Back Anchor FAQ
The most frequently asked questions & my best advice for you.
What should I feel?
In the process of bringing your rib cage down towards the floor, you'll feel your abdominal muscles engage. If your tight back muscles are resisting you, don't try to force through that tightness. Instead, take a more subtle approach (like meditation). Allow your back muscles to relax down to the floor as you gently engage your abdominals to lower your rib cage. Work WITH the tightness, not against it (what we resist persists).
The goal is to get the bottom of your rib cage in the back to touch the floor. Sometimes it's hard to get this at first. It may take multiple sessions if your abdominals have been asleep for a while. If this is the case, try using your breath (deep, slow exhales) to help activate your abdominals. With repetition over time, it will click one day and become very natural. Once you get this connection, build on it. This is just the beginning, and the connection must be improved.
After the exercise, you'll likely have a feeling of increased relaxation in your lower back muscles. By activating your abdominals, the lower back muscles naturally relax through a phenomenon called "reciprocal inhibition". The primary goal of Modules 1 and 2 is to activate your core muscles for the movement retraining that follows, and the Back Anchor connection is where it all starts.
I have to help with my legs/glutes. Is this cheating?
This is okay right now. In the beginning, it’s very common for students to have excessive anterior pelvic tilt and kyphosis (rounding) in the upper back, causing the lower back to arch high off the floor. In this situation, the abdominals may not be strong enough to shift the pressure zones from the pelvis and upper back, to the Back Anchor.
This just means you have room for improvement, which is a very good sign of potential to make progress. In this early phase of forming your connection, it's okay to use your glutes to assist your abdominals in unweighting the pelvis (not cheating). As your abdominals gradually become stronger, maintain a goal of reducing the amount of assistance by the glutes, with more emphasis on abdominal control to push away from your back anchor.
The larger goal is for your body to gradually rest in a more neutral starting position, as the muscles start to balance out. This can only happen at the rate your body can make changes over time, so be patient with it.
I feel a little tension in my neck and shoulders. Is that okay?
If you're getting increased tension in your neck and shoulders, that is likely a sign of compensation. Ideally we don't want that to happen, so I would say to turn down your intensity. But your abdominals may not be strong enough at the moment to anchor your rib cage alone, so you'll need to find a balance.
As your abdominal connection gets stronger over time, it will be easier for you to lower the rib cage without bringing those other neck and shoulder muscles to the party as well. Repetition over time are the two most important factors here. Be patient and stick with it!
LIVE Q&A Links
Q: This offers me relief. Can I do this several times a day?
Q: Am I supposed to use my stomach/core area to pull my ribs down to touch the floor?
Q: I have tailbone pain. Can I put my hands underneath my glutes to take the pressure off my tailbone?
Q: Is it normal to feel tired holding this position?
Q: When I go all the way down, it strains my back. Is it okay if I only go 20% of the way down?
Q: As I started to lower my ribcage, a “problem spot” in my right mid-lower back flared up for a moment and then went away.
Q: Is it common to have soreness in the back after doing this? A few hours later now my back actually feels better than it did before the exercise.
Q: Initially I had cramping in my hamstrings! Have to extend legs for a bit then resume posture. What's happening with the cramping?
Pelvic Tilting & Flattening Lower Back
I feel like my pelvis is tilting. Should I try not to?
The reason I say "this is not a pelvic tilt" is because it's a very common compensation students use to form the Back Anchor connection. It is okay for the pelvis to tilt 'as a result' of connecting the Back Anchor (which is done with your abdominals, or in combination with your glutes if you need their help to accomplish this). But we do not want the glutes/pelvic tilt to be the PRIMARY source/intention for achieving the Back Anchor connection.
So, in the same sense as "don't TRY to pelvic tilt", you can also think: "don't try NOT to pelvic tilt". If the pelvis tilts as a result of making the Back Anchor connection, that's fine. Let it happen. Connecting the Back Anchor is the intention, and you can allow the lumbar spine/pelvis to go for the ride in that process.
Q: I feel as if i am only engaging the upper abs to lower my rib cage. My body wants to pelvic tilt to get the desired position. I am aware that most of my muscle imbalances and therefore pain issues stem from weak core and glutes so I was thrilled to come across your program.
This has the effect of flattening my lower back. Is this okay?
If you need a different cue than "bring the rib cage down" or "connect the bottom of the rib cage in the back to the floor", then shift your focus to your pubic bone instead. Have the intention of gently bringing your pubic bone towards your head. This will have the same effect, without activating some of those other muscles that we'd like to keep quiet.
The goal of this exercise is to activate the deep abdominal core without turning on those other, typically over-active muscles. And just to clarify, it doesn't matter if your lower back flattens all the way or not. What matters is that your Back Anchor (bottom of the rib cage) connects to the floor.
