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 fitness and aerial 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? Is your back really rounded? Do you need your hands behind you while you sit?
- Do you experience low back discomfort?
- Do a squat, not a deep squat, only so your thighs are close to parallel to the floor. Where are your knees? Did you lose sight of your toes? Meaning, did your knees jet out over your toes. Did you back curl? Did your belly end up on your thighs?
- Try a forward fold. Is your back really rounded?
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 fitness/aerial 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 (there are several) 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 (the weak muscles) 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 on the right)
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 images it connects from your low back vertebrae through your pelvis to the underside of the upper part of your femur (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? (see image below for a visual)
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 Fitness and Aerial Goals
How is APT hindering your fitness and aerial 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. APT is also getting in the way of you activating your abs and glutes to create a posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) or tuck, which is so important for being able to invert safely and effectively, and it’s even getting in the way of doing a plank or push up without creating strain on the body. This means that inversions for someone with APT will be generally harder than for someone with a neutral pelvis or PPT. This is because you will have a harder time accessing the muscles that curl the pelvis under to roll up into the inversion. You may be able to get yourself upside down–our bodies are great compensators–but unfortunately you won’t be using the correct muscles and this will lead to problems down the line and maybe even a plateau that you may find so frustrating that you leave aerials. And nobody wants that to happen.
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? Ok, set your feet back on the floor-what did your back or abs do with the lowering of your legs?
Ultimately you want your abs to be doing the work in this movement. If your low back arched off the floor and your belly puffed up, then you are using your hip flexors/psoas to perform this movement as well as not contracting your core, which is also a strain on the low back. If this happened to you, that’s ok, now you are aware of it and know that this is not the ideal way to bring your legs up off the floor. I will get into the progression for this below in the exercises and stretches
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.
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.
Plank with a posterior pelvic tilt
Set up in a forearm plank, elbows directly under your shoulders, legs straight with a nice line from the crown of your head to your ankles. From your neutral plank position squeeze your ‘thut’ muscles, your upper thigh/lower butt muscles to pull your pelvis into a posterior tilt. Simultaneously you will engage your abs by drawing the ribs cage in and together. Press down into the floor with your whole forearm, not just your elbow, this sets your shoulder girdle in a very supported placement. 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. SQUEEZE EVERYTHING! I mean it. Press the floor away with your shoulders, brace your abs as if you’re preparing for a punch in the stomach, squeeze the glutes hard, the inner thighs and pelvic floor are squeezing too. You should be feeling your quads to keep the legs straight and press down into the floor with your toes.
Try to hold for 30 seconds. If that’s difficult try 20 seconds or take your plank and put the knees down to get into kneeling plank. Work your way up to a minute. When a minute becomes to easy then contact me for more challenging plank options or join me in a class.
Note: The posterior pelvic tilt, via the contraction of your abs and ‘thut’ is elongating your low back so that there should be very little to zero lumbar curve.
Another note: Video demonstrates in high plank, start in forearm plank and progress to high plank.
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.
Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your abs to bring your legs up (try one at a time) to the table top position: knees over hips and shins parallel to the floor, legs hip distance apart. Place your hands on your lower abs and hip flexors, this will help you feel if you are using the correct muscles and 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.
After you have the set up and the engagement, inhale and slowly tap you leg towards the floor. Exhale to bring the leg back up to the starting point, focusing on bringing the leg up after you begin the exhale and keeping the engagement to keep the belly puffing up and the hips from rocking. Start by only tapping the foot down close to the butt and then as you build strength you can extend the leg further and further away from the body until one day the leg is straightening all the way. Once the legs are straightening you can add the arms. You may need to go back to tapping the legs not quite as far when you add the arms. Adding the arms is a huge brain challenge, so remember to keep the movement slow to focus on where the movement is coming from. The video below demonstrates all the various progressions. Begin with performing 5 on each side and then progress to 10 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 me directly.