This is your's truly:
While it looks like I got a set of rocking abs, I don't.
The reason is my abs (at that point) were not helping to keep me out of anterior pelvic tilt (APT).
When I get new clients that already have a six-pack, I find they’re not anymore pain-free than my new obese clients. As it concerns the spine, the six-pack guy will often have more back problems.
Often, they will have a dominant rectus abdominis and weak obliques. This was me.
And this is why you shouldn’t always be impressed by the guy with the six-pack.
One assessment I like to use for new clients who already strength train is the Bent Knee Dead Bug exercise. Since a lot of the guys who have six packs like to look good, a lot of them have dominant and tight quads. (To tell if you have tight and dominant quads, check out my last article).
The problem with the standard dead bug is that this will reinforce tight quadriceps. For those with tight quads, I prefer the bent knee dead bugs. (Don't get me wrong, the straight leg dead bug can be extremely valuable for hip and knee stability, but pelvic alignment comes first.)
Quite often, it’s impossible for the guys with the best-looking abs to do a basic variation of the bent knee dead bug properly. Either, their leg cannot go down all the way, or their back comes off the bench, or both.
Here’s the bottom line: If you want to get a real six-pack which can deflect a bullet and keep you out of anterior pelvic tilt, you need to master the dead bug.
Since there are a kabillion ways to do a dead bug, here are my top 5 ways to progress or regress dead bugs:
1. Do One Leg at a Time.
This is a great option for those are coming out of back pain, have hip instability, or have side to side strength differences. I use four progressions:
The first and easiest position is having the leg fully supported at 90 degrees:
The second progression is having the leg at 45 degrees:
The third progression is having the leg straight (or you can bend the knee):
The fourth progression is having the non-moving leg bent at 90 degrees, but unsupported.
2. Alternate the arms.
There are so many great variations to use with the arms and it should be individualized. Here are some variations I use with my clients.
·Leave the arms overhead for the whole set. This is the most challenging for the abs.
·Alternate the arms with one into full flexion and the other into full extension. This is a great option for those who have limited shoulder mobility.
·Leave the arms at 135 degrees overhead to stretch the pecs.
·Alternate one arm reach for the ceiling to activate the serratus anterior while the other moves into shoulder flexion (for mobility).
3. Use a Progressive Range of Motion
Many clients simply don’t have the ability to keep their low back flat against the bench if they perform a full range of motion dead bug.
In these cases, you definitely want to limit the range of motion and begin with something which is non-painful. One option is to begin on the floor. Only allow your moving leg to momentarily touch your heel to the floor.
Eventually, you want the ability to lower your thigh to parallel with your back still flat. This is a great way to stretch out the hip flexors and quads while getting out of APT.
In the picture on the right above, I've moved my client onto a stepper to progress his range of motion. I can continue this progression putting blocks underneath the stepper if I wanted.
If you find you cannot get your thigh parallel, you either have tight quads, don’t possess adequate oblique strength yet, or have both problems. In this case, you should use an easier variation. You may also need to stretch the quads.
4. Both Legs Going Down at the Same Time
Most people do dead bugs with alternating legs. However, having two legs go down provides a tremendous force into anterior pelvic tilt. To resist this, you need to really use your obliques and keep your back flat.
If you have someone coming out of back pain, make sure that you master the single leg versions first, followed by alternating legs, then, you can try two legs going down. When you initially try both legs going down, you should do it off of the floor first.
5. Breathe Hold
Using an inhale and exhale at the bottom is a great way for the diaphragm to help stabilize the pelvis. Plus, it’s hard as hell. If you thought doing a plank with good form for 40 seconds was easy, try holding this for 40 seconds WHILE breathing and keeping your back totally flat.
The dead bug is one of the best exercises to help you get out of APT and to get your six-pack. Learn it and dominate it!
QUad Stretcing to Help Anterior Pelvic Tilt
I’ve always had tight quadriceps. When kneeling, I couldn’t even touch my butt with my heels. It was kind of embarrassing, especially when visiting Japan where everyone can sit like that.
