Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?!

April 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm 50 comments

Thank you, for this image.

When I started in Pilates, all I heard was “There is no such thing as neutral pelvis”.   Well, that’s not so.  It was told to me and us as a defense against a bit of ignorance because my teacher didn’t know what it is and didn’t know why it would be so valuable.  Neutral Pelvis and the opportunity for Neutral Spine certainly exists and is essential to the health of…well, your entire you!  And…your clients

Let’s define:

Neutral Pelvis is exactly the same thing in every human body:  The alignment of the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – aka Hip Points) and the Pubic Bone in line with each other in the Coronal Plane.  (Remember that the Coronal Plane is the plane that divides you in half creating front and back; anterior and posterior.)

You can create this alignment when lying down, sitting up, kneeling and standing up.

Everyone creates the same neutral pelvis.  It’s just an alignment relative to these planes.

However, saying “just” doesn’t give it the value it deserves.  Neutral Pelvis is precious!  Why?  Because it allows for the opportunity of Neutral Spine.

Neutral Spine is different in every human body; however it has the same elements:  the natural and balanced curves of the spine when in Neutral Pelvis.  When the pelvis is in its neutral position, it allows for the most amount of space between each vertebra as they are aligned in their natural curves.  Coccyx – lordotic, Sacrum – kyphotic, Lumbar – lordotic, Thoracic – kyphotic, Cervical – lordotic.

Curves of the Spine - Thank you, SomaEnergio Wellness for this graphic.

Each vertebra is shaped with slightly angled tops and bottoms so that they fit against each other (with the discs in between) to create these curves.  When they have their curves and great space in between, then the nerves that flow out of your spinal cord and spinal column through the foramen (openings on the side of the vertebral column) and out your muscles and organs without impingement or resistance.

We need as much space between adjacent vertebrae as possible.  Discs help…a lot! But over time those disc degenerate and we need to use our muscles more than ever to separate our backbones.

We can achieve Neutral Spine when the seat of the spine, the pelvis, is in its neutral position:  Neutral Pelvis

So, when you either remain in or pass through Neutral Pelvis, there is the opportunity to be in Neutral Spine and have lots of space between backbones aided by the sheer alignment of bones in their curves with those angled tops and bottoms working for us!

Now, while, Neutral Pelvis is exactly the same in every person (ASIS and pubic bone in line with each other in the Coronal Plane), Neutral Spine is different for each individual.  Naturally, the curves of the spine will be of a greater or lesser degree from one person to another.  We must not try to set a Neutral Spine.  It’s the height of each individual’s vertebrae and discs as well as his/her particular angles of the tops and bottoms of those vertebrae that determine the curves.  However, with some rare exceptions, nearly all human spines have these curves in and out when in Neutral Pelvis…to some degree or another.  We don’t set the curves, they exist and we work, with balance of muscles and effort of opposition to open those curves on all sides.

Of course, life seems to push and pull and erase the curves of the spine.  With all the imbalances of life that we develop over time and the constant pull of gravity, we end up tipping our pelvis one way or the other more often than not, tipping our shoulder girdle forward or back, smashing back in our knees or bending them all of the time…fighting to stay upright and eliminating the curves in our spine.

Anterior Tilt - Thank you nuchiro.wordpress for this image.

Anterior Tilt when the ASIS is tipped forward of the Pubic Bone in the Coronal Plane creates a hyper-lordosis  (of small or large degree) that ultimately eliminates the curves of the spine into one straight line with the sacrum and coccyx tipped strongly (as they are the posterior of the pelvis as well as the base of the spine).  The most obvious of this is a pregnant woman.

Posterior Tilt - Thank you nuchiro.wordpress for this image

Posterior Tilt when the ASIS is tipped backward of the Pubic Bone in the Coronal Plane (tucked pelvis) with it’s habitually gripped rectus abdominus, and glutes erases the curves as well.

Now, in life, we move through Anterior and Posterior Tilt.  Our pelvis and spine are supposed to be able to pass through all different tilts and curves.  Absolutely!  However, we must also be able to pass through and stabilize on command in Neutral Pelvis so our poor spine can have the spacial glory of Neutral Spine every once in a while…if not more often.

When you’re standing…Neutral Pelvis.

When you’re sitting…Neutral Pelvis.

Now, it’s Dynamic Stability we’re looking for.  That is, we’re never anchored or holding but working with opposition in the action of maintaining Neutral Pelvis and allowing for Neutral Spine. And it’s not one set of muscles, but a multitude that must be in balance with each other to keep up this dynamic stability.

Which muscles?  Well, any that connect to your pelvis!  That’s a lot!  Your darned right!  All of your abdominals, psaos, illiacus, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, all of your glutes, adductors, gracilis, obturators, gemelli…keep going!  If it’s attached to your pelvis…it’s included. How about your spinal extensors, quadratus lomborum…keep going!

Wait!  That really is a lot!  Yup.

