I'll be the first to admit, I usually don't use planks with new clients.
If you simply put a stick on people's back and ask them to do a plank, you'll likely see a few problems. Here are 7 of them.
1. You don't know whether you should protract your shoulders (or push your shoulders forward).
As a basic test to know whether you should protract your shoulders or not, you should first check the alignment of your scapulae or shoulder blades. Measure the distance from the middle of the scapula to the middle of your spine. It should be about 2.5 inches to 3 inches.
If you are beyond 3 inches, avoid protracting your shoulders. You will only create an abducted scapula position. If you are from 2.5 to 3 inches, you can protract your shoulders, but you should balance it out with some form of scapula retraction. If you are at 2.5 inches or below, you definitely need to protract.
The problem is that many individuals don't really know what their scapula alignment is.
2. Many individuals will have pain in the elbow, shoulder, or neck area simply being in a plank position.
Some individuals who have had recent trauma, are overweight, had chronic injuries, or simply have pain in these areas should be careful with planks.
If you are not overweight, and you loaded up 50 pounds for a one minute plank, think how that would feel. You might be able to do it without pain, but that is a lot of stress on the elbow and shoulders.
3. They can't achieve a neutral lumbar spine.
Their is likely a greater than one inch space between the lower back and the stick. If this is the case, the person cannot maintain a basic neutral pelvis.
The only way you will get out of anterior pelvic tilt is by maintaining and reinforcing a neutral pelvic position.
A regular floor plank for many individuals is too intense. A proper progression is to begin with a plank with forearms on a bench. It already places the hips in hip flexion and helps to flatten out the lumbar spine.
A person can then progress down to the floor, and eventually have a weight on their back, use an ab wheel, or use a long plank with the arms more overhead. Before you use these exercises however, I usually see problem number 4 rear it's ugly head.
4. Individuals quickly lose neutral pelvic posture (or don't have sufficient core endurance).
Have you ever seen plank contests for time? Have you noticed by the end of the contest that individuals look like they finished with an invisible person sitting on their low back?
You need to use a stick and monitor the space under the low back from beginning until the end. If you think you can hold a plank for two minutes, you need to be able to maintain a neutral pelvis for that long.
5. The head is not neutral.
With a stick on the back, most individual's heads look like this:
When you try to have them correct it, it then looks like this:
The reality is that the ground is too advanced for them. What you will need to do is to start off higher like putting your forearms on a bench like this.
6. Thoracic kyphosis prevents a neutral thoracic or head position.
All this means is that the upper back may be so rounded that the head and the upper back can't be neutral.
I'm a big fan of eliminating flat thoracic spines, but they often accompany thoracic kyphosis, so it is wise to address both of them.
Although we haven't dealt yet with thoracic spine corrections, it can seriously help to perform some thoracic extensions or side lying thoracic rotations before you get into your plank. This may allow your upper back and head position to be neutral or at least be closer to neutral.
7. You can't breathe with the stick on your back.
You need to breathe into your back. Because of this, the stick should rise slightly above your head on your inhale, and fall back onto your head on the exhale. If you see someone who keeps the stick stationary on their head, it means their not expanding their back which they should.
The floor plank is an intense exercise. It includes a lot of components like proper head and thoracic posture, and proper breathing. Make sure you get all these components under control before you advance.
I’ll be the first to admit, lats aren’t the first thing one usually thinks of when thinking about anterior pelvic tilt.
However, the lats can contribute to APT if they are short… or if they are stiffer than the abdominals.
If you almost look like Frankenstein when raising your arms overhead, you definitely have some tight lats.
The real test is getting to 170 degrees with arms overhead. Note that one arm might be different than the other. You can also test using one arm at a time.
Even though you may not have short lats, we still need to see if your lats are too stiff compared to your abdominals.
The first test is observing if one can simply maintain their pelvic position with the arms overhead.
The real test is to try to use your abdominals to see if you keep a neutral pelvic position while you lift both of your arms.
You are observing if the pelvis can maintain its position without moving. If your arms can get to the same spot without trying to use your abdominals, and you can maintain your lats, you do not have too stiff of lats.
From the testing, there are four possibilities:
0. You don’t have tight or stiff lats. Woohoo! (I'll count this as zero because there isn't a problem.)
1. You have short lats, but not excessively stiff lats.
2. You have stiff lats, but not excessively short lats.
3. You have short and stiff lats.
Our strategy is going to be simple. If we have tight lats, we will stretch them. If we have stiff lats, we need to train the abdominals to compete with the stiffness of the lats. If we have both short and stiff lats, we need to do a combination of both stretching and training the abdominals.
