So here we are this week, approaching the bottom of the spine.
It's not technically the bottom; as with any well designed structure, the actual base is rooted within its foundation, which allows the central column to rise up above the earth, supported by the structures below, and the balance above.
Your lumbar spine, aka the lower back, is the bridge between the pelvis and your thoracic spine, containing 5 sturdy lumbar vertebrae, thicker than their lofty counterparts , designed to distribute movement between your hips and your chest while providing the bony scaffolding off of which the lower organs of your digestive system are suspended.
Given that organs are 90% water, and that water has an expansive pressure ( just hang a water balloon off of your finger and observe how it swells) it may seem like a questionable choice for God to have designed a system where some of our most vulnerable organs are sitting there, literally hanging out in front of us with no bony protection whatsoever, but clearly she had a brilliant strategy in mind.
Instead of building us a " gut cage" we have layers upon layers of abdominal muscles, all arranged with different "grains", like the overlaid sheets in plywood, allowing for multiple ranges of motion, while protecting our miles of intestine from accidental puncture.
Let's start with the deepest layer, the Transverse Abdominus. This one begins as a fascial sheath in front and then separates in to two muscles that encase your sides like a corset and insert in to the spine at the back. To feel it's action, place your hands at your waist and cough. Then we have the Internal Obliques, which extend from the same rib to hip, with fibers that resemble a sideways fan. Exhale and raise your hip towards your ear - that's that one. The External Obliques mimic the lines of the ribs themselves, each set hung off its own rib and headed down towards the pubic bone and opposite hip. When you cross an elbow to the opposite knee while doing sit-ups you use this one. Finally, in front, we have the long strip of the Rectus Abdominus, which is so long, and spans so many joint movements that it has been cleverly designed with 8 compartments so as to reduce the risk of tearing, giving us the opportunity to cultivate an obsession with developing a 6 or an 8 pack, as well as flex our spine ( for example, in classic crunches) and extend it (such as a gymnast touching their head to their toes in back bend).
The lumbar vertebrae themselves are flanked by an impressive array of muscles, with the Psoas and the Quadratus Lumborum doing double duty as they attach to the front and back of the spine, and extending further back with a chorus of muscles reflecting the intricacy with which our frontal armor was constructed, but without an organ sack to space them out.
To be frank, I could go on for hours about this part of the body. Each muscle deserves its own blog, and the beauty which with the pelvis and rib cage are linked fascinates me. They play an intrinsic role in nearly every life giving function we have: digestion, elimination, respiration, fight or flight, healthy gut, expulsion of tiny humans, not to mention walking, laughing, dancing, reproducing, the list goes on...
And so I return to my purpose - to give you a sense of what's going on underneath your skin without overwhelming you with Latin terminology and dry statements about origins and insertions. So I conclude our array of anatomical metaphors with two pictures: the first is a cross section of the lumbar region with organs included, the second focusing solely on the muscles.
As always, we return to the ability to create motion in that specific area.
I will now indulge myself in a paragraph about strategy ( given that I just saved you 6 by not exploring every back muscle in detail). If you want to create range of motion in any area, you need to explore the basic 6 planes of movement available to every human body, which can be divided up in to 3 "opposites" :
- Front and back ( sagittal)
- Side to side (frontal)
- Twisting right and left ( rotational)
Then if you're really smart, you'll make a circle, because a circle because as we know, is the one ring that rules them all and binds them.
So that's what we are doing in this week's "Limber Lumbar" workout. (click on the title to be taken to the workout)
Using the same ball as last week for feedback, and exploring the range of motion that can be created with our lumbar spine.
As always remember that I don't live in your body, you do. Additionally, I am not a doctor. Please be mindful in your practice, and always consult a physician before embarking on any exercise program.
Image Credits to:
Visible Skeleton App, Netter Images, Tom Myers