How do we train each muscle to be strong enough?  That would take eternity!  Well, that’s why we don’t spot train in Pilates and why it’s a process to work on multiple times a week for a lifetime.

And it comes from Opposition.  It’s all about the tailbone and sit bones reaching forward while the abdominals and lumbar spine reach back or down  and up or whatever the situation…in opposition.  This is not a held position.  It is a constant balance of oppositional forces.

First, it’s really important to know:  Intermediate and Advanced clients work with neutral pelvis in the following exercises…NOT BEGINNERS!  A client has to have a solid connection to his/her abdominals before she/he can even attempt to find this opposition and balance.  Without a solid connection to the abdominals, your client’s back will go into spasm.  This is NOT a beginner action.  This is an intermediate action.  To be taught with good support first and later challenged with only their own built-in support.

DO NOT WORK NEUTRAL PELVIS WITH BEGINNERS.  You will absolutely hurt your client.  They cannot support their legs extended into the air with this pelvis placement until they develop good abdominal and back strength.

Is that clear?

With that, keep legs at a high angle when practicing neutral pelvis in the follow exercises…for a long time.  Make sure there is good stability with opposition, first.  Then, over time, lower the legs forward and work opposition more.

Take the exercise “The Hundred”.  Get your intermediate client started just pumping arms and breathing with solid abdominals in an up.  Then in the 2nd or 3rd rep, start to work on the opposition in the pelvis.  Say something like “reach your tailbone forward to the front edge of the mat, reach your abdominals and lower back in the opposite direction…create opposition”.  You clients will feel their sacrum in the mat and their lower back/lumbar spine off the mat to some degree.  Some more than others…remember the degree of each curve of the spine is different in each person.  However, you’re looking to see if their ASIS/hip points and pubic bone are level with the mat.  It’s definitely trickier to see with some pants and with men.  You’ll start to get a good sense of it.  Also remember that in women, there is the pubis mons (fatty protective tissue over the pubic bone).  So, take care that you’re not leveling the tissue with the ASIS (or you will be in anterior tilt), but the bone inside…use your x-ray vision…because, of course, you are not to palpate the pubic bone of another.  You can figure it out on your own, in the privacy of your own home (don’t laugh at me for saying this here…I have seen some horrid things in other people’s studios and read some remarkable things on test papers.  You never touch a client’s pubic bone or tailbone.  ‘nuf said.)

So…opposition is the key!  Opposition, making sure that the client is strong enough and that the client is finding this with his/her back body (sacrum on the mat, tailbone reaching long forward, lumbar spine reaching long back, but not bearing into the mat) while you look at his/her front body (ASIS and pubis in level with each other in the plane of the mat or wall…whether lying down or sitting or standing, etc.).

This is not simple stuff, is it?  So…practice on yourself, first…and for a long time before you go teaching this to your clients.  And as me questions.  Come take sessions so that you can feel it and hear it in reference to yourself.

Where do we find opportunities to work in Neutral Pelvis in the Pilates workout:

I must remind you:  Neutral Pelvis is absolutely not for Beginner clients.  Only intermediate and beyond.  They must, must have a strong abdominal connection first!

What do we do with Beginners?  Just let them do what they do naturally:  They tuck.  They only have rectus abdominus available to them when they engage their abdominals…so they will naturally flatten engage that which will draw the pubic bone towards the sternum effectively tucking and flattening the lumbar spine.  Fine.  Great!  This is what beginners do.  Absolutely let them do it.  Do not try to give them this refined opposition.  Again…they will not be able to support it and will strain their backs.  That’s for certain.  Let your beginner clients tuck.  Don’t cue them to…you don’t have to.  They will do it naturally.

And what does this mean if you’re used to asking your clients to “flatten your lower back into the mat” or “don’t arch”.  It means that you don’t have to do that…because it’s compressive on the front/anterior of the lumbar spine.  It’s not good for you or your clients.  Naturally, you will do this as a beginner and that’s fine.  You’re not a beginner for long, but later on, this compression is not good for you.  It will compress your lower back which is bad for your discs, nerves, bones and muscles, not allow you to strengthen your abdominals and back muscles in balance or at all and hide true stretch of hamstrings and, truly, all muscles attached to the pelvis.

OK…the exercises in Classical Pilates that are eventually 100% in Neutral Pelvis (other exercises pass through Neutral Pelvis or start there and end there, etc…but these are 100% of the time in Neutral Pelvis at the Intermediate or Advanced levels:

The Hundred
One Leg Circles/Single Leg Circles
Abdominal Series of 5 (all 5 of them)
Spine Stretch Forward
Corkscrew (when hips are on the mat)
The Saw
Single Leg Kicks
Double Leg Kicks
Spine Twist
Side Kick Series
Balance Controls Facing Front
Balance Controls Facing Back
Kneeling Side Kicks
Side Plank/Side Arm
Push Ups

Reformer (Please note this is the Full Order with First and Second Long Box):

