Technically, these 5 questions are more about your pelvic placement and how this placement can be effecting your posture and potentially hindering some of your training goals than about just your hips.
Now, take your phone, tablet or laptop to a mirror and ask yourself these following questions as you go through the movements.
- When you stand do you have a pretty swanky low back curve? (and I don’t mean in a good way.)
- When you sit with your legs extended in front of you, is more of your weight on your tail bone than your sitz bones? (see photo) Is your back really rounded? Do you need your hands behind you while you sit?
- Do you experience low back discomfort?
- Watch yourself do a squat, not a deep squat, only so your thighs are close to parallel to the floor. Did you bend only your knees? Did your hips sit back at all? Did you back curl? Did your belly end up on your thighs?
- Try a forward fold. Is your back really rounded? (see photo)
Ok, technically that was more than 5 questions, but close enough.
If you said yes to some or all of these questions above, you may have a postural deviation that is getting in your way of achieving some of your training goals or even just enjoying a life with less discomfort.
And, if you said yes to any or all of these, you are not alone. With our society tending towards too much time sitting and hunching over our keyboards/screens, these postural deviations can happen to most of us.
These postural deviations change the way we stand, sit and lie down. We develop short, tight muscles in some areas and weak and elongated muscles in other areas. This can happen at both our hips and shoulders, but this month’s blog post is about your pelvis, so we’ll stick to your pelvis/hip region.
The muscles that become short and/or tight are your hip flexors and low back muscles as well as your quads. The muscles that tend to become weak and/or elongated (over stretched) are your abs, glutes and hamstrings. With some of these short/tight muscles overworking and other muscles not really working we develop, to varying degrees, the postural deviation known as anterior pelvic tilt (APT). The muscular imbalance generally associated with APT is referred to as lower crossed syndrome. (see the swanky low back curve in this photo)
Now don’t be sad if you are suddenly thinking, “but I said yes to all those questions.” Let me be honest, I have a little APT, but there are ways to help correct it and that’s what this month’s blog post is about.
Before we jump into the exercises and stretches, let’s first talk about what’s happening to make your muscles affect your pelvis in this way.
Sitting is the big culprit, but that doesn’t just mean sitting at a computer. Do you bike or ride the stationary bike at the gym? Do you run? Do you run hills? Do you run or walk on a treadmill? (treadmill use changes your natural walking gait) Do you like the stairclimber?
Now you may be thinking: What now? I can’t sit too much and it seems I can’t be active too much either. Not the case, you just need some tools to counteract the siting and the activities you are doing.
These movements are using your hip flexors and one of your major hip flexors is your psoas (sometimes referred to with its partner in crime, the iliacus, as the iliopsoas) and it happens to be the biggest culprit for anterior pelvic tilt. As you can see in the image it connects from your low back vertebrae through your pelvis to the underside of the upper part of your leg bone. Can you see how if the psoas is tight from being in a flexed position (sitting/jogging) how it will pull you into an anterior tilt while standing?
If you’re thinking, “But wait a minute. How can I have APT when standing and then have
a posteriorly-tilted (rounded under) pelvis when I sit down or I try to bend forward?”
Let’s think about this for a minute. If your pelvis is tilted forward as you bring you leg closer to your upper body your femur is going to bump into the top of the hip socket sooner than if you had a neutral pelvis. With no more room to hinge at your hip, the only way to keep folding is by bending/rounding your spine. And to add to this, depending on how deep or shallow your hip socket is and the length of your femoral neck, either or both of these factors will lead you to greater or lesser flexion at your hip hinge. The same is true for when you are trying a standing forward fold.
Now just to be clear, this is a generalization. For a good majority of people this will be the case, but not everyone. If you are experiencing lots of pain when performing any of these movements from the questions above, then you should see your doctor, who will probably refer you to see a physical therapist, but see a medical professional either way.
How this plays into your training Goals
How is APT hindering your training goals? It is keeping your powerhouse muscles, your abs and glutes, weak and sleepy. This leads us into the biggest issue which is it’s hindering you from moving (i.e. training) in a neutral pelvis-the most stable and strong position and best for force generation and transfer-while performing exercises and skills.
ATP can make it harder to access the muscles that activate and brace your core for many exercises and skills, which can lead to strain on the low back and compensatory movement patterns.
