Why Lifting the Torso is the Key to a Healthy Spine
Dr. Edythe Heus
November 16, 2023

Poor posture is one of the most prevalent maladies of the modern working population. When we’re not hunched over our laptops, most of us look down at our phones in an endless scroll.

Most of us are aware that it’s suboptimal to hold this awkward position. But few realize how consequential poor posture is to our health. Its effects range from back pain to decreased lung function.

So, if we want to be healthier and more active, it’s crucial to bring our spine into alignment as much as possible.

The internet is rife with suggestions on how we can do this. However, not all are reliable and easily applicable. Luckily, you stumbled upon the right place for advice.

Decades of clinical practice and research have led me to a simple yet powerful way to align the spine: lifting the torso.

Let me explain why this move is so effective and show you exactly how to do it.

The Anatomy of the Spine

The spine is the flexible bony structure running from the base of the spine to the pelvis.

Also known as the spinal or vertebral column, it is made up of 24 vertebrae. Each one has three main components:

  • a vertebral body, a drum-shaped bone designed for weight-bearing
  • a vertebral arch, which encloses the spinal cord and
  • seven protruding processes that serve as attachment points for ligaments and muscles.

All vertebrae have these parts in common. But they also have unique features that help them carry out their functions. These characteristics are chiefly dictated by their positioning on the spine. Vertebrae down the spine, because they carry more weight, are bigger than those above them.

The vertebrae are linked together by one pair of facet joints—one at the top and one at the bottom. These joints provide structural stability. At the same time, they facilitate and constrict motion in the spine.

Meanwhile, the vertebrae (apart from C1 & C7 and the ones in the sacrum and coccyx) are separated and cushioned by 23 intervertebral discs. The discs’ outer ring, called the annulus, attaches to the vertebrae and pulls them together. Inside it is the gel-filled nucleus, which absorbs impact from weight and facilitates movement.

The spine is generally categorized into five different sections:

  • cervical (neck),
  • thoracic (upper back),
  • lumbar (lower back),
  • sacral, and
  • coccygeal.

Many muscles attach to the spine to help maintain good posture and distribute force in the body. The muscle groups erector spinae and transversospinales, in particular, are responsible for stabilizing and facilitating movement in the spine.

These deep muscles run along the left and right of the vertebral column. Contracting these muscles on both sides lengthens the spine. Meanwhile, contracting only the right or left facilitates side-to-side movement.

Research shows that common concerns such as lower back pain and spinal instability are linked to the atrophy of these muscles.

More than Bones and Muscles

The fascia—the matrix of connective tissue connecting and surrounding all of our cells, muscles, and bones—is an overlooked component of the spine.

It is critical for coordinating muscle groups, and the magnitude of this function is amplified by the multitude of small muscles that attach to the spine and their rich nerve innervation. The way the fascia runs is necessary for communication between your right and left sides, as well as between your trunk and your arms and legs.

The fascia is multilayered and variable depending on the demand required of the location within the spine. There are areas where the superficial fascia and deep fascia merge, like along the top of the spine. This feature enhances interoception and exteroception, contributing to the refinement of balance, posture, and movement. In addition, it enables the brain to differentiate between changes inside the body versus outside the body.

Circulation throughout the body is also dependent on the fascia. The upper spine is particularly vascular, and unhealthy fascia can result in tissue damage and discomfort in many parts of the body. 

Furthermore, the fascia contains specialized nerve cells and free nerve endings. When the fascia becomes unhealthy and gliding is disrupted, disturbances in movement, balance, posture, and pain may result.

What I have found over the years is how important the connection between the spine, the pelvic floor, and the lower abdominals is for posture, movement, balance, performance, and longevity.

What Does a Healthy Spine Look Like?

Viewed from the side, a healthy spine curves like the letter S. There should be a gentle inward curve in the neck and lower back and a slight outward curve in the upper back and sacrum. These natural curves help the spine absorb shock, maintain balance, and support movement.

Viewed from the back and front, the spine should look straight from the neck to the tailbone. Most importantly, the spine should appear long, with none of the discs slipping out of place.

To check if your spine is in alignment, observe yourself in a full-length mirror. Facing forward, your hips, arms, and knees should be level on a horizontal plane. From the side, your head should be erect, your chin parallel to the floor, and your ear holes, shoulders, hip bones, and ankle bones all line up.