The Footwork (all 4 positions)
The Hundred
Rowing:  From the Chest, Shave, Hug
First Long Box:
Pull Straps I, II
Long Stretch Series
Long Stretch
Down Stretch
High Frog
Chest Expansion
Thigh Stretch
Arm Circles
Corkscrew (when hips are on the mat)
Balance Controls Going Off Preparation
Second Long Box:
Hamstring Curls
Short Box:
The Flat/Straight
Side Sit Ups
Leg Circles and Frogs
Balance Controls Facing Front/Down
Jump Board (remember this is a Post-Mr. Pilates set of exercises)
Russian Squats

Cadillac/Trapeze Table:

Leg Springs
Arm Springs
Shoulder Roll Down (except when you are rolling up and down)
Mermaid (any of them)
Chest Expansion
Thigh Stretch
Long Back Stretch
Standing Arm Springs (all long standing variations)

Wunda Chair:

Twist Preparations
Spine Stretch
Flying Eagle
Push Ups I, II, III
Going Up Front
Going Up Side

High Chair:

Every exercise on the high chair

Spine Corrector:

Stretch with the Bar

High Barrel:

Swedish Barre/Runner’s Stretch
Ballet Stretches (all sides)
Side Sit Ups (all variations)
Side Leg Lifts


Every exercise on the ped-o-pul

Magic Circle:

Standing Arms
Standing Legs


Standing Arm Circles

Did I miss any?  Of course I did!  There are 500-600 exercises in Mr. Pilates method that we call Classical Pilates and surely if you do Contemporary Pilates with someone else’ exercises in there…there will be other exercises  This is a solid guideline.

Practice, study, ask questions!

Upcoming workshops:

Saturday, April 9, 2011
NYC – Real Pilates
Creative Spine Corrector with Shari Berkowitz
3PMA credits

In this workshop, you’ll learn how to transform your Spine Corrector into one of the most useful piece of apparatus in your studio! You will learn how to do and teach an entire flowing workout/session on the Spine Corrector as well as how to use just a handful of exercises to enhance a full workout. With over 40 exercises, there’s a lot to work on and discover. You will also learn how to organize the exercises, how to position the clients on the apparatus and where to be to spot and cue the exercises as the teacher. It’s surprising how special and important you’ll find Spine Corrector.

Register Go to the option “Browse our classes” and then click on “Workshops”.  You’ll see it there!  If you prefer, you can just call 212.625.0777 .

May 6, 7,8, 2011

SPAIN – Fuengirola/Marbella

International Pilates Day 2011!
Universal Pilates System Conference

I will be teaching many workshops and workouts at this conference that will be full of many great Spanish teachers, doctors and other fitness/health professionals!  I hope if you’re nearby at all, that you’ll come on over and take workshops and play!

For more information, contact Universal Pilates System –

Sunday, June 12, 2011
Rhinebeck, NY
(PMA credit information to follow!)

9-10am – Thematic Mat Class

I will pick a theme at the start of the class that will be focused on and sought after in each exercise.  There will be a strong through-line of that theme.  Everyone will leave class with a new set of muscles and an awareness of something special that wasn’t there an hour ago!

10:30am-1:30pm and 2:30-5:30am – The order hasn’t been set, yet. Please stay tuned to figured out which workshop will be when:

Archival Mat and Standing Exercises:


There are many more version of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today. Variations, modifications, combinations of multiple exercises in one! Fascinating, challenging and all the rest!  These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago.  They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need the modification or challenge!  Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!

The World of The Chairs:  High Chair and Wunda Chair – Your Body’s Best Friends!

You didn’t know if you should invest in a high chair, but you did…and you hardly use it.  Or maybe you haven’t bought one and wonder if you ought to  It’s an amazing tool!  You deserve to learn how to use it to it’s fullest for you and your clients 0 from Session 1 to Session 4001.  Then there’s the wunda chair, the “home reformer”.  So many exercises, it’s almost overwhelming to pick and choose…and you pick the same 3 or 4 over and over again.  Let’s open the doors to the World of The Chairs!  Let’s work to understand the purpose of each exercise on each chair and make it come alive for you and your client!

For registration and pricing information, contact Elaine at Rhinebeck

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at

Enjoy!- Shari

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Anatomy – Where do I begin?! Pilates…a Profession?

50 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  April 1, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I would just like to say a personal thank you for what is another crystal blog, and clearly, a monster effort on your part, as always!

    Not so chuffed to find I am still a begginer…..bummer!

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  April 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      Hi, Alex!

      Thank you for the feedback! I’m glad it’s helpful!

      And…aren’t we all beginners?! Yes, I think so!

