What is Pneumonic Cylindering – All You Need To Know

Lynn Perkes
Lynn Perkes is a full-time faculty member at Brigham Young University-Idaho teaching courses in Kinesiology and Biomechanics, Applied Kinesiology and Assessment, Therapeutic Exercise, and other Physical Therapist Assistant classes. He writes part-time for ProhealthcareProducts.com, who sells healthcare, medical, therapy, fitness, and personal protective equipment and supplies.

How Pneumonic Cylindering is Related to a Healthy Core and Good Posture?

In the world of training for physical conditioning, sports performance, or for therapeutic rehabilitation from injury, there are often new words or phrases made up to reflect a specific exercise or therapeutic intervention movement technique. The term pneumonic has reference to lungs, but it also has reference to air and even pressure. The word cylinder is used to describe a geometric figure with parallel sides, a circular or oval cross section encompassing on all sides.

The term pneumonic cylindering, in musculoskeletal fitness or therapy talk, has been used to reference a type of cylinder – surrounding all sides – that encompasses the lumbar spine and helps support it through pressure created by the simultaneous contraction of musculature that surrounds the lumbar spine or trunk area. Chiefly, these muscles are the abdominals (rectus abdominus, internal obliques, external obliques, and transverse abdominus) on the front and sides of the spine, and the quadratus lumborum and the deep segmental spinal muscles rotatores and multifidus muscles of the posterior spine. Most of these muscles and others also play an important role in controlling pelvic movements, which also influences lumbar spine movements.

When all these muscles are engaged in contraction, they compress inwardly from all sides, increasing the intra-abdominal pressure and work to stabilize the spine (and pelvis) against undesirable movement. While these muscles can and do produce spinal movement, when engaged simultaneously as described, they primarily work to limit spinal movement. 

Why is limiting spinal movement important?

Limiting spinal movement is extremely important when performing work/exercises that involve movements of the upper and lower extremities. It gives the muscles that produce movement at the shoulder and hip joints a firm, fixated base (limited movement of core and pelvis) from which to pull against. This ensures that all the force of muscle contraction is transmitted to the extremities to produce the desired movements and is not wasted with unnecessary and undesirable movement occurring at the spine or pelvis. 

Another important benefit is that by limiting unnecessary spinal movement, the risk for damage to the spinal intervertebral discs and vertebral facet joints is minimized. Research has shown that the repetitive movements of trunk flexion and extension (aka sit-ups) is a potent mechanism of injury for herniated discs. Therefore, the more stable the spinal column is during exercises the less likely the risk for disc injury such as disc bulging or herniation. 

Read about: Tips to prevent back pain

Because of this, when engaging in resistance training, performing rehabilitation exercises at the clinic or at home, or literally performing many exercises, engaging in pneumonic cylindering is an important element in injury prevention and enhanced athletic performance. Granted, consciously performing pneumonic cylindering during athletic competition where movement is rapidly occurring in multiple planes of motion would be challenging. However, this only points out the importance of engaging in pneumonic cylindering training on a daily basis. A regimen such as this would strengthening the muscles that stabilize the spine and enhance their proprioceptive sensitivity so that when called upon, are prepared to provide the strength, endurance, reflexive responsiveness, and coordination of contraction for proper core stabilization.

How do I perform pneumonic cylindering and how often should I perform it?

The technique of performing pneumonic cylindering for muscle endurance development is best performed while standing but can also be performed lying supine or sitting. Let’s walk through the sequential process of pneumonic cylindering.

  1. Find your neutral pelvis/spine position. While standing, move your pelvis anteriorly (anterior pelvic rotation/tilt) and posteriorly (posterior pelvic rotation/tilt) through the full range of motion. These movements cause the lumbar spine to move from a more anterior curvature (lordotic) to more of a straight lumbar position. Somewhere in the middle of these two positions is what is called the “neutral pelvis/spine” position and is where you want the pelvis to be positioned. Note: If a person is experiencing low back pain, it is generally the mid-position where the least amount of pain is felt. 
Lying Posture- Neutral Pelvis | Nuno Bento
  1. Stand tall. While maintaining the neutral pelvis/spine position, literally, “straighten up” and reach your head and torso upward as if trying to touch your head to an object above it. While performing this keep looking straight ahead and slightly roll your shoulders backwards. As you do so, your ribcage/chest will tend to expand and elevate, and your abdominal muscles will tend to pull inward as the abdominal muscles are put on slight stretch.
  2. Engage all trunk musculature. In the “neutral pelvis/spine” and “standing tall” position, consciously contract all abdominal muscles as well as the quadratus lumborum. As these muscles synchronously contract, they compress inwardly (be sure to avoid any trunk flexion) increasing the intra-abdominal (as well as intra-thoracic) pressure creating an encompassing or panoramic pressure on the spine. This helps to stabilize the spine against undesirable movement. By repeatedly performing this technique throughout the day, you will also be developing core muscular endurance. Then, whenever these muscles are called upon throughout the day to better stabilize the spine against undesirable movement and even possible injury, they are better able to do so because of their enhanced muscular endurance capacity.
  3. Hold the pneumonic cylindering position. Hold this position for several seconds, working up to holding it for minutes. During this “hold” time, when performed properly, you should be able to comfortably move around, walk, engage in conversation (so you are breathing normally) while keeping the muscles in a contracted state. And you should be able to do all of this without looking like you are constipated – which would be an indication that you are not performing it properly – and frankly is not a pleasing appearance to present. 
  4. Repetitions throughout the day. Because abdominal muscle endurance is more important than abdominal muscle strength to support the spine throughout the day, it is important to engage in pneumonic cylindering multiple times during the day and as previously stated, holding that position for several seconds to minutes. A helpful strategy to assist with this is to establish “triggers”, or events or situations that remind you to perform the cylindering. For example, whenever I go to the whiteboard to illustrate something for my kinesiology students this serves as a “trigger” for me, or a time I have established to engage my muscles in pneumonic cylindering. I then maintain the cylindering position the entire time I am writing on the board. Or, when I am required to stand in a line for service or waiting for an event. Or, when I come to a stop sign or stop light, that is a time for me to engage and hold until the light turns green or it is my turn to go. Or, when I walk between buildings at work, I engage in abdominal muscle contraction (pneumonic cylindering) until I reach the other building, etc. 

Whatever you can set as “triggers” to remind you it’s time to perform “pneumonic cylindering” will help you get in more repetitions toward a more stable core, a reduced risk for low back injury and pain, enhanced physical performance, and the benefit of an improved posture. A good posture maintained over the years will not only reduce the risk of musculoskeletal imbalance and associated injury but is also so much more aesthetically pleasing than is a faulty posture. 

So, engage in pneumonic cylindering now and put this technique to the test, and enjoy the benefits. 

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