When I first got into serious strength training, I skipped proper warm-ups. I might have done some warm-up sets for squats and bench press, but I didn’t stretch.
After gaining some appreciable muscle mass in the legs, I figured the reason for my tight quads must be from the combination of not stretching and gaining leg mass.
When I finally looked at some pictures and realized I had some massive anterior pelvic tilt, I wondered if my tight quads caused my APT. Or could my APT have caused my tight quads?
Immediately, I began to stretch my quads and I noticed some improvement. The weird thing is the improvement only lasted for about 10 minutes. I thought the answer was to simply to stretch more often. I began stretching from 10 to 20 times a day. My flexibility got better and I really felt I was loosening up.
Although my flexibility was improving, when I would take my leg back, I would feel my leg vigorously wanting to pull forward no matter how much I stretched.
After about a month I realized it was futile. I still wasn’t even close to passing my SEA test. I didn’t have a flexibility problem. I had a stiffness problem.
I could increase the flexibility of the hip flexors and quads all I wanted, but until I increased the stiffness of the hamstrings, obliques, and glutes (HOG) to offset the pull of the hip flexors and quads, there would always be that same massive pull. I could have a ton of flexibility in my hip flexors and quadriceps, but they could still be dominant over HOG.
I began to exclusively focus on strength training my HOG’s.
I also stopped stretching. I finally began to notice some improvement in my SEA test.
Over time that nagging pull began to disappear. My SEA test got better. But then I reached a limit. I realized that even with proper strength (and thus stiffness), if a muscle is tight it’s going to remain tight.
Although the nagging pulling feeling decreased, my overall range of motion still wasn’t great so I began to focus on that. Voila! My SEA test improved even more.
The benchmark that I used to stretch my quads was pretty simple: While standing or kneeling, can I touch my butt to my heel if my leg.
While I really like the Thomas Test, I’ve found that leg weight and gravity can give us false negatives. This basically means that your quadriceps could be tight, but the Thomas Test might not pick it up.
Because I realized that being in a neutral pelvic position was the most critical piece for my strength training, I didn't realize proper position would carry over into my stretches. I thought I would simply check my pelvic position while stretching my quads.
As I began to stretching my quads, my pelvis was definitely going into APT. When having a stick on my back, I could not touch my low back to my thumb. There was too much space between my low back and I was reinforcing my APT.
When I corrected this position, I couldn’t touch my heel to my butt without my low back going into significant lordosis. Or if I maintained my full neutral pelvic position, I couldn’t touch my butt to my heel.
I realized it was critical to both build up my ability to stretch my quadriceps, but also focus on maintaining a neutral pelvic position.
After awhile, I was able to touch my heel to my butt and to have a neutral pelvic position. For all clients who have tight quads and have APT, it is critical for them to maintain a neutral pelvic position while stretching their quads.
While some trainers might go for mobility before stability, I am reminded by one of my favorite physical therapists, Mike Reinold. He advocates for alignment first before mobility and
stability and I concur.
If you have someone who has limited mobility in the quadriceps (and probably any muscle for that matter), it is going to be more important to keep a neutral pelvic position. This is why at all costs, you should maintain a neutral pelvic position while you gradually increase your flexibility. Do not stretch into a range of motion which pulls you into an anterior pelvic tilt.
Over time, you will find that your range of motion increases while you can still maintain a neutral pelvic position. Eventually, you will be able to touch your heel to your butt. Give it time, make sure you are strengthening HOG, and stay neutral!
Best Supine Positions for Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT)
Supine lying on your back is my favorite position for getting out of APT because you can immediately tell if you’re in a neutral pelvic position. All you have to do is to flatten your whole back to the ground to know if you’re neutral.
Technically, this is going into a posterior pelvic tilt, but since flattening the back can heavily recruit the obliques, I think it’s better than simply bringing your low back to a stick on the floor. However, for some individuals using a stick under the low back is still fine.
For this article, we’re not going to go over the best exercises because exercises alone won’t do anything. It’s your position that matters, so we’re going to go over the best supine positions to help you get out of APT.
The progression for supine exercises is pretty straightforward. The only guideline is:
Your low back must start out flat and stay flat throughout the whole movement.