      I hope you’re having a great weekend!
      – Shari

  • 3. sandi vilacoba  |  April 1, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Shari- thank you so much for another great blog entry. It really is so helpful. Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks.-sandi

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  April 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      Hi, Sandi! I look forward to seeing you, too!
      – Shari

  • 5. sandi  |  April 1, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Shari- Thank you again! It really is so helpful. I will admit I never really thought about the difference between neutral pelvis and neutral spine. -Sandi

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  April 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      I’m so glad this helps! It does make a difference…understanding that neutral pelvis sets up the chance for neutral spine…and that neutral pelvis is one thing and only one thing, while neutral spine has ideal curves that differ in degrees for everyone.
      See you soon!
      – Shari

  • 7. Nicole  |  April 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks again for clearly explaining yet another very important topic in teaching Classical Pilates! When I first started with Pilates my pelvis was always positioned in posterior tilt causing me to lose almost all the natural curve in my lumbar spine. I’ve seen this change in my own body over time as I’ve gained strength in all the muscles supporting the pelvis. My biggest challenge now is dealing with my cervical spine. I have very little lordotic curve in my neck. Any suggestions on how to work with this issue? Thanks!

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  April 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Hi, Nicole!

      Thank you! I’m so glad this has had such a positive effect for you…as it has for me over these years!

      Now, your C-spine. It’s meant to have a lordotic curve. Being that it’s at the top of your spine, we work with what I call “The Trickle Up Effect”. You must stabilize the pelvis through opposition, then lengthen and support each of the curves of the spine from the bottom up: Lumbar good…check. Working on Thoracic? Check. Now, Cervical.

      If I recall, there’s something going on in your lower lumbar. Will you remind me what that is? Do you have a Spondylolisthesis? I remember something there. Anything in your lumbar will affect your cervical spine. There is always a compensation. Work to lift space from L5-S1 all the way up to C1-Occiput and breath into your thoracic spine.

      Create space and mobility from a stable source. Many say, from your stable powerhouse. I’m so sorry, but I don’t know what that means. So, stabilize your pelvis over and over again from one moment to the next (never try to “hold it in place”) with opposition. Lift the curves of your spine not just from the back/posterior, but from all sides and breathe. Let your head bob on top like a helium balloon. Then work to develop free-hanging legs and arms/shoulder girdle.

      This continuous process will help restore the natural curves of your spine. We will have set backs and strong surges ahead…back and forth and back and forth.

      That’s how your neck will find its way…in time…lots of time!

      Let me know your thoughts!
      – Shari

  • 9. Nicole  |  April 3, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Thank you…those are all really great things to work on! Yes, I do have Spondylolisthesis so that makes sense to me that it would effect my spine all the way up to my neck. Sounds like I just need to keep working and give it lots of time:) That’s one of things I love most about Pilates though…that it is a lifelong journey for us all!

    Thanks again!


  • 10. Jenny  |  April 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Hi Shari,

    Thank you for this great article! As a new teacher I always wonder if I should be introducing neutral pelvis to beginners. When I have asked other teachers they say they do introduce it, especially in footwork and hip work on the reformer. To me it seems that the client gets so wrapped up in neutral that they won’t even move!

    Quick question about Beginners… I understand why that in upper body forward flexion exercises, we woulnd’t need to cue a posterior tilt for the client.. but in exercises like hip work on the reformer (up/down circles, frog), I see people go from a posterior tilt to an anterior tilt as the legs go farther away from the body or downward. If we aren’t cueing them to imprint, keep their backs flat, or find neutral, what type of cue would you recommend for these beginners after cueing abs in and up?

    I have also seen this in footwork on the reformer. The movement in the pelvis is much less than what happens in footwork though.

    Thanks! And can’t wait to meet you tomorrow!


  • 11. Lori  |  April 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Shari,

    Ahhh, in a word “brilliant”. Thank you for taking the time and energy putting this to paper with such clarity. See you tomorrow!


    • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  April 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      Hi, Lori,

      Thank you! I’m glad reads so clearly!

      I’ll see you tomorrow, indeed! I’m looking forward to it!

      – Shari

  • 13. Andrea Dow  |  April 7, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Hi Shari! Great blog, as usual. Keep the fabulous information coming!

    • 14. theverticalworkshop  |  April 7, 2011 at 8:21 am

      Thank you, Andrea! Thank you!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 15. jodie  |  April 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Such an informative and wonderful article. Thanks so much for this. Really appreciate all the fabulous info.

    • 16. theverticalworkshop  |  April 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm

      Hi, Jodie,

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m really glad this article gave you what you need!

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 17. Cindy Yee  |  April 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Hi Shari, I happened to stumbled upon your great blog 2 days ago when I was goggling for hip flexor in action when doing a roll up. I am currently undergoing pilates teacher training in Asia since Feb 2011 and I must say your blog has been such a blessing! I have learn so much in just 2 days and I am hooked! Your explanations are simple & clear & some article like “popping of the ribs” got me thinking (because I have the same issue as I started and my teacher never tell me the DO and just the Don’t). This inspire me to flip up my anatomy book to understand better & tried it for myself. It’s so important to tell your client what to DO instead of DON’T and leave them hanging!

    Thank you so much for this sharing of knowledge. I am a great fan already 🙂

    Cindy Yee

    • 18. theverticalworkshop  |  April 25, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Hi, Cindy,

      Thank you for reading my blog/articles and for taking the time to comment. I’m really glad to know that you’re learning a lot from what I write. Please ask questions as they arise…I’ll look forward to sharing my thoughts with you! And if you have a topic that you’d like me to write about…please just ask!

      I hope to hear from you again!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 19. Cindy Yee  |  May 12, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Hi Shari,

    I have a question with regards to supine roll up. I realized that for most of us, including me, we tend to unconsciously activate our hip flexors and do a posterior pelvic tilt when rolling up. Our legs are also shifting forward as a result.

    Are we suppose to roll up without a posterior pelvic tilt and no engagement of hip flexors? I am a lordosis …. Maybe due to a fleshier bottom … Thus have a hard time doing a roll up without engaging the above.

    Looking forward to your advice. Thank you very much. 🙂

    Cindy Yee

    • 20. theverticalworkshop  |  May 20, 2011 at 10:49 pm

      Hi, Cindy,

      It’s great hearing from you! I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to respond…I thought I already had…but clearly I was wrong! Thank you for your patience.

      The Roll Up:
      This exercise is no joke. It’s difficult to do…no matter what. You can do it wrong and it’s hard…you can do it right and it’s hard. It’s a great exercise.
      The Roll Up starts in Neutral Pelvis relative to the mat.
      There is no need to tip into posterior tilt until the sacrum comes off the mat on the way up.
      On the reach forward…Neutral Pelvis relative to walls.
      On the way back to the mat (a.k.a Down) it begins with a posterior tilt because the very first part of the spine to move is the coccyx, followed by the sacrum.
      Once the scrum is down, it ought to remain in neutral pelvis as the lumbar, thoracic, cervical spine and skull find their way.

      So…what I’m saying is that the lumbar spine does not press into the mat. For it to do that, the pelvis would have to go into posterior tilt early.

      So the cue of “press your lower back into the mat” or “reach your lower back into the mat”…unnecessary. We want the lumbar spine to articulate, but not press…just like in The Wall.

      Eek! It’s sooooo difficult. Why? It takes great abdominal control…beyond the rectus abdominus. It takes great space between the vertebrae…so great strength of the multifidi and beyond.

      Do we care about this with beginners? Absolutely Not.
      Do we care about this with intermediates? When your clients are able to maintain a stable neutral pelvis in exercises where the pelvis is stable throughout: The Hundred, Single Leg Circles, Abdominal Series of Five, Side Kicks, Footwork, Running…etc…then you start to challenge them to try to maintain this neutral pelvis for those parts of The Roll Up, Neck Pull, Teaser etc…It’s a great challenge.

      Is it necessary? No.
      Is it fascinating and really precise and a great way to advance your strong intermediate and advanced clients? Yes.

      And how is it achieved? Through opposition. Always opposition. Please cue the tailbone and sacrum reaching forward and the abdominals and lumbar spine reaching back with opposition. Not by holding a position (compression)…but by continual energetic opposition.

      Now…you mention your are lordotic. I should hope so. We all want a lordotic curve of our lumbar. And…we also want a kyphotic thoracic spine and lordotic cervical spine.
      And your fleshier bottom? I should hope so. You need flesh on your bottom!
      And remember…there is no need to “squeeze your seat” to get any of this. Your glutes will work when they need to (for hip extension or external rotation of the femur with hip extension).

      Please…let me know if this is helpful and how I can help more! This is a great question!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 21. Cindy Yee  |  May 30, 2011 at 12:32 am

    Thanks Shari for the reply, yup it’s a really difficult workout and not many people can do it exactly perfect! Takes a lot of core strength and more as you mentioned. Am going to work harder 🙂

  • […] Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?!2011/04/01 […]

  • 23. matx  |  July 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Thank you Shari. You just choose exactly the items I would I ask you. And thank you for your great explanation, clear, handy but not less apropriate and effective.
    Take care!

    • 24. theverticalworkshop  |  July 30, 2011 at 8:09 pm

      Maialen! I’m thrilled that we are on the same wave-length!

      Missing you!
      – Shari

  • […] Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?!2011/04/01 […]

  • 26. M  |  February 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    “DO NOT WORK NEUTRAL PELVIS WITH BEGINNERS. You will absolutely hurt your client. They cannot support their legs extended into the air with this pelvis placement until they develop good abdominal and back strength.

    Is that clear?”

    I really, really … REALLY wish this could be thumped into the heads of instructors who tried to force me to do this when I was new, all the while I was trying to explain to them why it really might not be the best idea.

    (It’s even worse when they can’t explain WHY they think it’s best, like you have here, and all you get is a repeated “stick your butt out” punctuated with multiple exasperated sighs.)

    It’s frustrating, and it really feels like some instructors have inherited that thing even some of the best therapists do, where you ask for something – say, CBT – and because you’re the client, the assumption is that your credibility is automatically impugned. I try to maintain, even at the risk of being dubbed “that b*tch” in class, that the instructor may be the expert on the Method, but that I’M the expert on the way MY BODY works … and until I feel strong enough, we’re going to do it my way, thanks.

