Trainer Tip of the Month: Find Neutral

This month’s trainer tip comes from Jessica Walters. With a background in physical therapy, and a track record of helping clients recover from chronic and acute pain, Jessica shares a the first tip she gives all her clients, which happens to be extra important for pregnant and postpartum women! Learn more about Jessica, and her powerful tip, below.

What was your motivation for working with the pre and post natal population?

I first became interested in working with this population when some of the clients I was already working with became pregnant.  There always seemed to be this fear and apprehension about what they should be doing, and it was either because they did not have enough information, or (far more often), they had too much information, and were getting boggled down in the confusion of all the conflicting information on the internet (Google can sometimes be the worst thing to happen to a pregnant woman!). I wanted to alleviate this confusion and fear, and empower women with the confidence of truly understanding their body’s needs and what to do.  Also, personally this is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I prepare to start my own family!

What is one tip you always give your clients?

The very first thing I teach ALL my clients is how to find their own neutral alignment.  Neutral alignment occurs when the rib cage is stacked directly over the pelvis, and there is a straight line from the ears down through the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.  When the body is out of neutral alignment, it places excess stress on certain muscles, especially the core muscles.  Unfortunately, the growing belly and breasts during pregnancy tend to pull women out of neutral alignment.  This places even greater stress on their core muscles, which already have enough strain on them.  So, the first thing I do with my clients is to help them find their own neutral alignment, so we can alleviate that excess tension on their muscles.

Neutral alignment may be different for every person.  Here are a few tips you can use to help you find your own neutral alignment:

  1. Find Standing Alignment: If you have the benefit of someone being able to check you, look for a vertical stacking of 5 landmarks: ears, shoulders, hip bones, knees, and ankles.  If you don’t have the benefit of someone being able to check you, you can stand against a wall with the back of your head, shoulder blades, tailbone, and heels touching the wall.  The wall isn’t a perfect exercise for every individual, but it gives you a good general sense.
  2. Stack Rib Cage Over Pelvis: The other important piece to finding neutral is to ensure your rib cage is always stacked directly above your pelvis.  If you think of your bony hip bones as flashlights, you want those flashlights pointing directly forward (like the first image).  Not downward (like the second) or upward (like the third).  It’s important to remember this when seated too.  The bottom of your rib cage should always be in line with your hip bones, never behind them (hunched-back) or in front (arched-back).
  3. Find Neutral During Movement (in and out of the gym): Once my clients find their own neutral alignment, and get a sense of what it feels like, I help them maintain this proper alignment throughout all of their movements during our workout.  We also talk about strategies for maintaining neutral alignment in everyday life (especially when sitting at a desk!), and resisting the many daily forces that attempt to pull your body out of neutral (like holding a baby, lugging a car seat, or carrying a heavy bag).Interested in learning more, or working with Jessica or another PROnatal trainer?  Learn more about our Personal Training services, and our Performance Training Approach to better prepare your body for the demands of pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood.