It matters to me.
In the beginning of my career, I have been cuing people to ‘engage the core and protect (as I then thought) the lower back by pressing it against the mat’. I had a simpler view of the function of the abdominals and thought my prime objective was to create a tough ab workout.
I have now very much moved away from this view. As I watch a lot of people in a perpetual posterior pelvic tilt from all the sitting they do all day long, it does not make sense to me to reinforce this even further by strengthening in that very position.
Yes, I do want to challenge my clients and class participants. But my challenge for them is now to teach them to find a neutral spine and to maintain that position as they move their extremities further away from the core. This is no longer the ab workout of 100 crunches topped by another 100 to ‘work the obliques’ but a very deliberate education of proper alignment.
The better you are at keeping your back in a neutral position, the better you are at lowering your risk of injury.
I believe in that in the last 10 years we have learned that doing crunches on the mat are far from the most effective and efficient way to work your abdominal muscles.
I’ve heard a trainer comparing doing crunches to taking a credit card and bending it back and forth 5,000 times. Picture that credit card as your spine!! That really draws a picture doesn’t it!
Good book to read “The New Rules of Lifting For Abs”
Neutral spine is relative to the muscular imbalances an individual presents with. A person is not going to automatically have a neutral spine if he/she is presenting with super tight hamstrings or hip flexors. Neutral to that person may mean positioning oneself in the closest position to neutral that his or her body will allow and progressively helping that person get to anatomical neutral.
All through the ACE personal trainer course, my instructor constantly emphasized maintaining as much of a neutral spine as possible. He also spent a great deal of time on explaining to us what a “delicate yet flexible” system the spine is. From what I know about the spine, like everyone has answered, it has the potential to be affected by pretty much any part of the body. Everything is interconnected, and when you compensate in one area too often, it leads to muscular imbalances and structural deviations in the body. Gymnasts come to mind. Gymnasts have to sort of “side step” along the balance beam quite often. Usually with one foot turned sideways and the other flat behind that foot. If that gymnast favors turning one foot sideways and does nothing to sort of “balance it all out” through training, then it leads to some problems down the road with knee pain and a messed up kinetic chain of mobility.
The spine is just like that. Tight muscles or structural deviations in the body can definitely affect the spine. I think everyone here has great answers that are backed up with experience and facts. So to answer the question, I was taught to encourage neutral spine, and I recognize the importance of neutral spine, so that’s what I encourage with clients.