    • 27. theverticalworkshop  |  February 18, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Oh, M…

      While nearly all teachers are truly well-meaning, there are many who don’t understand what they are doing. And worse…there are some who think they know what they are doing and are absolutely wrong.

      Now…I must emphasize that they are well-meaning…but that doesn’t really matter when participants get hurt. Even under the watchful eye and learned cues of the best teachers, clients can get hurt because many things are unpredictable, but some things are utterly predictable: If you cue a client into neutral pelvis before s/he has a physical ability to connect into the abdominals and work to lift the spine…that client’s back will spasm. That’s simply how it works.

      I’m so sorry that you learned that the hard way. I’m very glad that you have figured out that you need to listen to yourself and take extra good care of yourself. We as teachers have to watch out for those who really don’t listen to themselves, too…or especially!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments this evening! I look forward to sharing more thoughts with you in the future!

      – Shari

      • 28. M  |  February 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm

        Hi again, Shari –

        I just want to first say how (positively) astounded I am at your speed of reply, LOL.

        Interestingly enough, I didn’t have the Back Spasm Series. I avoided that through sheer luck because I’ve always had more than my share of lordosis, in addition to a fair amount of junk in the trunk, and when I was a young dancer/gymnast I had a tendency to over-arch and hyperextend the back that was never corrected by an instructor (that’s a looong story; maybe the next time you come to Rhinebeck or NYC I can treat you to tea), and so my back would hurt afterwards. The good luck there is that I knew exactly what feeling I was hoping to avoid.

        I did a lot — a LOT — of reading and Romana/Stott/Hessel vid watching prior to actually mustering up the nerve to attend my first actual group machine class, so my pre-speech went a little something like this:

        “As you can see, I have more than a little more backside than most people, and I’m still working with a very weak transversus. I’d appreciate it if I could work in imprint till I’m strong enough to do the exercises in neutral spine.”

        (I apparently have one of those voices that lends itself to stentorian little speeches like that. And I’ve been told I have nice posture, and I’d try to remember to always deliver it standing up. 🙂 )

        Now to be fair, some instructors listened, and let me work my own stuff out. Some did NOT — and they work with corporate Pilates organizations/studios that, if I named them, you would no doubt recognize.

        As a fellow artist myself in my earlier years, I really think — all issues of Superstar Instructor Ego and the Classes Full of Dancers They Would All Prefer to Be Teaching in an Ideal World aside — that it’s an issue of teaching technique, in addition to the points that you raise (where some people simply don’t understand the difference as well as you’ve articulated it here).

        Some people just DO better than they TEACH, and their organizations employ them because they *can* do (and also because they look exquisite as per our current cultural ideal) without inquiring into the extent to which it’s something they can actually teach. Variant learning modalities, and all that.

        (And then there’s the “no bodywork organization should have to learn about teaching, that’s not what we do here” *sniff* bias, but that also is a different rant.)

        Yeah, I don’t have any thoughts on the subject, or anything. 🙂

        /Pilates nerd 🙂 🙂

      • 29. theverticalworkshop  |  February 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm

        Well, indeed, I am know to respond quickly…but you’ve got me on a night where I’m researching on the computer (what night do I not do this…I love it), so I can respond quickly and you are then giving me a moment for my brain to digest what I’m working on! Thank you!

        It sounds to me that you’re doing just great! I’m so glad! I won’t worry about you and what you’re practicing at all! You are clearly a mindful practitioner!

        It would be lovely to meet you one day, indeed! I’m in NYC and come to Rhinebeck often. I’ll be there on Sunday the 26th as a matter of fact. Do you live there?

        All the best!
        – Shari

      • 30. M  |  February 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        I’m actually not sure. I thought I would be up in the HV that weekend — I travel tehre frequently — but it looks like instead I will be here in NYC. In the words of one of my favorite tenistas, “We will see what will happen.”

        If it looks like I’m going to be there instead of here, with your permission, I will email you in advance and let you know …?

      • 31. M  |  February 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm

        P.S. Apologies for typos – you got me at the end of a long research binge as well …

  • 32. Classical repertoire and neutral spine…… | Pilates Scene  |  November 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    […] Ah the ole neutral spine, neutral pelvis thing. Shari Berkowitz has a thing or two to say via her Vertical Workshop Blog. […]

  • 34. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    […] Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?!2011/04/01 […]

  • 35. Carrie Tyler  |  February 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    This is a great article. I just sent it to my staff, this is our theme for the month. I would like to republish it if you would email it to me in word format at

    • 36. theverticalworkshop  |  February 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      Hi, Carrie,
      Thank you for reading and wanting to share this with your staff.
      May I ask where you would like to republish it so that I can feel more comfortable?
      You are, of course, welcome to republish as is as long as you credit me fully and link what you republish to my blog and website.
      All the best and thank you,
      – Shari

  • 37. Chantal Poulin  |  May 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Very interesting article. With Stott, I was thaught that beginners can start working towards a neutral spine only in closed kinetic chain. Of course, as soon as we do open kinetic chain moves then neutral is a big no no until they built the strenght to do so. Would you agree with that?