Factors such as lack of core and back muscle mobility, injury, and neuromuscular disorders can cause your spine to curve unnaturally. Depending on where the curvature is, you can either have:

  • Kyphosis, also known as hunchback, the outward curvature of the upper back;
  • Lordosis, also known as sway back, the abnormal curvature of the lower back or
  • Scoliosis, the curvature of the spine from side-to-side.

You may need an x-ray to confirm whether you have these conditions. But before they become severe, you can watch out for the following tell-tale signs of spinal misalignment:

  • Having one leg longer than the other or one hip higher,
  • One shoulder higher or lower than the other
  • A head tilt
  • Wearing down one shoe faster than the other due to unequal weight distribution, and
  • Inability to use your neck’s full range of motion.

The Importance of a Long and Healthy Spine

The spine is one of the most vital parts of the body. Without it, it would be impossible to keep yourself upright!

But its importance goes beyond providing structural support. Your spine’s condition also affects virtually every aspect of your health and performance. So here at Rev6, we believe that a long and healthy spine is a prerequisite to living an optimal life. Here’s why spinal lengthening is so essential:

Protection of the Spinal Cord

One of the most crucial functions of the spine is to secure the spinal cord. This column of nerves transmits signals from the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa. They exit at different points along the vertebral column and connect to other parts of the body.

Any damage to the spinal cord can lead to loss of sensation, inability to control movement, and organ dysfunction. The impingement of the sciatic nerve, for example, leads to pain and numbness down the legs otherwise known as sciatica.

Keeping the spine long and healthy avoids compression, thereby reducing the chances of spinal cord injury.

Improved Breathing

A properly aligned spine is critical to breathing, the importance of which is awfully overlooked. Aside from fueling our cells with much-needed oxygen, proper breathing regulates our stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and even sleep.

The correct way to breathe is with the diaphragm. When breathing this way, the rib cage expands during inhalation and contracts during exhalation. This action is assisted by a tall spine, which allows the rib cage to expand to its full range of motion.

In extreme cases of Kyphosis, which depresses the sternum, respiratory function is significantly reduced. Patients with spinal cord injury along the cervical region also experience the same adverse effect, severely compromising their quality of life.

Pain, Disease, and Injury Prevention

Keeping the spine long and healthy prevents spinal misalignment and degeneration. These are common culprits of many bodily afflictions, such as

  • problems with balance,
  • weakness and numbness in the extremities, and
  • persistent back pain.

Spinal lengthening also helps the upper body carry its own weight, thereby reducing pressure on the lumbar discs, lower back, and hips. In turn, the health of these body parts is maintained and the likelihood of disease and injury is reduced.

Greater Athleticism

The spine, being the most central supporting structure of your body, has immense consequences on your biomechanics.

Having a tall spine lifts weight off of the lower extremities, allowing athletes to move with greater explosiveness, speed, and coordination. Spinal lengthening also improves movement across all planes of motion.

The improved breathing, autonomic function, and injury prevention brought about by spinal lengthening also contribute to better sports performance overall.

Lifting Your Torso for a Long and Healthy Spine

Now that we’ve established the importance of lengthening the spine, here’s one of the moves you need to master to ensure a healthy spine: lifting your torso. This move is the third of six Rev6 essentials.

The torso usually automatically lifts after hollowing your abs (the second Rev6 essential). But if you don’t feel the upper body lift, put your thumbs under your armpit and then manually lift your torso upward.

As the torso lifts, you will feel your abs tugging inward. Boost that tug by hollowing more to experience more lengthening. Both essentials amplify one another and, when done correctly, drastically improve spinal alignment.

While lifting your torso, don’t forget to breathe. Just as posture influences breathing, proper breathing also encourages proper posture. Feel your ribcage expand with each breath, encouraging your shoulders, upper back, and lower back to fall into their natural positions.

As your spine lengthens, you may notice your shoulders, arms, hips, and knees becoming more level. Your feet may also feel more engaged, and you may observe equal weight distribution between your feet. That is the goal.

But to keep the spine long and healthy, you must not only practice lifting your torso and hollowing your abs but also apply them during exercise. Physical activity is required for disc health, in particular, as most nutrition only comes to the discs through diffusion. This diffusion only happens as we move our spine.

To get started with restoring your spine health, make sure to watch our essentials video and try our foundation class here. Rev6 has a ton of exercises centered on nurturing the spine that you won’t find elsewhere.

For those who are familiar with Rev6, we recommend Lift Off!: Rev6 for a Super Spine. This bundle of workouts enhances elasticity throughout your entire spine and allows the torso to float effortlessly.


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