Other Similar Q&A's
Q: Is it ok to place my hands at lower lumbar to prevent me from flatting my spine? Or any other good tips to ensure I’m doing it properly?
A: Don't worry about whether your spine is flattening or not, and keep your focus on the rib cage. Use your abdominals to bring it down, connect with the floor, and push into that connection further. The spine will flatten to some degree, and I don't recommend placing your hands to prevent that. My best advice is to let your spine go for the ride without trying to control it. It's connected to the rib cage, so will move along with it. Have confidence that it sounds like you're doing it right.
Q: When I draw my lower ribcage down, my lower back naturally flattens as a result. It seems one can't be done without doing the other. Am I overthinking it?
A: You are right that the lower back naturally flattens as a result of connecting the back anchor. The differentiation that I want to be clear is that our 'intention' is not to flatten the lower back. This is something commonly taught in other disciplines, but is not in alignment with human development of the core. Connecting the back anchor is our focus and where our intention lies, and we just allow the lower back to go along for the ride. If it flattens, great. If it doesn't flatten all the way, that's fine too. We don't really focus on it when building this foundation. To your last question, overthinking it might be what's happening. It's best if we keep things simple, like how it was when we first learned these connections as developing infant/baby.
Q: At the beginning am I also trying to press my lumbar spine flat? Or just back of rib cage?
A: This is an important distinction to make. You are not trying to press or "flatten" the lumbar spine. Your only concern is the back anchor zone (bottom of the rib cage in the back). The lower back will just go for the ride. Don't try and control what the lower back does, and just let it do its thing - with all of this.
Q: My previous chiropractors suggested that when I sleep I put a pillow under my knees and a small rolled blanket or something under the small of my back. The focus was always keeping that curvature in the lower back and not flattening it. In these exercises you have me doing the opposite. Would you suggest I take that support out from my lower back when I sleep so that my back anchor can be more anchored all night long? Thanks!
Q: It seems this exercise flattens the curvature of the spine to some degree. Isn't it important to maintain the curvature in the spine?
Is there a risk of too much flexion by stressing the back anchor position?
I would not recommend stressing any of these positions. The Back Anchor is intended to be very gentle, and is generally very safe with the floor providing a barrier of support. Also, a high intensity approach will bypass the deep stability muscles and engage the surface power muscles. In this early stage, you'll get the most benefits at a very low intensity.
Listening to your body is a big part of this process as well. Everyone's situation is unique, so if someone's spine is not ready to go into a slight flexion (eg. during the Back Anchor Progression), then it will communicate that with pain or discomfort. In that case, my recommendation is to back off to where it is comfortable. Only you can feel your spine, and listening to your body should be a guiding principle throughout the program.
Positioning & Modifications
Should my knees be bent? What is the optimum distance from heels to hips?
Yes, the knees should be bent. Do not start doing this with your legs straight unless you can't bend your knees. Later we will work towards straightening the knees (while maintaining connection), but not yet.
The optimum distance from heels to hips is about 12 inches - more or less. If that's not comfortable for the knees, then increase the distance only as much as needed. Find a comfortable starting position then forget about it, and shift your focus to your core.
Developing familiarity with building this new core connection is much more important than foot positioning.
Can I start by doing it on the bed?
Yes, it's okay to start doing this on the bed if you can't safely or comfortably do it on the floor. The firmer the surface, the better. So you'll want to gradually progress towards a firmer surface when possible. Get creative, such as using the top of a staircase as a way to access the floor. Or try putting multiple pads down if the floor is too firm for you. This is not a rush. You must listen to your body.
Can I try connecting to my Back Anchor in sitting?
This is great! In the beginning it's usually easier for new students to start lying down. However, it is definitely helpful (when you are able) to start implementing these concepts into the activities of your daily life, such as sitting. Keep it up!
What about standing?
The Back Anchor will eventually become relevant in standing. However, you must be careful not to get ahead of yourself if you are still early in the program. There is a reason the program is designed the way it is...
Before transitioning into standing, we use the floor to develop "awareness" of a very important core connection. The floor offers the perfect physical surface to receive feedback on that connection.
In standing, there will be no external surface to connect with, and this will all become much more of an internal "neuromuscular" connection. What becomes relevant in standing is the "awareness" and familiarity with this connection that you developed using the floor. Without the floor, you can still benefit from the stability that occurs in your core/spine when you form the connection.
We don't apply any of this to standing until we complete the chain by learning the Front Anchors. Otherwise it leads to compensations which are a big factor in why the program is designed the way it is. There's massive room for postural compensation when attempting to do this in standing, which the Front Anchors prevent.
My best advice is to spend TONS of time on the floor focusing on what you "feel" when making the connection. The more familiar you are with this... the better off you'll be when we take the floor away!
(Note: If you're wondering why we don't just use a wall to connect in standing, it's because when the knees are straight the major hip flexors that attach to your spine are under tension, preventing a "physical" connection with good posture. Remember... In standing, it's no longer about the physical connection.)
Pain with the Back Anchor Awareness/Progression...
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Back Anchor position is safe and will not cause damage. Breathing and gently connecting your rib cage to the floor is a natural part of human development. With the floor supporting your spine underneath, it provides a barrier protecting you from unsafe positions.
If it's not just stiffness or tenderness from pressing into the firm floor, then your lower back may be communicating that it doesn't like the way you are performing this progression.
I see 3 possibilities for the cause:
1. Recent activity. The factors contributing to your lower back pain may involve excessive rounding of the lumbar spine. This could be from exercises, sitting posture, lifestyle or any other activities you've done recently. If they've involved repetitive forward bending, rounding, or posterior pelvic tilt, this exercise may aggravate you.
On its own, this exercise does not take the spine into a range of motion that would cause irritation. So it's a message to change something about your lifestyle (how you sit, maybe?). If you don't think it's your lifestyle or posture, then this factor is not relevant to you.
2. Your form. You may be flattening your lower back, posterior pelvic tilting, or pressing your lower back into the floor. Try switching your intention away from your lower back, and focus exclusively on pushing away from the Back Anchor. This area has much more bony support, making it more resilient as a support zone, and the lower back doesn't necessarily need to flatten into the floor to accomplish this. When combined with #3, this may be the solution for you whether or not #1 is the case.
3. Too much intensity. This is the most common reason for pain. Try turning down your intensity extremely low (between 1 - 10%). You'll still get the same benefits of core connection, without the downside. This is where breakthroughs regularly happen.
(Note: If your form and intensity are correct, and the Back Anchor exercises still don't feel GOOD, then this may be a sign of #1. In this case, the Front Anchors are probably the key to restoring your core balance. They are the opposite of the Back Anchor, and often provide students with significant relief.)
Because of the way your body reacted, I would hold off on this for right now. It sounds like this position may have caused the floor to press on a nerve. There is nothing dangerous or unsafe about doing this motion. It cannot cause damage, so it's likely an exacerbation of an existing irritation.
Give it some time to recover knowing that everything will be okay.
We can try to learn from this experience...
Were you pressing your lower back into the floor? (Remember, this is NOT our intention)
What was your intensity like when doing this?
This exercise is intended to be very gentle, and should not be done with high force or intensity. It's about awareness, and feeling into the small muscles deep in your core. So if you were to try it again, make sure to keep everything at about a 1 - 10% intensity level. Keep it subtle.
This is something you'll eventually want to train your body to be able to do. It might be that your body is not ready at the moment. The disc or nerve may be in the wrong position, and it needs to move first. When ready, you'll want to make this ground connection to protect your back.
What to do if you experience sharp or intense nerve/electrical pain...
Sharp or intense nerve pain is likely the exacerbation of an existing disc/nerve irritation, which can cause anything from tingling to shooting, or even burning. Maybe your disc is currently in a position where performing this movement presses on a nerve. This can change over time.
While movements in this program are very safe, your body is communicating that it doesn't like this right now... and that's okay. Most likely, you need to slow it down, lower your intensity, and treat this more like meditation than exercise.
My best advice is to back off to the point where the symptom doesn't occur. (applies to any exercise)
If you are in the middle of a flare up, you might need to give your body a day or two for things to calm down before trying again. In the meantime, focus on your breathing, do the things you can tolerate, and reflect on these questions:
"What can I learn from this experience that I can apply next time?"
"How intense was my effort when I exacerbated the pain?"
"What was the distance/amplitude of my movement?"
Your answers will give you a guideline for your current threshold of tolerance. You can progress your threshold of tolerance by working right below it. This is how to sharpen the skill of listening to your body.
Your goal is to build up your tolerance for more movement (gradually, over time), and you can do this by working right up to your edge (just before the pain occurs). Doing this (consistently, over time) pushes that edge out further, into more tolerance of that movement. This is a long term strategy that requires listening to your body, and going at your own pace through any new movement (throughout the program).
In conclusion, if you can't tolerate an exercise right now, it only means your body is not ready at the moment. Try again when you're ready, with more information from your reflection. Turn down the intensity to tolerable levels, and build up your tolerance over time.
Soreness across the sacrum/pelvis...
If you are having pain across the sacrum, there is a decent chance of SI joint involvement. This is not muscular pain but commonly ligament/joint pain from hyper-mobility, and it's very interconnected with lower back pain. You can stabilize this with the surrounding muscles over time (eg. glutes). The program will address this directly so I believe you're in the right place. Continue listening to your body, follow "My BEST recommendation for pain" and stay consistent with the daily routine. With this strategy, you'll make consistent, gradual progress, which is exactly what you want with SI joint pain. It's the most sustainable kind of progress.
