss America Syndrome.” I do this sometimes, as you can tell in Picture 1.Picture 4
  • Picture 5-Hunchback of Notre Mommy: My chest pushed down. Diane Lee calls this “chest gripping” because your chest falls forward. I call this “Hunchback of Notre Mommy.” I’m guilty of this a lot, probably because I hold tension in my upper body. Picture 5
  • Picture 6-Neutral: **My best version of neutral.** I’m not sure I’d align with a grid or anything, especially because my chest and shoulders are tight from carrying around my kids all day, but it’s good enough. Posture only needs to be good enough.Picture 6

A Quick Look at All the Postures in a Row (I chose an older picture for #1 because I wanted an accurate version of my “normal” posture):

posturerow

A Quick Look Comparing #1 and #6:

Back Gripping vs. Neutral

The pictures don’t fully convey that I’m both lordotic (Faux Butt) AND kyphotic (alternating between Miss America Syndrome and Hunchback of Notre Mommy). Therefore, I need to slightly un-tip my pelvis and slightly un-thrust my ribcage or widen my chest without pushing it upward. Different physical therapists gave me different posture “diagnoses.” I settled on my own self-assessment based on how I actually felt.

When I can remember, I play with my posture to find a position for my lower back and chest that doesn’t feel like it is over-stretching or scrunching parts of my body. Therefore, the pictures are helpful, but they should only be used as an addendum to awareness of actual sensation.

What Does it All Mean?

Neutral posture might help your breath, might help your pelvic floor muscles, might make you look better, might stop you from stretching out your abdominal muscles, might keep your pelvic floor organs in their proper places. Or not.

Posture is not a cure-all. Its benefits are conjecture at this point, but it’s a fairly painless adjustment, as long as you don’t obsess.

Every once in a while, take some pictures of yourself and re-evaluate. A few times a day, check in with your posture and consciously adjust extremes. You won’t notice changes overnight. That is fine.

Be a posture tortoise. Slow and steady.

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2 thoughts on “What is Neutral?

  1. Hi Meredith! Your website really spoke to me. My preggo stomach looked almost identical to yours and I’m generally a small gal = abdominals still in shock. Like you, I’ve tried nearly everything under the sun for my DR. Through a combo of physical therapy and other stuff, I’ve reduced it from 6 to about 3, but have never been able to break that barrier. Question: did your alignment obsession phase include the not-sucking-in obsession? I’ve been trying to let it all “hang” for some time now, but it feels kind of yucky and I see no difference in my gap. Any thoughts on this?

    1. Getting it from a 6 to a 3 is awesome! I too felt like I plateaued around a 3 (although mine was never as large as a 6). The only thing that got it any smaller was upping my workouts. Basically, testing my body a little more to see what it could handle and doing more of the “traditional” exercises (like planks, but definitely not something to do unless you feel ready). Right now, it’s at a 2 and has stayed at a 2 for years, so I’m thinking this is the best it will get without surgery. But I don’t feel particularly weak or in pain, so surgery would really just be about aesthetics at this point.

      But back to your question. Yes, I tried to “let it all hang out” as well, mostly because I was hyper paranoid that I was holding all this tension that was somehow compromising my pelvic floor. As of now, I don’t think too much about if my stomach is hanging out or not. I simply notice if I’m holding my breath or if my breath is shallow. Then, I take a deep breath. And that’s it:) Frankly, the notion that we have lingering DRs because we are sucking in our stomachs too much is based on conjecture, not evidence.

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