…you probably have anterior pelvic tilt (APT). That is, your butt probably sticks out a bit. In some cases, the upside may be that it’ll make your butt look great. Although it doesn’t always look good…
Looks aside, for many people, it can cause or contribute to low back pain, either on a regular basis, or while trying to perform ab exercises. Raise your hand if you yourself or any of your clients have complained that they feel planks in their low back more than in their abs. I have my hand raised on both counts. I hear this complaint often. I also have this complaint. I find it very hard to work my abs (anterior core to the trainers out there). I have this problem with planks and rollouts. Back in the days when I did crunches, I had the problem with them too. I have come to realize that APT makes pushups more challenging as well. It makes sense if you think about it: if the core wants to sag, then the abs are not going to contract as much. This means less stability for the long lever between hands and feet during the pushup and thus more of a challenge.
I have read many articles about this, and have tried many different exercises and approaches to address it. From my perspective, they don’t work very well. Here are a few that I have tried with poor results:
- strengthen your abs
- squeeze your glutes during the exercise
- “tuck” your pelvis
- engage your TVA (transversus abdominus)
- reverse crunches
Recently, I’ve been trying something new, and so far, I’m very happy with the result, both for myself and my clients.
“I really feel that in the lower abs”
That is what I hear from my clients after I show them one of the abdominal exercises below.
So what am I doing differently?
I’m taking the hip flexors out of the equation.
I have a theory about hip flexors and abs.
Those of you that have read my stuff before, know that I am a recovering engineer, and so it shouldn’t be surprised that I have yet another theory.
Here’s my newest theory:
I suspect that one of the contributors to excessive anterior pelvic tilt is tight hip flexors. Consider that one of the hip flexors (psoas) originates along the spine. A tight hip flexor can therefore pull on the lumbar spine, bringing it into extension – anterior pelvic tilt. Now take a look at the abs on the guy in the picture above: what’s going on there?
Does he have strong abs? Maybe. We can’t tell because the way he stands has them on stretch. It’s pretty hard for a muscle to engage fully when it is being stretched.
Now put someone with anterior pelvic tilt into a plank or pushup position? The relatively tight hip flexors will pull the spine into extension, stretching the rectus abdominus (“6 pack muscle”) and render it nearly useless. Some people can keep the abs turned on for a while, but at some point – often early in the plank – they let go, turning the plank into an exercise of hanging the body off the spine. That’s about when the back starts to feel sore. For this reason, I always instruct people to stop their plank as soon as they feel it in their back.
That’s my theory in a nutshell. If that seems reasonable to you, then you will probably agree that the suggestion to “strengthen your abs” to fight anterior pelvic tilt is flawed unless it is accompanied with a good suggestion on just how to do it. Because the plank just does not cut it. But there are ways…
Take hip flexors out of the ab exercises!
How? Bend the knees. With knees bent, your hip flexors won’t be able to apply the same stress on the low back, and that means the abs won’t be stretched, which will allow them to work.
I’ve been using 3 versions of this:
I like to have my clients switch which knee they bend half way through their plank. Another option is to do one set with one knee bent and switch for the next one.
[u]Plank on a bench (with or without both knees bent)[/u]
This one is particularly great for people who also tend to feel planks more in the shoulders than in the abs. And it is amazing for larger clients who may feel demoralized with a floor plank.
TRX rollout with both knees bent
This one is a bit of a progression from the others, but works equally well, as you can see in the video.
Each of them has been yielding great results so far: my clients that used to feel planks in the back are now feeling them in the abs – lower abs in particular. Awesome!
The following exercise is another one that I’m also finding works the lower abs nicely. It’s actually an exercise for the thoracic spine, but provides a nice ab workout that also works for those with APT is a nice fringe benefit (thanks to Sue Falsone for this one):
Give them a try and let me know what you think.
And now that you’re thinking about your abs, are you also thinking “maybe I should start working out”? If you are and if you’re in the Ottawa area, get in touch with us via our contact form:
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Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.