To improve your pelvic placement if you have APT, we need to focus on relaxing/stretching the tight muscles (hip flexors and the low back) and strengthening the over stretched/weak muscles (abs and glutes).
Here’s a quick test for you to see which muscles you are activating, your abs or hip flexors/psoas. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Take a moment to pay attention to your body. See what parts of your body are touching the floor and what parts aren’t. Now bring your knees to your chest.
Did your low back arch higher off the floor? Did your belly puff up some? Did you feel a pull at your low back? Did you feel your hip flexors tighten? If your back arch got bigger or there was a pull on your low back than your core wasn’t activated enough to help reduce the pull from your hip flexors as you lifted your legs.
Hip flexors are part of the lifting of you knees to chest, but they can’t be the only ones ‘on’. We need to active our core so that the core is doing its job of stabilizing the spine and resisting shear force-what’s happening if your back arched higher in the above test.
The Exercises and Stretches
The following are 3 exercises and 2 stretches that will help strengthen the weak muscles and relax the tight muscles. Try these 5 exercises and stretches 3-4 times in a week or add them to your regular fitness or aerial training sessions.
Glute Bridge (AKA Double leg hip lift)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your feet hip-width apart. Also align your knee with your hips and toes. Gently contract your abs to engage your core and maintain this contraction throughout the whole exercise. Exhale, then press your feet into the floor with more weight in your heels to lift your hips to the ceiling. Avoid pushing your hips up too high, which can hyperextend (arch) your low back. Keeping your abs engaged will also help prevent hyperextension from happening. Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position. Note: focus on the contraction in the glutes. You will also feel your hamstrings working, but your glutes should be doing a majority of the work. Perform 10-15 reps.
Set up in a forearm plank, elbows directly under your shoulders, legs straight (but not locked out straight) with a nice line from the crown of your head to your ankles. Press forearms into the floor and squeeze your everything: abs, glutes, leg muscles-maybe even squeeze a yoga block between your knees. What makes this ‘hard-style’ is that on an exhale your are going to pull your elbows towards your toes and your toes towards your elbows and hold for up to 30 seconds. This should feel like your eyes might pop out of your head. Remember to breath throughout the exercise. Use 360 degree breathing so your core can stay contracted and your abs don’t go loose. Have your head in neutral alignment, with a slight chin tuck in-not down towards your chest, but back as if to bring the back of your head towards the ceiling. You eyes are gazing at the floor.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Before you say I know this stretch, please read the set up for this stretch. We want to be stretching the hip flexors and not the ligaments and joint capsule.
Here’s the set up: come into a half kneeling position with your front leg in line with your hip with your knee directly over ankle or maybe a little behind the ankle. Your back leg wants to have the knee directly under your hip and foot in line with the knee so as not to be creating any torque on that knee. Squeeze the glute muscle of the back leg as you bring your pelvis into a posterior tilt. Hold this contraction in your glute for the whole stretch. Place your hands on your front thigh and press down into the leg, this helps contract your abs and deepen the stretch. You should feel a nice stretch along the front of the hip of your back leg.
Do not hinge forward or arch backward. The former is negating the stretch in your hip and the latter is stretching your ligaments and joint capsule-things that should be sturdy and strong, not loose. If you want a more in-depth read on why, check out this article. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then do the other side.
This is a great stretch for your back and you probably already know it. Come to all fours on the floor. Sit your hips back towards your heels and lower your head and chest towards the floor. Feel free to keep the knees close together or separate them, whichever feels best. Also if it feels better on the knees to place a pillow between your hips and heels, then grab a pillow and do so. If your head does not easily rest on the floor, than stack your fists one on top of the other and place your forehead on your fists to support your head and neck. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds or however long feels good to you.
Toe Tap Progressions
The progression the toe tap exercises is discussed in the video below.
But a few reminders: engage your abs before bringing your legs up (try one at a time) to the table top position. Place your hands below your belly button to see if your hips are rocking back and forth through the toe-tapping movement-which is not what we want in this exercise. Rocking is an indicator that you need to contract your abs more. When performing this exercise you will feel the hip flexors working a little, but you want to feel your abs stay strong and that the belly doesn’t push up into your hands.
Try doing 5-8 reps on each side.
As always, if you have any questions or are looking for progression or regressions for any of these stretches or exercise please leave a comment or feel free to contact us directly.