I feel pain/discomfort during the movement...
STEP 1. Listen to Your Body. This is a major theme of the program.
When doing any exercise, you are engaged in a 'constant dance' of listening to your body and adapting the intensity and amplitude of your movement to its communication. Since everyone's situation is unique, you are the only person qualified to do this for your body.
Pain is communication.
There are many types of pain/communication, and you are the ONLY ONE who can feel and interpret it. Not even the best doctor in the world can do it for you. Developing your skill of interpreting the type of pain/communication and responding appropriately is the MOST VALUABLE skill for getting out of pain.
Not all pain is bad. Think about getting out of the car after a long road trip... Those initial movements can be painful, but they're actually good for you. It's your job to determine if it's "good pain" (eg. stiffness from lack of movement) or "bad pain" (eg. intense, sharp, electrical). Your intuition is the greatest tool for this.
(Note: Your body communicates good feelings (relief), just like it communicates bad feelings (pain). These good feelings are equally as important, and should be interpreted as communication that what you're doing is working. Respond appropriately by doing MORE of what's working!)
STEP 2. Ask yourself: "What type of pain?"
1. Good pain. If it's dull, achy soreness/stiffness in your back muscles or tenderness on your rib cage, that's generally okay.
It may have been awhile since your muscles and joints moved this way, or even laid on a firm surface like the floor. Your body may need time to adapt to the firm surface or new movement, and tolerance will go up with practice. The soreness usually goes away after a couple sessions.
2. Bad pain. If it's sharp or intense, there are a few possibilities and I recommend reading further into the FAQs. With any bad pain, my recommendation is to back off to where it is comfortable and DO NOT push through it. Turn down the intensity and practice right below your pain threshold, where it's comfortable.
^^^^^^ This is an example of listening to your body - a guiding principle throughout this program. Only continue progressing through the movement if your body is communicating that it's ready.
(Note: Bad pain can become good pain, and vice versa, depending on how appropriately you are responding to your body's communication. That's why listening and adapting is a 'constant dance'.)
My BEST recommendation for pain...
Regardless of the type of pain, my recommendation is the same:
Until your body gets more comfortable with this activity, practice at a lower intensity.
Too much intensity is the most common reason for pain. Not only that, it bypasses the deep stability muscles (that we're trying to target) and engages the superficial power muscles (counterproductive to our goal) - reinforcing the root cause of the problem.
Because of the above, you get the MOST benefits at a low intensity in Modules 1 and 2.
I know you're excited to feel benefits and high intensity effort is a reflection of that, but this program is a long-term strategy to back pain. Turn it down. You must develop awareness of these muscles BEFORE you can build their strength. Trust in this process, and you'll have a lifetime to experience the benefits.
I'm sore AFTER doing this... Have I overdone it?
(Note: I'm sharing this early on, in hopes that it prevents you from overdoing it.)
Possibly. Normally, I would expect you to feel better after doing any of the exercises in this program. However, this is not always the case.
There is a type of muscle soreness called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that occurs normally after a good workout and subsides over the next couple days. This is okay.
If your soreness is not DOMS, but is instead an exacerbation of something else (specific to your lower back, non-muscular or severe pain) then you should listen to this and adjust your approach.
The exercises in this program are inherently safe, but there are variables in your approach that can lead them to cause aggravation. These include your intensity, the frequency at which you perform them, and your method or technique. All of these should be reflected on, and considered to be adjusted.
As the Back Anchor progresses into performing the bridge, this comes with the responsibility to listen to your body. If you experience pain with the next step in any progression, the best thing you can do is back off. Your body's communication should be your #1 guide throughout this whole process.
Once you are confident with the movement, that's your cue to move forward.
If you performed an exercise that has caused you discomfort, it is not recommended that you continue performing it the same way. You must change something about your intensity, frequency, or even method. Your body is the guide and when it is sending you negative signals, they are not to be "pushed through". If you have gotten to the point where you are too sore to get off the couch, this is likely your body sending you an even stronger message.
When we push through pain we risk experiencing a setback, which is our body forcing us to stop.
The good thing is that setbacks are learning opportunities, and the most important thing about them is how you respond. With any setback, the best thing you can do is take some time to let your body recover and reflect on what led to this response. When you're ready, it's always best to go back to the basics (Back Anchor Awareness), applying what you learned from the setback.
"It doesn't matter how many times you fall - it matters how many times you get back up." - Lilly Singh
Wherever you're at in your back pain journey, the goal is to make slow, gradual progress over time. Even 1% improvements are significant over a long enough time span.
The way to progress towards your goal is to challenge your current tolerance/ability. If you can learn to enjoy this process, you will have already met your goal.
Dr. Ryan Peebles, DPT