When performing hip extension exercises, an alarming number of lifters move their pelvises into excessive anterior tilt. This can occur during squats, deadlifts, good mornings, back extensions, reverse hypers, hip thrusts, and barbell glute bridges. It’s important that the reader first understands what anterior pelvic tilt is before reading further. See the picture below. Tilting the pelvis forwards as in the case of the first picture is referred to as anterior pelvic tilt, whereas tilting the pelvis rearward as in the case of the second picture is referred to as posterior pelvic tilt.
Stand up and take a moment to move your pelvis into these positions. Notice the different musculature responsible for producing these motions. If you do them correctly, you’ll feel the lumbar erectors and hip flexors tilting the pelvis anteriorly, and you’ll feel the glutes and low abs tilting the pelvis posteriorly.
What’s the Safest Pelvic Position During Resistance Exercise?
What’s the safest pelvic position during heavy resistance training? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Stu McGill, the world’s leading expert in spinal biomechanics in relation to strength training, would tell you that the neutral position is always best for spine safety…both neutral spine and neutral pelvis. However, two legendary sports scientists by the names of Yuri Verkoshansky and Mel Siff (also the authors of Supertraining), felt otherwise. According to them:
The pelvis plays a vital role in the ability of the athlete to produce strength efficiently and safely, because it is the major link between the spinal column and the lower extremities… a neutral pelvic tilt offers the least stressful position for sitting, standing and walking. It is only when a load (or bodymass) is lifted or resisted that other types of pelvic tilt become necessary. Even then, only sufficient tilt is used to prevent excessive spinal flexion or extension… The posterior pelvic tilt is the appropriate pelvic rotation for sit-ups or lifting objects above waist level. Conversely… the anterior pelvic tilt is the correct pelvic rotation for squatting [and] lifting heavy loads off the floor. – Supertraining 2009 (Hat tip to Pavel Tsatsouline for finding this quote)
I’ve asked Stu for his take on this matter and again, he believes that neutral spine and neutral pelvic position is always best. However, I’m inclined to agree with Yuri and Mel. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned much of my spinal biomechanics knowledge from Stu and highly respect him. In this case, I feel that some slight pelvic tilt can help buttress the spine by creating torque in the necessary direction in order to help stabilize the spine and prevent buckling. However, the pelvic tilt isn’t to end-range so it doesn’t dramatically impact spinal posture, but rather keeps it in check.
Why Would Optimal Pelvic Position be Different for Squats & Deadlifts Versus Hip Thrusts and Back Extensions?
The most challenging portion of the squat motion is the parallel position, and the most challenging portion of the deadlift is at lift-off. At these positions, tremendous spinal flexion torque is induced upon the spine, along with tremendous posterior pelvic tilt torque. Strong erector spinae muscles must counter this torque by providing sufficient muscle force to stabilize both the spine and pelvis.
However, the most challenging portion of the hip thrust and back extension motions is the very top, at lock-out. At these positions, you won’t find the tremendous spinal flexion and posterior pelvic tilt torques that you see during squats and deadlifts, but nevertheless the erectors typically fire very hard during these movements, creating high muscle forces and therefore spinal extension and anterior pelvic tilt torques.
If you haven’t yet watched this video, check it out and things will hopefully click:
Why Does My Body Want to Anterior Tilt the Pelvis Rather than Stay in Neutral?
There are two main reasons cited by most S&C experts as to why a lifter moves their pelvic into excessive anterior pelvic tilt during hip extension exercises:
- Substituting lumbar extension for hip extension (also referred to as “lumbar compensation”)
- Stabilizing the lumbar spine through body approximation
I don’t feel that either of these explanations paint the entire picture. During planks and push-ups, many individuals will indeed stabilize their spines by hyperextending the lumbar spine. Rather than rely on muscle force to stabilize their spines, they just let the spine stabilize itself and allowing the posterior aspects of the vertebrae to jam together.
With squats, especially deep squats, the pelvis is often pulled into posterior tilt and then the lumbar spine goes along for the ride into flexion, due to the hips running out of flexion ROM or excessively tight musculature. To deep squat properly, a lifter must possess great hip flexion mobility and be able to produce impressive levels of spinal extension torque and anterior pelvic tilt torque at the bottom of the squat movement to prevent the spine from rounding. The same is needed for deadlifts as well.