    • 38. theverticalworkshop  |  May 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Hello, Chantal,
      Thank you for reading this and putting your mind to it.
      Indeed, it is much “safer” to use a closed kinetic chain and neutral with Beginners. In truth, the only time I do that with a beginner is in reformer Leg Circles and frogs (mostly for frogs which is really a “placement exercise” rather than something of precision like Leg Circles or strength like Footwork). It is absolutely possible to do it in Footwork (another closed chain exercise), but complicates the matter for the client. They have so much to consider and the force they must create pressing against springs (“force” is the biomechanical word…meaning action…not compression or harshness.) Allowing your client the simple action of movement on really strange apparatus without having to be concerned about anything else is ideal. The coordination of abdominals in and up whilst doing the leg action on strange apparatus is really enough. Considering that the Footwork is a strength exercise, I would also be hesitant to use a neutral pelvis and natural curves of the spine at first because the only abdominal connections they can make are rectus abdominis, at first. And their backs are weak, too. So…allowing them (not cueing them, but allowing them) to go into a posterior tilt because of the rectus abdominis connection is sincerely OK. Being that it’s a closed kinetic chain exercise (feet on the footbar, torso on the carriage) they are not wrecking their lumbar vertebrae and discs. It’s wise to hold off on neutral pelvis until their back muscles and more than rectus abdominis are available to them.

      So then…how do we do that? When your clients are upright: Spine Stretch Forward, The Saw, Shortbox Straight and Twist, The Tree and then perhaps High Chair Pumping and Going up Front, encourage a tremendous lift of the spine…focusing on the lumbar spine in coordination with the abdominals. Lift your abdominals in and up and lift your lower back bones. Pull your abdominals in and up and lift your lower back bones. Wrap your abdominals around and lift them and lift your lower back bones. Recognizing that the “order of operations” is essential: abdominals first, back muscles second. The action of the abdominals adding to the intra-abdoinal pressure pulling on thoracolumbar fascia help create the support of the spine so that the mulitifidi/erector spinae/back extensors/back muscles can be efficient.

      Did that make sense? Do ask me if that doesn’t make sense.

      All is good as long as the client is safe and you are developing your client’s strength and coordination in these ways. You way and my way may be different…as long as we’re going for the same thing and no back spasms occur!

      Thank you!
      – Shari

  • […] by balancing the muscles that move it is a good starting point.  When you learn how to create a neutral pelvis and also address any excess curvature of the thoracic spine, a healthy lumbar curve will tend to […]

  • 40. Neutral? « paleolates  |  October 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    […] an appropriate spine position. After all, as Shari Berkowitz writes in her blog post ‘Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?‘, neutral spine is not a specific shape but unique to each individual. And, with that […]

  • 41. Michael Miranda  |  March 15, 2015 at 2:34 am

    Extremely well put & explained! I’ve been a Pilates Instructor for over 10yrs, certified by Barbara Wintroub. She teaches & trains in Neutral Pelvis but as a former dancer myself, I had the body & anatomy awareness to know the differences between neutral & posterior pelvic tilt…and Neutral is harder because you are trying to balance your pelvis on its sacrum, hence Dynamic Stability! Btw, we’ve met while I attended one of your workshops years ago in Newport Beach!

    Best Regards,
    Michael Miranda
    Los Angeles

    • 42. theverticalworkshop  |  March 15, 2015 at 9:11 am

      It’s great to hear from you, Michael! Thank you for having read this and reached out! I look forward to the next time we chat and meet in person! Newport was so many years ago! Come join me in Long Beach in April?

  • 43. Rachel Rothenberg  |  August 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Shari! Fantastic explanation! I agree with all of your points however I see so many people remain in a tucked pelvis even as they progress, because they develop such tightness in their psoas, hamstrings, low back and other parts of the body that directly or indirectly connect to the pelvis which is pretty much every part of the body. So the neutral pelvis doesn’t become available to them anymore and the rectus fires too much as opposed to the transverse. It seems if you make the client aware of the neutral or untucked pelvis early on and cue the ribs down/back, they will develop the strength without the compensations of the tuck. Curious what you think. I actually worked with a client who has done Pilates in a group setting for years and never developed the length/strength in her spine until we worked on the neutral pelvis in some safe, fundamental exercises that I gave her for homework. I see the ribs being a huge component. It’s Such a journey. Thank you for all of your wonderful articles as I go through it myself and with my clients!

    • 44. theverticalworkshop  |  October 9, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Hi, Rachel,
      Please pardon me that I am just responding now…

      Just some thoughts that I think are relevant to what you are referring to:

      I’d like to remind or inform everyone:
      That we must only work in neutral pelvis for those exercises that benefit from it and ONLY if our client can make a strong lower abdominal connection while in neutral pelvis. Meaning that one approaches true neutral pelvis only as much as his/her lower abdominal connection is still strong. If in neutral pelvis without a good lower abdominal connection, then you must err on the side of posterior tilt (as little is as necessary). Perhaps one day you/one will achieve true neutral pelvis with that lower abdominal connection.

