Most of us who exercise regularly want to look good naked. I’ve looked over hundreds upon hundreds of my client’s questionnaires during their goal orientations with clients over the years.
My questionnaire always asks, out of the following which is the most important to you?
And I often get the same answer. “Look better” comes up trumps time after time. If we get down to the nitty gritty of it all, it’s safe to conclude we want to look better naked.
Or at least in our underwear!
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the beach here in Phuket over the last month. Its 32c everyday, so it’s a good place to cool down…and sunbathe.
As you can imagine, I’m not the only one. My wife, Lisa and I, share the beach with hundreds of other sun worshippers who have no hesitation in whipping off their clothes and walking around half naked.
After all, that’s not unusual during a scorching hot day on a heavenly beach.
Sometimes, while I sip on my coconut (the refreshing drink of choice), I can’t help but notice so many sunbathers walking by with “naked spines”.
I feel like I want to run up to these holidaymakers and offer them advice on the importance of core conditioning and integrating the inner and outer unit musculature.
But then I remember I’m not working…and also I don’t want to get a slap in the face.
So, instead I thought I’d write this blog!
A “naked spine” is a term coined by fitness guru, Paul Chek, who states that overdeveloping the outer unit muscles of the core and neglecting the inner unit and extensor chain muscles will form a protruding spine where you can visibly see the vertebrae on the back.
Here is Kate Moss, demonstrating what I mean by a “naked spine”
Although this may be glamourised particularly by supermodels as a sexy look. It’s definitely a look that will lead to lower back pain, disc problems and dysfunctional movement.
I also had to include Keira Knightley. We actually went to the same school in Teddington in the UK, so she gets a special mention from me.
The Outer Unit
But let’s move on…
The outer unit muscles are made up of the Rectus Abdominis aka “6-Pack” muscles, Internal and External Oblique (those muslces that run down the sides of your torso by the ribs) and the Erector Spinae (the large muscles either side of your spine).
Gerard Butler did an awesome job of displaying these outer unit muscles in the rippling 6-pack classic film “300”.
These muscles move the body, are much larger than the inner unit muscles, cross multiple joints and can be visibly seen on the body.
Unless there is a too much adipose tissue (fat) layering over the muscles. But the muscles are still there!
The Inner Unit
The often ignored inner unit muscles are the Multifidus (deep stabiliser muscles running along the spine) the Pelvic Floor, the Diaphragm (breathing muscle) and the deepest of them all, the Transverse Abdominis a.k.a TVA.
Because we can see the outer unit musculature in the mirror, it’s deemed normal in our society to thrash these muscles with ab crunches, ab wheels, ab cradles and odd looking vibration devices that really only belong on a hospital ward.
Our culture and media portray prominent outer unit muscles as desirable and synonymous with health.
The problem occurs when we overuse the outer unit muscles and neglect the inner unit.
When was the last time you trained your Multifidus?
If you’re scratching your head then read on…
The spine is made up of 24 mobile segments called verterbrae, that are supported by tiny muscles to hold them together so the spine can stay upright. If the larger outer unit muscles get tighter and tighter through exercise then the spine will eventually collapse.
If the Rectus Abdominis or “6-pack” muscle is strengthened too much through crunches and sit ups without performing extension exercises, then you’ll likely begin to bend forward and display a “naked spine”.
To prevent this from happening, then follow the exercises I have outlined below.
(Yes, I did just drop down on the sand after my beach session to demonstrate these exercises but I think I got the job done!)
Horse Stance Horizontal
- Kneeling on all fours with good spine alignment horizontal to floor with elbows bent.
- Drawing your belly button in towards your spine, raise one arm to shoulder height with thumb upwards and the opposite leg straight back to hip height, moving the rest of your body as little as possible.
- Hold for the prescribed time perform on the opposite side then repeat.
Alternating Superman (or Superwoman)
- Lying face down on the floor with your arms out by your side.
- Drawing your belly button in towards your spine, lift one arm and the opposite leg off the floor hold and lower.
- Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Lie face down with your arms at your sides.
- As you inhale pick your chest up off the floor, with the neck in neutral alignment, simultaneously squeezing your shoulder blades together and rotating your arms out so the palms face away from your body.
- You should feel the muscles between your shoulder blades doing the work. If you feel stress in your low back, squeeze your butt cheeks together prior to lifting your torso.
- Hold until you need to breathe out and exhale as you lower.
Try and do these exercises 2-4 times per week. Aim for 10 repetitions on all of them and complete 2-3 sets. Perform at least one of these exercises if you have done any crunches in your workout to balance out your core program.
Strengthen the inner unit so you don’t develop a “naked spine” and get spotted on the beach by some floral-shorts-wearing-coconut-sipping-guy.
So, tell me…when was the last time you trained your Multifidus? Let me know in the COMMENTS box below.