But with back extensions and hip thrusts, lifters move into excessive anterior pelvic tilt for different reasons. This is why:
- Hip extension requirements are very large, and the higher you rise, the harder it becomes
- As the movements rise, the hip extensors must contract very hard to produce hip extension
- Hip extension torque is carried out primarily by the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductors
- Some lifters rely more on hamstrings for hip extension torque production, some adductors, and some glutes
- If the pelvis is kept tilted anteriorly, the hamstrings are lengthened slightly, putting them into better positions to produce force
- The majority of lifters initially possess weak glutes, both as end-range hip extensors and as posterior pelvic tilters
- These lifters tilt the pelvis in order to further recruit the hamstrings in order to compensate for their weak glutes
In summary, I believe that these lifters overly-tilt their pelvises forward in order to allow the hamstrings to produce more force to compensate for weak gluteus maximus muscles that aren’t strong enough to finish off hip extension and provide sufficient posterior pelvic tilt torque to stabilize the pelvis (and therefore spine).
How Do I Go About Fixing This?
I wrote a detailed article on this topic HERE. Please click on the link and read up if you’re interested. Essentially, you can stretch the hip flexors and strengthen the low abs, but by far you’ll get the greatest bang for your buck by performing hip thrusts, American deadlifts, and RKC planks.
In a couple of days I’ll post a couple of new videos showing variations of barbell glute bridges and back extensions. These videos will further assist lifters in correcting lumbar hyperextension and excessive anterior pelvic tilt during resistance training. Please stay tuned for that.
Hey, Bret, i can’t believe the coincidence! For the last couple of days i’ve been writing about an strategy to correct functional pelvic disorders where muscular dysfunctions are the culprits for lumbar hyperlordosis and, perhaps in less cases, also responsible for posterior tilt dominance. When the Back Extensors, Hip flexors and calves are typically tight (not necessarily strong) is because there is too much pelvic tilt present, while the gluteus, hams and Rec Abd seem to be stretched but certainly weak.
On the other hand,when there is too much posterior tilt, the back extensors and hip flexors might be stretched but they’re definitely weak, while the gluteus, Hams and Rec Abd might be overacting, or even strong, but definitely tight.
Interestingly enough, APT is more common in women, not just because hormonal and anatomical differences but, also, for socio cultural reasons like wearing high heels and, judging for the facility to find “examples” in the internet, it seems like ATP is, well, mostly a womanly affair. Not that I’m complaining though. In the meantime, we guys have to deal, mostly, with overacting Rec Abd, tight hams and weak gluteus.
Anyway, I hope one day i have the chance to share this particular corrective method with you, which is based on awareness of the right mobility patterns to activate properly the movers and stabilizers, responsible for individual neutral spine position, while performing fundamental movements such as DL, Squats, Hip thrust and lunges.
Finally, I was wondering if it is ok with you if I refer to your graphic “APT vs PPT” for educative purposes, as illustrates nicely the difference between both disorders (needless to say, full mention and credit to BC). Thanks for reading. Cheers, Will
Sure Will, you can use it. But I found it on the internet so beware…
I’m a personal trainer and just wanted to say I love reading your stuff. I just started doing glute activation with my clients before lifting. Can’t wait to see their numbers go up.
Glute activation is a good idea, just as is dynamic mobility work. But perhaps of greater importance is getting client’s glutes strong and muscular. Squats, deads, and lunges are good, but add in hip thrusts and bb glute bridges and get them very strong at these!
I am a huge fan of the Strong Curves book, it has been insanely beneficial to my lifting. However, I have noticed that my low back fatigues quickly and dramatically during heavy squats, hip thrusts and deadlifting. I am looking for probable causes, weak abs or pelvic tilt perhaps? Thank you!
Jaime, post a video of your form on these lifts if you can – it would improve my ability to advise you. If your low back fatigues quickly then it needs more endurance???
This is a great, well laid out and logical post, BC tackling a very tricky subject.
Some subjective observations from a long time APT sufferer, and back spasm patient. After a while you learn to identify certain shifting force couples, as you try to relieve symptoms.
I think you got the corrective Rx right: PPTs, esp. HT’s are the key, and loads, and loads, and LOADS of dynamic planking, and I daresay bottoms up flexion, ab work. Like constant, ab work.
Where I would differ with you slightly: The mechanics of a DL, and SQ. APT at all for me is no good. No bueno. Instant trouble. So I’m on Team McGill on that one. I get what you are saying about moving the pelvis in opposition to the load, and I’m all for a PPT HT and back extension, and DL lockout. But the minute I start APT’ing anything, it is a one way ticket to back spasm. So this may be an individual mileage may vary deal…
The first graphic that you use I’ve seen many times, and I’ve always thought was a bit oversimplified and only applies if you are standing upright and still. The minute you start to walk, run, squat, hinge, or jump, these pulley type pelvic relationships immediately start to shift and change as the hips split, flex and extend.
