A model performing a variation of the lower back stretch. (Photo by TerenceKearns.com)
Anterior pelvic tilt may sound like some horrible bone disease, but it's actually a fairly common problem with posture. In fact, according to some fitness people and gym teachers, it may even be the most common postural deviation.
What is anterior pelvic tilt?
In anatomical terms, "anterior" refers to the "front" side of the body (the side your face is on), and "pelvic tilt" means that the pelvis is tilted to one side. In this case, the tilt is towards the front, like in the image below:
As you can see, the spine is naturally slightly curved, but in anterior pelvic tilt the curve is excessive compared to a neutral posture. According to some physiotherapists, a desirable tilt is 0-5 degrees in men and 7-10 degrees in women. You can estimate your tilt by standing with your back against the wall and measuring how much space is between your lower back and the wall. If you can fit one hand in there you're fine. If you can fit a couple of wine bottles you're in trouble.
But what exactly is the problem with the anterior pelvic tilt? Well, for one thing, it doesn't make your posture look very good – at least not if you're a guy. If you're a woman, you may be able to pull it off. An arched back is considered a feminine trait, after all. Still, there's no need to go overboard, because the second reason to avoid (excessive) anterior pelvic tilt is that it causes lower back pain, especially with old age. Besides, a protruding belly doesn't look good on anyone.
Identifying the muscles that need fixing
There are several good articles out there with intricate anatomical descriptions of the interplay between muscles related to pelvic tilt, so I'll skip the details here and just give a brief overview. The gist is that not using certain muscles eventually causes other muscles to overcompensate, which leads to some muscles becoming lengthened and weak and other muscles short and stiff. Here's a list of things that typically lead to anterior pelvic tilt (or characteristics of anterior pelvic tilt; it's difficult to say what causes what):
- Lengthened (weak) hamstrings
- Lengthened (weak) abdominals
- Lengthened (weak) glutes
- Shortened (tight) erector spinae
- Shortened (tight) hip flexors
The erector spinae (or spinal erectors) is a group of muscles in the back that supports the spine. Finally, hip flexors are a group of muscles near the pelvis that move the hip forward during walking and running.
Exercises for correcting anterior pelvic tilt
To fix the problem and bring the pelvic tilt back to normal levels, a set of exercises that target these issues is needed. In essence, we need to do two things:
- Make the hamstrings, deeper abdominals and glutes stronger
- Stretch the spinal erectors and hip flexors
Exercise 1: Glute bridge
This exercise, also known as supine hip extension or pelvic lift, strengthens both the glutes and the hamstrings. Here's the basic way to do it:
One variation of the exercise is to straighten one leg so that only one foot is on the ground, hold for a while and then do the same with the other leg.
Exercise 2: Front and side plank
Plank exercises are good for making the abdominal muscles stronger. In contrast to sit-ups, which mainly affect the superficial muscles, planks target the deeper muscles. In addition to the usual front plank where both feet and elbows are on the ground, you can do side planks:
This exercise can also be made more difficult by lifting one of the legs up and holding for at least 30 seconds.
Exercise 3: Lunge stretch
The lunge stretch exercise stretches the hip flexors. It's also called by various other names like hip flexor lunge, lunging hip flexor stretch, psoas stretch, etc. Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer as to how to perform the exercise, but here's one way:
This exercise can also be done as a forward lunge, in which you begin from a standing position and then lunge forward and drop your hips towards the floor. Performed this way, you'll target glutes and hamstrings more than the hip flexors, unless you also do the stretch.
Exercise 4: Lower back stretch
The lower back stretch is an exercise that stretches the erector spinae. It's also known as all fours back stretch, back arch stretch, cat pose stretch, and various other names. Here's how to do it:
You can alternate between the two arches as seen in the video, but keep in mind that it's the upward arch that stretches the erector spinae.
Exercise 5: Supine pelvic tilt
Finally, here's an exercise imitating what you want to happen through all your hard work. Like planks, the supine pelvic tilt mainly targets the deeper abdominal muscles. Here's a good example of how to do it (nevermind the Swedish subtitles):
The exercise itself is very subtle, but it gives a good idea of what you're trying to achieve. You can alternate between short reps and holding the tilt for a longer period.
Summary and my experiment
The muscles that are required to maintain a natural posture don't get enough exercise during daily routines, especially if you work at a desk job. This causes some muscles to weaken and others to compensate. As a result, the pelvis tilts forward, which in turn results in a postural problem known as anterior pelvic tilt. Many people have some degree of (excessive) anterior pelvic tilt, whether or not they realize it.
There are several exercises that can be performed to train the muscles that are weakened (hamstrings, deeper abdominals and glutes) and stretch the ones that are overcompensating (hip flexors and the erector spinae). You may get better and faster results by combining many different exercises, but the ones shown here will get you started.
Personally, I recognize my posture from the first picture showing excessive anterior pelvic tilt. I also have occasional problems with pain in the lower back. Until now, I haven't really known what the precise issue with my posture was, but thankfully, I was pointed in the right direction by some members of the imminst.org forums.
So for my newest human experiment, I'll be doing these exercises (and possibly others as I discover them) at least three times a week and seeing whether I can fix my anterior pelvic tilt. Meanwhile, if you have suggestions for other and/or better exercises, please drop a comment and share them!
For more information on exercise and health, see these posts:
L-Carnitine, Exercise Performance & Oxidative Stress
Green Tea Extract Increases Insulin Sensitivity & Fat Burning during Exercise
Green Tea Extract Enhances Abdominal Fat Loss from Exercise
Coenzyme Q10, Exercise and Oxidative Stress