The last test we'll use is the standing shoulder internal rotation test. For this test, hold a pen or pencil in your hand while standing. See if the pen or pencil is facing forward. If it points inward at all, you have some excessively tight or stiff internal rotators.
The lats are internal rotators, so you should see if stretching them has a positive effect. While there are other implications and culprits for why you maybe internally rotated, you should see if stretching the lats improves your internal rotation at all.
Let's get to the fixes. Let's first assume you have short lats, but not stiff lats (picture #1 above).
We need to do the opposite of extending our arms and going into anterior pelvic tilt. I really like the crouched position for this because you can get a big lat stretch, but you also stretch out the whole posterior fascia chain which the lats are connected to.
Since the lats can also laterally flex your spine, you can also benefit by doing this stretch (which still includes the arms overhead position and rounded back position):
And damn, if those lats don't also contribute to thoracic rotation, we can stretch them out by rotating in the opposite direction like this. (Note, you can also combine the arms overhead, rounded back, and laterally flexed positions above).
These stretches are all great if we have tight lats, but not stiff lats. If we do have stiff lats, we are need to use a different strategy. We need to make sure we increase the stiffness of the abdominals to compete with the lats.
While there are a ton of ways to accomplish this, I’ve found two methods to work great.
The first is using the ground. This is ideal for those who cannot stand in a neutral pelvic position.
Lie on your back on the ground. Raise up your arms and keep your back flattened throughout the whole range of motion. That’s it! You can either hold this position, or go back and for with your arms. Either way, always keep your back flattened.
You can keep your arms overhead, or bring them forward, then back to beside your head. Either way, make sure your back stays flat which will require you to use your abdominals. This will help you maintain your pelvic position when your arms go overhead.
Please note that you should never raise your arms higher than if your back comes off the ground.
If you have short lats and stiff lats, you can use some DB's in your hands to help you with getting a bigger stretch. But under no circumstances should you stretch beyond the point where your low back comes off the ground.
Another option is to use a stick on your back, and then simply bring your opposite arm overhead. This is a perfect strategy if one arm was limited in lat length, but the other was not.
If you want to combine your abdominal strength training with your lat stretching, and combatting your lat stiffness, then you can use a dead bug.
Make sure your back stays flat, your arms can move or stay overhead, and your legs go up and down.
While the lats might not be the only thing keeping you in anterior pelvic tilt, they can still be a contributor. Keeping them loose while strengthening your abdominals will play a big role helping you stay out of APT.
I never could figure out why a person would want to walk in an anterior pelvic tilt.
I guess I can understand why one would want to promote a butt if there really isn't one, but that's going to hurt in due time.
I see a lot of people walk in anterior pelvic tilt who aren't trying to do it. If you have a big butt like me, it pretty much guarantees that you will look like you are walking in anterior pelvic tilt. However, you might or might not have APT.
This is why I can understand why someone like Kim Kardashian who purposely goes into an APT posture and already has a big butt gets popular. The curves are even more dynamic.
The truth is if you have anterior pelvic tilt, you likely have to retrain everything including how you walk, how you run, or how you do your cardio. For this article, we'll focus just on the walking and some running.
Since most of my clients will do some regular walking or running, I've made the mistake of doing everything right in the gym, then not training how they walk.
Just last week, I had a client look at me incredulously and ask, “How do you expect to leave this place and keep up what I’m doing?”
What my client really meant was, “I know I’m getting out of anterior pelvic tilt in the gym, but how do you expect me to stay out of anterior pelvic tilt, if I’m walking out of here in anterior pelvic tilt.”
She had a good point.
We were doing everything to get her out of anterior pelvic tilt, but I realized if we didn’t coach her walking and her cardio, she would simply be reinforcing her anterior pelvic tilt.
A lot of people think they can fix their anterior pelvic tilt by simply doing some exercises and stretches. For some, this will work. For others, they need everything.
You’ve probably seen people running like this:
We’ve already covered standing in APT. And if you don’t know what to do in standing, you need to work on this first.
However, even if you optimized your standing, you still need to work on your walking and potentially any other cardiovascular work you do.
If you have anterior pelvic tilt or didn't pass the prone hip extension in the last video, or if you regularly walk or run, I highly recommend performing a single leg balance test.
Lift up your leg, and observe the knee area of the leg which is on the ground. If the knee goes inward, this is a problem. If the leg rotates inwardly, this is also a problem. Both problems may indicate weak or deactivated glutes.
To see if the glutes are a culprit, try squeezing the glutes. If the leg becomes like the picture below, you have some deactivated glutes. (Also, just because you passed the prone hip extension test, doesn't mean you will pass this test.)
If you have deactivated glutes in standing, simply squeezing them and making sure your knee is stable is a great warm up exercise.
Eventually, you should be able to stand without trying to squeeze your glutes. Your knee should be stable.
If you have been or are prone to knee problems while running, and you didn't pass the single leg balance test, you will also likely need to work on using your glutes to propel your leg back.
You need to walk very slowly while doing this exercise. Walking literally at a 1 to 2mph pace is perfect. If this isn't easy for you, you need to slow it down.
Overtime, feeling the glute should be possible at your normal walking speed. If you run, you should be able to feel the glutes propelling your leg back. It will take some time to build up to this, but if you practice this, you will get it.
Besides focusing on our glutes while walking, we should make sure our alignment is as neutral as possible.
I've recently began having clients use the stick while walking on the treadmill, and it's worked really well. Clients can really feel what neutral feels like.
I've even had clients raise up the front of the pelvis turning on the obliques, squeeze the glutes for the leg that's going back, and use the stick on their back. While it's a lot to concentrate on, you should be able to accomplish this with practice.
You can do all the right stuff in the gym. However, if you walk and run in anterior pelvic tilt, it's going to take you a lot longer to get out of it. For some of you, being in APT is normal for your sport. That's fine, but you should still be able to do all of these exercises well.
The anterior pelvic tilt look is still in.
Unfortunately, anterior pelvic tilt (APT) is a glute killer. The biggest problem is that the glutes are responsible for posteriorly tilting the pelvis. If you go into anterior pelvic tilt, you deactivate your glutes.
By definition, APT puts your glutes in a lengthened position. Because the glutes are on stretch, they are more likely to be deactivated.
Want to see if your glutes are really deactivated?
Simply lie face down on the ground, press your hand into your glute, and lift up your leg. If you feel a protrusion of your glute throughout the whole range of motion, you're glutes are not deactivated. (Don't cheat it by squeezing your glutes, they will fire automatically if they are not deactivated.)
If you don't feel any protrusion, your glutes are deactivated. Also, if you only feel a protrusion at the top of the range of motion, your glutes are deactivated.
Remember, in APT, position is everything. If we are going to work the glutes properly, we need to make sure we are in the best position to do that.
Begin first by flattening your low back to the ground. Take notice of your pelvic line.
Before lifting up, flatten your back using your obliques. Now, squeeze your glutes before you lift up. As you lift up, keep your glutes squeezed. At the top, squeeze your glutes and pause for one to two seconds. As you lower, you can relax your glutes, but try to keep a near-vertical pelvic line.
The most important thing is respecting the vertical pelvic line. As you lift up, this vertical line should remain vertical relative to the body.
As you can see, the pelvic line stays vertical with the body.
It should not look like this:
Since getting out of anterior pelvic tilt is all about maintaining a neutral (or posterior) tilted pelvis, we need to follow a few guidelines when doing our vertical line hip lifts. These are:
1. Don’t go into a range of motion which compromises your vertical pelvic line.
In other words, you should not lift up past the point where your vertical pelvic line is no longer vertical. If you do, you are going into an anterior pelvic tilt. I realize I’ve said this in half of the articles I’ve written already, but you are not going to get out of APT while going into APT.
2. Don’t lift any weight which compromises your vertical pelvic line.
If you lift a heavy-enough weight, your pelvis will go into APT. Don’t let it. Instead, you should use as heavy a weight as possible while insuring you don’t lose your vertical pelvic line.
If you follow these guidelines, your glutes are not only going to become activated, they are going to help get you out of anterior pelvic tilt.
The next exercise which I see almost always butchered is the birddog.
The birddog is a tough exercise.
The reason it’s hard is because it’s damn-near impossible for someone with anterior pelvic tilt to go through a full range of motion with a neutral pelvis. How can you tell if you have a neutral pelvis in the birddog?
You should be able to get the apex of your thumb (or about one inch) to touch the stick while you lift up your leg.
Once again, do not lift your leg past the point where you can’t touch your thumb to the stick. If you have anterior pelvic tilt, most of you will likely benefit by starting out by using a very small range of motion.