Getting into these positions will be very easy for some of you. However, keeping the back flat in the different supine positions while you are doing exercises like presses and rows will be much more challenging or even impossible at first.
If it is too difficult to keep your back flat for the majority of your reps, you should use an easier variation.
Here are the variations progressing from easiest to most difficult:
We’ll begin in the 90-90 position which looks like this:
In this position, most people’s low back will already be flattened, but some will not. Regardless, you should feel that you can still flatten the low back using your obliques. Press into your sides to make sure they are activated. Some people will only use their rectus abdominis to flatten the back, but you should be using your obliques because these will be weaker than the rectus abdominis.
While the 90-90 position is the easiest position to flatten your back, many individuals will have a hard time doing presses or rows without their low back coming off the ground. If this is the case, you don’t need an easier variation, you just need to reduce the intensity of the exercise, the range of motion, or both, and focus on keeping your low back flattened throughout the exercise.
The next progression is flexing the hips to a 45 degree position like this:
Most people will probably be able to flatten their backs in this position. If necessary you can bring the legs down further to 30 degrees or 15 degrees.
The next progression is having the legs straight.
If you find it challenging to simply flatten your back in any of the positions above, you can use this as a a dedicated strength training exercise.
Feel free to mix things up. For example, if you find it’s difficult to flatten your back with the straight leg position, you may want to do all your pressing and rowing in the 45-degree position, but include some dedicated sets flattening the back with the legs straight.
Some women and men carry most of their body fat in the lower body including the gluts. These individuals may need to use a stick or small pad about half an inch to an inch thick under their low backs for the 45 degrees and legs straight position.
Using any one of the three positions above, you can do a variety of exercises including:
· Dead Bugs (which we’ll go through in the next article)
· DB or BB Floor Presses
· DB Fly’s (probably off bench)
· Band Rows
· Band Reverse Fly’s
· DB Pull Over’s
· Band Extensions
I’m not a huge fan of the standing, kneeling, or even straight leg prone positions when someone is in APT. Quadruped is possible, but usually only with limited range of motion. These positions encourage and reinforce the APT position unless one can start and stay neutral with a stick on their back.
Do your pressing, rowing, or extension exercises in whatever of the three supine positions allows you to keep your back flat. Once you can consistently keep your back straight during the straight leg supine position, you are ready to try prone, kneeling, or standing.
Moving with APT
After about ten years of training, I realized I had to tackle my own anterior pelvic tilt (APT). It was not pretty:
I thought it would be an easy fix since I thought I knew what to do.
At first, I thought postural changes like focusing on sitting and standing would help me get out of APT. Nope.
That’s fine, I added in extra strength training for my obliques, glutes, and hamstrings. This would definitely get me out of anterior pelvic tilt, right? Nope.
Okay, I’m going to throw in some stretching for my hip flexors and my low back. This would be the clincher, right? Nope.
Then, I thought if I make sure I start every exercise neutral, this would help me get out of anterior pelvic tilt. Once again, nope.
After this, I really questioned whether I had anterior pelvic tilt because nothing seemed to be changing.
I had my wife check my anterior pelvic tilt using the SEA test, and both sides were clearly in anterior pelvic tilt. I felt stuck. I thought I was doing everything I could. I began to take a closer look at how I was doing my strength training exercises.
One of my favorite lifts is the deadlift. I did a video analysis of my form and realized that while I started out in a neutral pelvic position, I quickly reverted to anterior pelvic tilt at the top of the lift. I also saw this in other lifts when I looked at the video like squats, ab wheel rollouts, and even bench pressing.
I knew I had to go back to the basics. This meant reducing the intensity and range of motion for all of my exercises.
What I found was the difference-maker for getting me out of excessive anterior pelvic tilt.
However, this meant me being a complete newbie again. I really had to humble myself in my old exercises by focusing on two things.
1.Reduce the intensity
I could no longer have hundreds of pounds on my deadlift. I literally had to go back to a bodyweight deadlift. I couldn’t even have a bar. Instead, I had a stick on my back to make sure my pelvis was neutral.