1. The graphic starts out correctly. Standing straight, the psoas will pull the pelvis down into APT. To maintain an erect torso, the spinal erectors shorten and contract or the individual will walk around at a downwards torso angle. So lumbar hyperextension and then further extension into the T-spine demonstrate an antagonistic tug of war with the psoas. You could flatten the lumbar, but this would require you to flex the torso forwards, i.e. give in to the psoas pull.
Aha! you say, well that’s where you PPT with the glutes and abs counteracting both of the LE and the HF. But these two forces are already fighting each other. The glutes can enter the war only in the static erect posture. Once you begin to walk, or run, it turns into a three way fight, with the glutes switching teams back and forth.
The glutes effect will hinge (pun) on the degree of hip angle, and whether the glutes are acting as a postural agent to PPT, or a locomotive agent to extend the hip. For example, the glutes and LE then switch and become synergistic posterior chain team members at times, for example drawing the hip into hyperextension, also known as walking.
The glutes can only do so much while in motion, b/c too much posterior tilt will make it very hard to walk and extend the hip, and too much hip extension will flex the LE. The glute becomes confused and exhausted trying to maintain a PPT and also provide extension/hyperextension for locomotion.
So, it’s a shifting battle of 2-against-1, with the glute helping out one side or the other, unless you just stand still and upright. Once you start to move, all the force vectors start shifting.
If you’ve ever managed to calm down the psoas, either through the couch stretch, or through reciprocal PPT HT inhibition, the first sensation is relief through the lumbar spine erectors. They don’t have to battle the psoas.
I propose that the lumbar spine is actually attempting to posteriorly rotate the pelvis from the top side. I know that last statement sounds crazy and contradictory, but I think the lumbar erectors are using the T-spine as an anchor to try to pull the pelvis back and upwards from the psoas down and forwards pull.
I believe this tug of war over the pelvis between the HF and LE defies linear logic, b/c we are not static linear creatures. We are moving dynamic creatures. Heck at times the adductors and rectus abdominis are direct antagonists for example.
2. Posturally the glutes are antagonistic to the LE, and in movement they become synergistic with the LE as part of the posterior chain. To extend the hip the glute draws the femur back. In this action, the glute and LE are now a team. This is explains why people have a tendency to APT during hip extension which you allude to in the post.
3. Hyper-extending the hip, the angle of the lumbar shortens, and this pulls the pelvis downwards into APT. It is difficult, or impossible to maximally achieve hip hyperextension while in PPT, as you run into the hip capsule. Take a snapshot of most runners with a vertical torso and the back hip in deep hyperextension, and the lumbar spine angle on that side will be shorter. They will not have a flat back.
4. Here’s the mind-blower:
The glute pulls the back leg into hyperextension, (glute and lumbar erectors now synergists pulling the low back into hyper extension as well), now the psoas becomes a posterior rotator as it pulls the femur back to neutral. The psoas a posterior rotator, yes, I said it!
If you don’t believe me, just perform a few leg swings back and forth like a pendulum, and watch what happens to the pelvis. APT extending on the way back, and PPT flexing on the way forwards. The psoas pulls the anteriorly tilted pelvis forwards and into posterior pelvic tilt as the leg swings forward. Now it’s just a straight anterior chain (abs and HF) vs. straight posterior chain (LE and glutes) tug of war.
This is why a tight psoas causes low back rounding, (also known as PPT) in the hole of a deep squat! So it is an APT agent in standing posture, and a PPT agent in flexion. Too simplistic to just point to a static snapshot posture, and not take into account the various force couples that shift and translate as we move the limbs about.
So the way I see it, 3-out of the 4 pelvic controllers at various times are acting on the pelvis in multiple ways, shifting from PPT force to APT force, depending on what other pelvic controller they are antagonistic to at various joint angles.
The weakest link abs are left to try to maintain neutrality. Tall order. The abs, the lone ranger left that always PPTs. In every position of hip flexion, extension, and static posture.
Excellent point Derrick – not everyone should try to APT at all. I don’t even know if at the bottom of the squat and deadlift the pelvis is actually in APT for “perfect form” or if it’s just creating that moment (anterior pelvic tilt torque) to stabilize the pelvis and prevent it from PPTing.
Need to wrap my head around your other points too! Thanks as always.
Actually, thank you, Bret, for actually having conversations about this stuff!
I can see where a certain oscillation of the pelvis in response to the shifting forces of load is helpful and part of a functional and safe movement pattern.
The dominant, habitual, postural position with which you enter the movement pattern will dictate the cueing strategy, and whether you should even be doing the movement to begin with.
