I have to confess I am obsessed with the pelvis. I talk about it all of the time in class. I truly believe its alignment is crucial for proper core strengthening.
Our pelvis has the important job of providing a stable foundation for our body to be able to stand upright on. It allows our core to extend up from it and support our internal organs as our legs move below it. The pelvis itself primarily moves in four directions: it tilts forward, backwards, to the left, and to the right. Proper movement of the pelvis allows us to stabilize through our core to control upper body movements in all planes.
Check out this great example of pelvic mobility and strength—who doesn’t love Shakira?!
Sometimes, our bodies also use these movements to posturally compensate for core weakness - like this cowboy:
Movement and stability are essential for optimal postural control. When we have both good pelvic mobility and a good understanding of how to control the pelvis during movement we are able to find stability and engage the core. This is why I always begin with teaching pelvic mobility in classes, it gets us centered and ready to go. When the pelvis is in neutral it allows full initiation of all core muscles, giving you a deeper and fuller workout. The opposite occurs when the pelvis is out of neutral alignment, causing poor activation of the lower core, poor initiation of the hip muscles, and increased strain on the low back. If you are going to do the work, get the most out of it; get in neutral!
As I have been teaching clients how (and why!) to find neutral, I often hear about other classes or therapy appointment that included cues to flatten their backs against the floor during abdominal work to “protect their backs.” I cringe every time it is said. Anatomically, it does the exact opposite. When you flatten your back into the floor or a mat, you end up with increased strain on your hips and low back due to decreased muscle initiation.
If you are going to do the work, get the most out of it; get in neutral!
The important thing to keep in mind in the journey to neutral is that neutral is the goal we are working towards. Do not force it. As we start moving the pelvis, we have to work through the postural tightness built in day-to-day-life and slowly release the fascial tension in the area.
What Is Neutral?
The pelvis has three general postural positions, which have a big impact on how our body moves and maintains postural alignment.
1.) Neutral Pelvis lines up with the natural curves of your spine. When in neutral you maintain the small, natural lumbar curve in your low back. If you place your hands on your lower abdomen, all your fingers and thumbs should be on the same level. This positioning allows for a perfect balance of all flexor and extensor muscles.
2.) Anterior Tilt is when the opening to the pelvis is pointed towards the front of the body. In this position your tail bone sticks out and there is a larger than normal curve in the low back. If you place your hands on your lower abdomen your thumbs will be pushed forward.
3.) Posterior Tilt is when the opening of the pelvis is tilted towards the back. Posturally, you will have a flattened low back and your pubic bone will be jutting forward. If you place your hands on your lower abdomen, your fingers will be more forward than the thumbs and heels of your hands.
Why Neutral Matters
With the pelvis in neutral our hip flexor muscles, hip extensor muscles, and lower abdominal muscles are able to work optimally. FYI: Our primary hip flexor muscle is the Psoas, the primary hip extensor muscle is the Gluteus Maximus, and the lower abdominal muscles consist of the Transverse Abdominus and the Pelvic Floor.
When the pelvis is tilted posteriorly, the hip flexors and lower abdominals are unable to work due to the muscles being placed in a lax position. Many people then squeeze their buttocks *unknowingly* to compensate for the lack of stability in their pelvis.
Something similar happens when the pelvis is tilted anteriorly, except the glutes and hamstrings go lax. This positioning can lead to a shortening of the frontal hip flexors and put increased pressure on the lumbar spine.
When muscles are not able to work correctly, our body automatically relies on other muscles to make movements happen. This is commonly known as compensatory movements. With the pelvis tilted out of neutral, we tend to rely on our quadriceps, squeezing the butt and the muscles of the low back to complete movements and provide stability. Should this become a person’s postural norm, further compensatory patterns and muscle imbalances form.
As we find a neutral pelvis and learn how to work from that position, a stronger core will begin to develop. Compensatory patterns and muscle imbalances can be corrected as pelvic strength develops.
"Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise. Lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the benefits of their value.” -Joseph Pilates
How to Find Neutral
Though learning how your pelvis moves can be tricky, it is attainable for everyone. My ability to engage my core has become deeper and stronger with this insight into pelvis positioning.
To Find Neutral:
Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Make a diamond out of your hands by splaying your fingers, then place the thumbs of and index fingers of each hand together.
Place the diamond on your pelvis, thumbs at your navel and fingers pointing towards the pubic bone. Take note of the positioning of your hands: are your fingers and thumbs on the same level?
Tilt your pelvis towards your head and then to your feet. Notice how your hands move with the pelvis.
After rocking back and forth approximately 10 times, rest in neutral. Where are your fingers and thumbs at? Are they on the same level? If you are in neutral they should all be on the same level. Tilt your pelvis accordingly to make your hands and pelvis level.
Now that you found neutral, let’s challenge it a bit! Maintaining neutral, raise one leg up to table top. Bring it down and raise the other leg. Continue alternating legs, focusing on keeping the pelvis in neutral. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Now that you can find your neutral pelvis, let’s get cracking on strengthening so we can all be Shakira’s back up dancers.
Live Long and Strong!