My preferred way to make sure I stay neutral is using a stick on my back with my thumb placed behind the biggest gap. I then touch my low back to my thumb (and my thumb is about one inch in thickness). I keep the low back in contact with my thumb throughout the whole range of motion.
This brings me to the second tip if you cannot keep neutral throughout the whole range of motion.
2.Reduce the range of motion
If you find that you cannot be neutral throughout the whole range of motion, simply reduce it. However, you should only use a range of motion you can stay neutral in. Don’t go beyond that. Over time, the more you practice simply staying neutral, the more you will find that your range of motion will increase.
Staying neutral reminds me of product recalls where the car manufacturer makes a bolt which should have been a sixteenth of an incher larger to prevent the screw from falling out. It might work for awhile, but there will be problems at some point, and likely a massive recall.
The same is true for not being neutral with your lifts. If you keep lifting in anterior pelvic tilt, there will likely be a breakdown. Don’t let this happen and stay neutral.
Neutral Pelvic Position to Fix APT
Stretching and strength training exercises alone will not fix your anterior pelvic tilt. In training clients who did correct their anterior pelvic tilt, I’ve noticed the real key is the position in which you do your exercises.
By position, I’m not talking about whether you are lying on your back, standing, or kneeling. I’m talking about being in a position of a neutral pelvic position.
So what is neutral pelvic position? It means you have the ability to either place a stick on your back and touch your low back to your thumb (like in this video below):
If you’re lying on your back, it means you can touch the stick with your low back. It’s also fine if you flatten your whole low back to the floor although not everyone needs to do this.
Why does your pelvic position matter so much? If you start a stretch or a strength training exercise in anterior pelvic tilt, you are reinforcing that anterior pelvic tilt.
One of the biggest issues I see in many new clients is they don’t think about their pelvic position before exercising. For example, they will set up to do deadlifts in anterior pelvic tilt, perform the deadlifts, and think they are getting out of anterior pelvic tilt. This is wrong. This merely reinforces the anterior pelvic tilt position. Don’t forget: if you have anterior pelvic tilt, your default position is anterior pelvic tilt. You need to think about your pelvic position before every exercise you do.
Beginning an exercise already in anterior pelvic tilt places the low back muscles and hip flexors in perfect position to assist, the opposite of what we want. Remember, getting the hip flexors and low back stronger will only reinforce anterior pelvic tilt.
The bottom line is if you start out in anterior pelvic tilt, you will stay in anterior pelvic tilt. However, starting out in a neutral pelvic position doesn’t guarantee you will stay neutral.
Anterior pelvic tilt is both an alignment problem and a movement problem. This means that even when you fix your alignment problem or if you start out neutral, you’re still very likely to move into anterior pelvic tilt as you perform your exercise. Notice how in the two pictures below, the individual starts out in neutral posture, but quickly moves into anterior pelvic tilt with their movement.
In the next video, we’ll talk about the best ways to handle movement problems associated with anterior pelvic tilt. However, if you don’t start neutral, you’re already dead in the water! It doesn’t do any good to try to fix a movement problem if you don’t start out correctly.
This is why you need to make sure your initial position is neutral. To do this, test it. Remember our standing test in the last video? One of the main goals of the last video was to see if you could touch your thumb behind your low back with a stick. If you already tested yourself in standing, then you need to test the other positions listed below.
Supine (lying on your back): Can you touch your low back to the floor or your low back to a stick or fingers under your low back?
For the rest of the positions, can you touch your low back to your thumb with a stick on your back?
Half Kneeling (Check both sides)
Standing Split Stance (Check both sides)
Here is your new guideline: Only use the positions in which you can start from a neutral position. For example, if you can get neutral in supine, prone, quadruped, standing, but not half kneeling and tall kneeling, then you should not do exercises in half kneeling and tall kneeling (at least for now). You can do exercises in the other positions however.
Only using positions in which you can start from a neutral position will enable you to train effectively in those positions and allow you to eventually progress to the other positions. In our next series, we’ll go over how to stay neutral when actually performing your exercises. For now, stay neutral!