Anterior Pelvic Tilt
The anterior pelvic tilt is a posture distortion and muscle imbalance marked by an arched lower back. This is because the hip flexor complex is shortened, or tight, pulling the front and top of the pelvis forward and down. With this tilted pelvis, the erector spinae muscle is also shortened as the back of the pelvis tilts up. Over time, in a shortened state, this tight muscle can contribute to lower back pain. The muscular imbalance of an anterior tilt will also have lengthened and weak muscles. These include the rectus abdominis (abdominal muscle) and gluteus maximus. Therefore, the best way to correct this posture is to lengthen the overactive muscle group, including the hip flexors and spinal erectors. And then, you should strengthen, or activate, the core and glutes muscle group. This combination of flexibility and strengthening can improve muscle imbalance, posture, exercise technique, and even pain.
Here we’ll explore what can cause an anterior tilt. Then we’ll give a step by step guide to improve this muscle imbalance. Lastly we’ll explore common exercises where your anterior tilt will worsen, affecting your exercise technique and how to improve it.
What Is An Anterior Pelvic Tilt?
In the fitness community, the term lordosis is also used to represent an anterior tilt. Any type of pelvic tilt is the result of a muscle imbalance. A muscle imbalance is when there’s an altered state of a muscle group surrounding a joint. One muscle is shortened while it’s opposing antagonist is lengthened. This is reciprocal inhibition, a concept in basic human movement system science. Reciprocal inhibition is when one muscle activates and shortens, an opposite muscle must lengthen and relax. This phenomenon allows movement to occur. Typically, the opposing muscle, or muscle group, is on the other side of the body.
In the case of an anterior tilt, the hip flexor antagonist is the hip extension muscles, including the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles. As the hip flexors pull the top of the pelvic bone forward and down, muscles other than the glutes alter in length. The rectus abdominis, an abdominal muscle, lengthens on the front of the body. The spinal erectors, or erector spinae, then shorten in response to this change in muscle length.
Although less common, some people will have a posterior pelvic tilt. This is where the pelvis rotates back and down. In this instance, the abdominal muscle group (rectus abdominis) and hamstring muscles will be overactive. And, conversely, the spinal erectors and hip flexor complex will be underactive. Individuals with a posterior pelvic tilt are more prone to acute low back pain, as seen in back spasms.
What Causes An Anterior Pelvic Tilt?
An anterior pelvic tilt can be the result of sedentary living, pattern overload, injury, or any combination of these. However, in most cases the cause is sedentary living and technology. People sit most of the day. They spend excessive time in hip flexion. Therefore, the hip flexors are in a shortened state. And, because of the concept of reciprocal inhibition, the glutes become the weak muscles since they are in a lengthened state. This can happen when you work at a desk for a living, spend excessive amounts of time commuting in a car, or other sitting activities. And, it’s further worsened with sedentary living and activities.
The onset of an anterior pelvic tilt isn’t immediately noticeable. Instead, overtime it becomes worse unless you do corrective exercise or change the activity causing the pelvic tilt. Therefore, it worsens with age. And, some forms of exercise such as indoor cycling, certain strength training machines, or rowing can make the pelvic tilt worse. This is because these activities are in the seated position.
How To Identify An Anterior Tilt
The best way to identify a pelvic tilt is for a certified personal trainer to perform a comprehensive fitness assessment. During the fitness assessment, the trainer will perform one or a combination of different tests to spot a pelvic tilt. There are a few ways to determine if you have an anterior pelvic tilt. Ranging from easiest to perform (on yourself or someone else) to more challenging, these methods look at the pelvic tilt.
- Cat Cow Range Of Motion: In a quadruped stance (on your hands and knees), perform the yoga poses of cat and cow. Cow is where you arch your back and lift your head. The cat pose is where you round your low back, drawing the navel into the spine. If you feel like you have greater motion and ability in the cow pose, you might have an anterior pelvic tilt.