Once again, before you lift up your leg, squeeze your glutes on the leg you will lift up. Keep it squeezed all the way up and hold at the top while squeezing your glutes. When lowering, you can relax, but don’t lose your neutral pelvic position.
If you didn't pass the prone hip extension test, you should only do bent knee dead bugs. The bent-knee position will diminish your dominant hamstrings. It's also possible that you have tight quadriceps, so using a bent-knee position will also help stretch them out.
For those who have very tight hip flexors, quadriceps, or low back, if you go above 45 degrees, you’ll quickly lose spinal stability.
What this means is you need to do your stretching of the hip flexors, low back, and quadriceps before you do these exercises.
Many individuals will also benefit by doing exercises like the dead bugs before birddogs or hip lifts.
Feel free to load up the hip lift with weight as long as you can maintain a neutral pelvis. You can also add ankle weights to the birddog, but make sure you can first hit a full range of motion birddog first.
If you did pass the prone hip extension test, and can do a bent-knee birddog with a full range of motion, then you can do the straight leg version.
The glutes are the biggest muscles in the body. When the glutes are activated and strong, they help you lift more, look awesome, run faster, and perform better with fun-like activities in the bedroom.
Unfortunately, the hip lift and birddog are some of the most poorly performed exercises I see. Just about everyone I see who performs them is not keeping a neutral pelvis. I encourage you to be extra-strict with your form, squeeze those glutes, and add some load as long as you have perfect form.
At some point, we’ll all likely have some low back pain. While there are many different causes as to why this happens, it’s often due to a overworked stiff low back.
If you have anterior pelvic tilt, the low back is by definition shortened. It doesn't mean however that your low back muscles can't fully stretch.
But, if you have anterior pelvic tilt, and you find the low back muscles can't fully stretch, you need to do something about it. First, let's see if your low back muscles are able to stretch the way they should.
To do this, we'll use the prone rock test.
With the prone rock test, you need to see if your spine is rounded like a turtle shell. If you see any flat spots in the low back, you have a tight low back.
If you don't have a tight low back, it doesn't mean the prone rock test is useless. You can the prone rock position to deactivate the low back muscle.
Did you notice that Ariel has a hinge point in his thoracic spine? While this deserves attention, if we saw a hinge spot in his low back, we would make sure that if we stretch this, we make sure that there are no hinge spots during our stretch.
Anytime you stretch, there should be a smooth curve in your low back, just like a turtle shell. This might mean that you need to limit your stretch at first. If you are doing this by yourself, you will need to make sure that when you stretch, you don't observe any hinge points.
Gradually, you will be able to go through a larger range of motion while insuring there are no hinge points.
What if I'm hypermobile in the low back?
If you are very hypermobile, you still need to make sure your low back forms a turtle shell-like curve. Check this using the prone rock test.
It is possible that you may simply be hypermobile in the hips and thoracic spine while you are limited in the lumbar spine or low back.
Assuming you may be hypermobile like the picture above, you may still want to do less of a stretch to inhibit the low back muscles.
The reason why is that in anterior pelvic tilt, the low back muscles are overactivated. To deactivate it, we can do a static stretch of the low back. You don't need to do a stretch as much as the woman demonstrates above, but going to about 70% of a stretch will allow you to deactivate the low back.
While you can use the prone rock test as way to stretch your low back, you will inevitably encounter clients who have knee problems while in the prone rock test.
In that case, you can use a hip flexed chair stretch
This is a great way to stretch the low back (or deactivate it) without irritating the knees.
Since Ariel demonstrates the same hinge point in his thoracic spine in the picture above, I've had Ariel extend or straighten his upper back slightly to smooth out his thoracic spine.
Some individuals will not be able to feel a stretch using the chair stretch above. If that's the case, I recommend using an assisted low back stretch.
You should first make sure there is padding under the mid back and the glutes. This will help flex and target the lumbar spine. Push down (or pull) on the legs making sure you can feel the stretch in the low back.
This stretch is a great way to practice turning on the obliques too. Squeezing the obliques will help to posteriorly tilt the pelvis which is a great way to get out of anterior pelvic tilt.
One of the most convenient ways to stretch the low back is getting into a crouched rounded back position.
Again, make sure you feel the stretch in the low back area. To deepen the stretch, take some deep inhales and exhales.
Upon inhaling, you should try to make sure your low back (and really whole back) is expanding. When you exhale, use your obliques to make help induce a posterior pelvic tilt.
