The other reason your back hurts after lifting weights…

Anterior pelvic tilt is more common than the common cold. A western world of sitting, slouching, leaning over a desk, sitting some more, driving and poor cues on how to “switch on your core” has led to so many of us suffering chronically sore backs, with no real understanding as to why it is always so sore.

To put it simply, anterior pelvic tilt occurs when your hips tilt forwards. From a side view your hips look higher at the back and lower at the front. This is commonly caused by sustained poor posture. Many of us tend to over-use our quads and hip flexors, which pulls the front of our hips downward, while also over using our lower back, pulling the rear of our hips upwards. This also causes inactive or weak hamstrings and abdominals. Yes, even though we might be doing 100 sit-ups a day, it does not mean that we are going to reverse this issue of anterior public tilt, as your hips are most likely still be in the incorrect position while you are completing your sit-ups.

Also, if you are somebody that regularly lifts weights and suffers ongoing tightness in the shoulders or pecs, you are very likely to develop a pelvic tilt issue. When we press overhead with tight shoulders we find it very difficult to finish the movement in the correct overhead position (arms in-line with our head and stacked directly above our shoulders, hips, knees and ankles), therefore we tend to allow a slight arch in our mid and lower back and a forward tilt in our hips in order to reach the “correct position”. This causes the lower back to work overtime, leading to an increased reliance on the lower back for structural support. The longer we rely on the lower back during lifts and day to day movement, the further this new postural position cements itself as your natural stance. Next comes the injuries.

Here is a quick method to test if you have an anterior pelvic tilt problem. Throw on a pair of underwear or shorts and stand side on and relaxed in the mirror. Look at your waist band, it should be relatively horizontal. If it is tilting well forward beyond horizontal you most likely have a pelvic tilt issue.

How do we correct this?

Firstly, while standing in front of the mirror, play around with your hip position and see if you can correct your posture. Cues that we commonly use in the gym are:

Close the gap between your hips and ribs, not by bringing your ribs down to your hips, but by bringing your hips up towards your ribs.

Imagine yourself trying to pee over your shoulder. (This cue was given to by a female gymnastics instructor btw! And yeah… it really works!)

If you do suffer and anterior pelvic tilt problem, this corrected position will probably not feel very comfortable. Your lower back will probably feel a little stretched, and even your hip flexors or quads might feel like they are pulling. But this is only confirming how overactive those two areas are and how much you need to work on correcting this posture issue.

Exercises to help fix this issue:

Suck in your tummy as deep as you can go, with your index fingers poke yourself firmly in the outer edge of your abdominals where they meet your oblique’s. Using your abdominals, push hard back against your index fingers. Repeat this practice until it becomes comfortable to achieve.

Using the posture correction tips, or the technique above, practice holding the correct position throughout the day. While you are cooking dinner, while you are driving, while you are walking down the street. Just check in with yourself every now and then to see how you are standing and how you could possibly stand better.

Practice holding weight on your shoulders in a static standing hold or in short 10-15m controlled walks. E.g. hold one or two kettlebells at your shoulders and stand for one minute while maintaining your posture. As you improve and find yourself able to comfortably hold your position with weight on your shoulders, move the weight overhead and practice holds and walking without losing form.

Practise slow tempo strict presses. Aim to maintain the correct position as the bar moves through the entire range of motion. Once you can comfortably complete this under load, progress towards movements such as push press and then eventually, push jerks. You should always be able to maintain correct midline stability throughout the entire movement. If your tummy opens and your back arches, you need to stop and re-correct the movement.

Stretches and mobility

The previous exercises work on what we need to do to strengthen the weak areas, we also need to work on relaxing overactive tightened areas:

Quadriceps and hip flexors. Sit in a kneeling lunge position making sure that you hips are not tilted forward while you stretch. Allowing your hips to tilt during this stretch is a common error as it does not allow our hip flexors to gain any benefit of the stretch.

Glutes/Hips and Lower Back. The Seated Forward Fold and the Pigeon Stretch. In the forward fold, rather than trying to reach as far as you can towards your feet, just focus on dropping your head and shoulders shoulders down towards your legs in order to increase the scratch on your lower back. In the pigeon stretch, keep your hips ‘square’, do not let them lean to one side.

Use a foam roller or hard ball such as a lacrosse ball and spend time rolling out your lower back, glutes and quads to further help relax and lengthen the tight areas.

Take this postural issue seriously, as it is a major cause of back issues that we come across every day in the gym. By just spending only 5 minutes every day on mobility, 5 minutes on practicing correct posture throughout the day, and slowing down while you lift to ensure correct form, you will be saving yourself from the high chance of earning yourself a serious back injury.

Go smart before you go hard.

Stu.

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