      Without a lower abdominal connection, the musculature and resultant other soft-tissue tensions cannot be efficient because of the tension or rather in appropriate tension that will be across the thoracolumbar fascia. We’ve got to develop that deeper lower abdominal connection to get that proper lateral tension across the thoracolumbar fascia. Deeper lower abdominals refer to the transverse abdominis and internal obliques just below the navel to the pubis and from the thoracolumbar fascia at the same level (TL junction) to the crest of the hips along the anterolateral pelvis.

      “Ribs down” is a cue that cuts off the ability for the diaphragm to work properly thereby limiting both your inhale and exhale. Every chemical reaction in our body requires oxygen. Limiting the diaphragmatic ability limits the amount of air you take in which lessens your oxygen intake. It also limits the amount of air you let out which keeps toxins (CO2 and others) you keep in. Both make for weakened chemical reactions. A reminder that we fiction and exist as a series of chemical reactions. Wiggling your finger is a chemical reaction.

      “Ribs Down” also hides the fact that your client has a tremendously tight set of psoas. It does nothing to help reestablish healthy soft tissue tension; the healthy psoas and all soft tissue of the pelvis to torso (and full body) balance.

      “Ribs down” concentrates on upper external obliques rather than the more essential initiators of connection and distribution of tension across the thoracolumbar fascia which are the lower transverse abdominis and internal obliques.

      So…we must seek balance and understand how that balance develops. It sounds like you’re finding it, indeed.

      Let’s make sure that we are patient and help our clients develop from a genuine place. Starting with tucks and ribs in only leads to a continuance of these things. Be clear and true from the start and the development will be solid!

      Thank you for your support and thoughts!
      – Shari

  • 45. David  |  October 9, 2016 at 6:59 am

    I’m new to Pilates so just looking for clarification! (1) I understand Anterior and Posterior tilts to be movements in the Sagittal plane (not the coronal)?. (2) The article states we must try not to set a neutral spine. Using an example of short box – flat back, initally when starting the work my head was abnormally forward – by placing attention to this I could revert to a more “neural spine” position (back of pelvis, ribs and head in line). Should we not be doing this? Thanks for the info and help. David.

    • 46. theverticalworkshop  |  October 9, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Hi, David,
      Thank you for taking the time to read this and ask questions.
      Anterior and Posterior tilts are movements in the Sagittal planes, indeed. Did I mistakenly say they were not? My apologies if I did.
      When we seek neutral pelvis, we are attempting to align the ASIS (hip points) and pubic bone in line with each other in the coronal plane.
      Now, I wrote that article many years ago. I will one day edit/update it and remind everyone that we only work in neutral pelvis for those exercises that benefit from it and ONLY if our client can make a strong lower abdominal connection while in neutral pelvis. Meaning that one approaches true neutral pelvis only as much as his/her lower abdominal connection is still strong. If in neutral pelvis without a good lower abdominal connection, then you must err on the side of posterior tilt (as little is as necessary). Perhaps one day you/one will achieve true neutral pelvis with that lower abdominal connection.

      Without a lower abdominal connection, the musculature and resultant other soft-tissue tensions cannot be efficient because of the tension or rather in appropriate tension that will be across the thoracolumbar fascia. We’ve got to develop that deeper lower abdominal connection to get that proper lateral tension across the thoracolumbar fascia. Deeper lower abdominals refer to the transverse abdominis and internal obliques just below the navel to the pubis and from the thoracolumbar fascia at the same level (TL junction) to the crest of the hips along the anterolateral pelvis.

      Now, when doing an exercise like “Flat on the short box” which I now prefer to call “Natural Curves” (since from my perspective, The Vertical Workshop perspective, we’re not seeking a flat spine), then we must encourage our seek and maintain a neutral pelvis and allow and encourage the lumbar spine curve to develop from that. Then maintain that throughout the exercise. However…it’s still relevant to what I wrote above. If your client can hit neutral, but has no or minor lower abdominal connection…this is not the ideal position…yet.

      David, does that seem to make sense? please don’t hesitate to ask more. And if you want a session to work on this or consult to discuss more deeply, please just ask and we shall!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 47. Il Bacino Neutro  |  January 4, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    […] Il Bacino Neutro Tagged on: bacino […]

  • 48. Joseph Muscolino  |  February 12, 2018 at 5:53 am

    I believe that your pelvic tilt illustrations are from Don Neumann’s kinesiology textbook, not nuchiro.

    • 49. theverticalworkshop  |  February 12, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you! I am always to attribute appropriately and often there is no attribution to a photo so I use the site name where I got it. I really appreciate this, Joe! Thank you!

  • 50. indoor playground  |  July 11, 2019 at 12:04 am

    indoor playground

    Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?! | The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog


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