If you find this position is uncomfortable, keep practicing. It's likely that your low back, and possibly whole back is stiff. Breathing and simply being in a flexed position can help to release the tension.
Low back stretching is controversial and for good reason. If you don't have anterior pelvic tilt and are hypermobile, stretching your low back is not warranted and can be dangerous.
Make sure you never stretch into pain and do not have any hinge points when stretching. Do not stretch within thirty minutes upon waking up, as this can compromise your spinal stability.
You will find however that if you do have anterior pelvic tilt, and you have a positive prone rock test, stretching your low back will help you get out of anterior pelvic tilt faster.
Are you sitting down right now? If you are, you probably need to do this stretch. And, if you have anterior pelvic tilt (APT), you definitely need to do this stretch.
I’m not talking about this stretch though:
The typical hip flexor stretch has the pelvis go into anterior pelvic tilt (essentially dumping the front of the pelvis downward or the middle torso extended back.)
Going into anterior pelvic tilt (APT) to get out of APT will not get you out of anterior pelvic tilt. You must maintain a neutral pelvis.
To do this, we need to make sure our pelvis is neutral. Enter the stick.
Using a stick on your back to make sure your low back can touch your thumb is a great way to stay neutral:
You need to make sure that you don’t stretch beyond the point where you cannot touch your low back to your thumb.
Some of you will not even feel a stretch without losing low back to thumb contact. But don’t get discouraged that you don’t feel a stretch.
As long as you keep practicing, your flexibility will improve.
How far should you stretch? There’s no magic answer, but as long as your leg can go behind you, that's great.
(You can confirm tight hip flexors by doing a Thomas Test or a SEA test. However, if you have APT, it makes sense to do hip flexor stretching regardless because it will tend to help get you out of APT faster.)
Some of you will not be able to even get into position without your low back losing contact with your thumb. If this is you, we need a different method.
For those of you who can’t touch their low back to the thumb, you will need to hug the knee.
Lie down on a bench. Begin with hugging both of your knees. Let one extend, but make sure your pelvic line stays vertical like this:
Squeeze your obliques and keep the front of your pelvis tucked up to keep your pelvic line vertical.
With anterior pelvic tilt, the obliques get overly lengthened. We know from research that a muscle which is overly stretched does not produce as much force as a muscle which is at an “ideal” length. (1)
We need to shorten our obliques if you have APT. Everybody talks about stretching, but shortening your muscles is just as important.
Remember, in anterior pelvic tilt, the muscles which are too short and which should be stretched are the hip flexors, lumbar erectors, and possibly the quadriceps.
The muscles which are too long and which should be shortened include the obliques, glutes, and hamstrings.
A way to prevent going into an anterior pelvic tilt when you are lying on your back is to use your obliques to try to posteriorly tilt your pelvis. This means you will use your obliques to keep a vertical pelvic line.
I’d actually rather err on the side of getting too much of a posterior pelvic tilt rather than going into APT. If you get in a posterior pelvic tilt, you can still effectively stretch the leg that’s down.
What’s great about a posterior pelvic tilt is that your obliques are shortened which we need.
If you go into APT just a little, your obliques are being stretched out too much. So, anytime we go into APT, they are overly lengthened.
Okay, now that you are hugging your knee, got your obliques activated, and have a vertical pelvic line, what do you do with the down leg?
You need to push it downward into the bench by using your hamstrings. If you some of you have long or heavy legs, you will feel a strong stretch by doing this. If however, you have short or light legs or simply can’t bring it down to feel a stretch, keep practicing.
This is where a partner or any kind of weight on the thigh can help. You can have a partner simply push down into your thigh slowly and gradually. Do not lose the vertical pelvic position!
Or, you can use a strap or weight belt to weigh the leg down. Make sure you don’t go too heavy or you’ll risk losing your vertical pelvic position.
The sweet spot for this stretch is keeping the vertical pelvic line, and feeling the stretch.
Here’s another tip: A stretch doesn’t need to be a 100% but it should be at least 80-90% of your maximum stretch before pain. (2)
Unless your hip flexors are very lengthened (like below 10 degrees below parallel on a Thomas Test), you can do well by stretching your hip flexors.
Stretching the muscles which cause APT effectively gives you easier access to get a neutral pelvic position. What is really happening is the APT-causing muscles provide less tension to cause APT. This is why if you include strength training combined with stretching, you will see faster results.
Hip flexor stretching is important for getting out of APT. If you make sure you have a vertical pelvic position, you will increase your flexibility, and get out of APT.
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.