- Standing Wall Test: Stand with your back facing the wall and your heels against the wall or just a few inches in front. If there is a large space between your lower back and the wall, then it’s likely you have an anterior pelvic tilt. If there is no space between the wall, and you casually stand with your knees bent, then you might have a posterior pelvic tilt.
- Overhead Squat Assessment: You’ll likely need a personal trainer to perform this movement assessment. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart and pointed straight ahead, raise both arms up over your head. If your spine arches as soon as you lift your arms up, it could be an anterior pelvic tilt. Then, squat down as low as you can go, or about the height of a chair. Similarly, if your spine arches as you do the movement, it’s an indication of an anterior pelvic tilt.
Correcting An Anterior Pelvic Tilt
The key to improving your posture and correcting a muscular imbalance is through corrective exercise. Corrective exercise is the strategic application of flexibility and muscular endurance components of fitness to offset the altered muscle lengths. You can do this as the main part of your functional fitness program. Or, you can do it as the movement prep portion of your workout plan. The corrective exercises for an anterior pelvic tilt include (in order):
- Foam roll the hip flexor complex. Roll along the rectus femoris, the top muscle of your quads, until you find a tender area. Then hold the tender area for 30 seconds to inhibit the muscle. Find three areas on each leg, holding the most sensitive spot.
- Stretch the psoas. This is one of your hip flexors. In a standing position, take one step back. Barely flex your back knee and internally rotate the back leg at the hip. Keeping your core and glute engaged, raise the same arm as the leg is back. Reach up over the head and hold the psoas stretch for 30 seconds.
- Stretch the rectus femoris. To stretch the muscle of the hip flexor, perform a kneeling stretch. One knee is down on the ground and the other leg is bent, in a 90-90 degree angle. Keep the core and gluteals engaged to maintain a neutral pelvis. Then, lift the arm, similar to the psoas stretch. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Stretch the erector spinae. Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Bring one knee in toward your chest, crossing it over the other leg and placing the foot on the floor. Twist in the opposite direction of the leg and hold for 30 seconds. Make sure your spine is erect and you sit in an upright posture.
- Perform a forearm plank. This will activate the transverse abdominis, another weak abdominal muscle in the anterior pelvic tilt. Hold for up to 10 seconds and repeat the exercise three to five times.
- Perform abdominal crunches. This will activate the rectus abdominis, the weak muscle of the core. Lie on your back with your arms across your chest or behind the head. Perform 12 – 25 repetitions at a slow tempo and repeat for three sets.
- Perform glute bridges. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Activate the gluteus maximus and lift the hip up and into hip flexion. Repeat 12 – 25 times for three sets.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt During Exercise
When exercising, it’s common to shift even more into an anterior pelvic tilt, making the posture worse. Here is a list of common exercises and when you might see an anterior tilt.
- Seated Row: As you bring the weight closer to your chest, don’t let your back arch. Keep the core engaged and maintain a neutral spine. If your back arches, you might need to reduce the weight.
- Pushup: As you flex the elbows and lower to the ground, make sure your back doesn’t droop, falling into an arch. To prevent this, perform the exercise in a more inclined position or on your knees.
- Lat Pull Down: As you raise your arms over your head to grab the bar, you might already be in an anterior pelvic tilt. Make sure you do corrective exercise first, and include lat stretches to help avoid this.
- Treadmill Walking: Keep the speed of walking or running at a manageable pace and don’t overstride. When you go too fast or take larger steps, your hip flexibility won’t be able to accommodate the movement and your lumbar spine will arch.
The muscle imbalance of an anterior pelvic tilt is just one of many other muscle imbalances that can be helped with corrective exercise and a personal trainer.
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Foam Roll The Rectus Femoris
Start improving your anterior pelvic tilt by foam rolling your hip flexors
Activate The Gluteus Maximus
Activate the glute complex with a hip bridge