STOP Arching Your Back! Learn To Use Your Abs With These Two Cues

One of my goals as a coach is to help my clients feel better through efficient and proper movement.  I am big on making sure my clients utilize good technique and helping them build body awareness that will carry over into their daily lives.

Teaching people to use efficient movement patterns will also make them stronger because it will eliminate any “weak links” in the chain.

A common “weak link” that I constantly find myself having to help people with is weak abs.  Due to stress, sitting, and lack of movement we have lost the ability to properly use our abs to stabilize our bodies.

For example, look at the picture below.  What would happen if I put a heavy weight on her back with that posture?

ant. tilt
Ribs flared and low back arched – this is the “open scissors” posture

The answer is that it would put a lot of compression on her low back where it arches inward.  Now, the way our vertebrae are shaped it is normal to have a slight curve inward, and compression is decreased because of it.  But, when the curve is excessive we put unwanted stress on that area.

Unfortunately, most people are stuck in this posture or fall back on it when they are lifting weights.  I like to refer to it as the “open scissors” posture (I think I got that from Charlie Weingroff), and it occurs when your low back is arched and your pelvis is slanted forward (anteriorly tilted).

An “open scissors posture”  makes it impossible for you to effectively engage your abs and properly stabilize your trunk.

So how do we get out of this posture and get our abs stronger?

open scissors
Her stability and strength is coming from her low back – not her abs

The answer is to teach our bodies what a NEUTRAL SPINE position is and transfer that to our everyday activities.

To help you get into a neutral spine, I am going to give you two simple cues to think about, which many of my clients have had success with.  These cues will help realign your pelvis and rib cage to create a more rigid and stable core, which will make you stronger while also helping you feel better.


1.  “Pull your zipper toward your nose.”  This will help fix your forwardly slanted pelvis and engage your lower abs.

pelvic tilt

2.  “Get your ribs down.”  If you slide your hand over your stomach, your ribs should be flush – they should not be poking out.

For some people, the pelvis will be fairly neutral (waistline is only slightly titled downward), but the ribs are still flared.  In this case, think about getting your ribs down.

Check out the video below in which I explain and demonstrate these two cues in action.

Final Thoughts

If you are having trouble with these cues, then you may need to start out with some simple exercises that will help you get into this position more easily.

Here are some exercises I like to prescribe to people who have a hard time finding the right position while standing.

3.5 Month Breathing – Simply lie on your back with your feet up in the air (you do not have to use a band for this).  Try to use your abs to “pull your zipper to your nose” while keeping your ribs down.  Your low back should feel relatively flat to the floor.  From here, simply take breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth while holding the low back position.

Wall Press Abs – Use the same cues as with the 3.5 month breathing to get into a good low back position.  From there you will simply lower one leg, tap the floor, and return.

So start working on these cues, and let me know how they work.  You can even benefit from trying these while you are just standing around.  These cues are not just meant to be used while you are lifting heavy weight.  Whenever you can, try to “pull your zipper toward your nose” and “get your ribs down”.

Any specific cues or tricks you like to use to target your abs?  Let me know in the comments.

Have a good week!



3 thoughts on “STOP Arching Your Back! Learn To Use Your Abs With These Two Cues”

  1. Hi Zach, thanks for the advice, insights, and explanations you provide here. I appreciate this blog post very much, as I know it directly addresses a significant weak point in my overall health and fitness, my lower back and lower abdominal strength (or lack of). Over the years, and even now, and arching back and limited use of my abs has been effecting my overall posture and stance. As you know, my job puts a lot of pressure on my lower back and abs, so I will diffidently be referencing this blog post, “STOP Arching Your Back! Learn To Use Your Abs With These Two Cues,” again and again. I feel that this is a common error and problem that many individuals deal with, for women especially. Take care 🙂

  2. Nice job on the web site! And good stuff as always.
    This is a reason that physical therapists use building core strength is a foundation of back injury rehab programs.


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