To more succinctly boil down my previous “e-book” post:
1. The graphic illustrates a static point in time of the pulley system of the dominant pelvic controllers.
2. Once the hips move the pulleys’ effects on the pelvis change.
This is why you can sit on a plane in PPT for hours, get up to walk off the plane, and be wrenched into APT. Your hip flexors have creeped and are switched on short. When sitting they are PPTers. (Think hugging the knees.) When you stand, they are now APTers.
3. Drawing the leg behind the torso (hyperextension) changes the glute into an APT force, in conjunction with the lumbar erectors.
4. Flexing the leg forwards as in a kick, or hanging leg raise, changes the psoas into a PPT force, (hopefully along with strong ab contribution).
5. To keep the torso upright against a tight psoas, the lumbar spine fires harder than designed. It is effectively now in a contracted hyperextension position 24-hours a day. And it doesn’t like it.
This is why I like the wearing of a hip belt as a RNT type corrective solve b/c it forces you to move and change position while staying in relative neutrality. Planks and such are good, but then you have to go out and move.
As Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a good strategy until they go out there and get punched in the face!”
Excellent article Bret! Your articles about pelvic tilts have been very useful to me!
But I’ve a question: If I tend to force my back in a lumbar extension position with anterior pelvic tilt -thing that I’m trying to correcting- what do you recommend to do: reverse hyperextensions or GHR (always trying to emphasize the glutes)? However, in my gym we only have the machine that you have put in the article, which I think it’s only used to GHR, or it’s also used for perform reverse hyperextensions?
A greeting from Spain.
I’d do hip thrusts and RKC planks and American deadlifts, and then when doing GHRs, just try to limit the APT that occurs. I don’ think that people should do GHRs or even reverse hypers in PPT or even in neutral – some slight lumbar extension is okay on these two movements, just not too much.
After a long period of not lifting (to try and somehow reduce 15 years of chronic back pain) I think you may have hit on something for me :-). I get to a really good pain free place with my body, start training again (even yoga for goodness sake) and bang there goes the SI joints and lower back again :(. It seems, from reading this, that I may unknowingly end up in a dysfunctional anterior tilt at the wrong points in my movements. Although I’ve done massive amounts of work on my day to day postural tilt, it all fails when I lift a weight. Lesson to me…go back to basics. lift lighter and pay more attention to what that pesky pelvis is up to. You’re a huge asset to this industry Bret.
Thanks Stacey! In these situations the secret lies in choosing the right exercises and starting out very light, then gradually working up over time, making sure to avoid any painful movement and using excellent form. Best of luck!
When doing a split squat or lunge, what tilt do you use? Usually, I notice more anterior tilt with shorter distance front to rear foot because the trunk is being pulled down more by the hip flexors.
Also, what are your feelings on abduction during split squats, do you push both knees out with the rear hip being in slight internal rotation?
A neutralish position for split squats and lunges – definitely not PPT, but no excessive APT. The rear foot doesn’t have to pull the pelvis into APT – you can modulate elevation height and knee bend to prevent that. No abduction either – knee tracking right over the foot.
Awesome info, as always, Bret! I do have one question: If a trainee with APT cannot perform the prescribed hanging leg raises with full ROM (toes to bar), would this exercise then be contraindicated for increasing PPT? Seems like it would only reinforce hip flexion/APT. Thanks!
Good question Travis. As long as you’re inducing a “posterior pelvic tilt moment,” meaning that the intention is there, you’ll be strengthening the low abs regardless of whether the pelvis moves or not. But perhaps more simple exercises should be performed such as RKC planks and reverse crunches prior to doing HLRs.
I think it’s all relative to the individual and what is structurally going on for them. For example I have a grade 2 spondy at l5-S1 so I put more of an emphasis on controlling a neutral pelvis and resisting my body’s tendancy to lose its COM anteriorly. I think the main issue is when we get into end range of motion of either ant/post tilt. I am not quite understanding your hamstring analogy as I would have thought in accordance with the length tension relationship an ant pelvis tilt would lead to an inefficient muscle contraction so maybe I’ve read incorrectly but I can’t see this as an advantage due to inherent risk of muscle strain to this compartment of the thigh.
To be honest I think this topic is over killed too, not from your regards as I acknowledge your coverage of hip and pelvis kinetics/kinematics is argueably second to none. It’s just through Janda’s lower crossed syndrome and the relatively easy interpretation of saggital plane motion, trainers/therapists seem to over emphasise this motion at the expense of equally important issues in frontal/transverse planes (which in my opinion are more difficult to grasp).
According to Stuart McGills theory would a promotion of end range posterior tilt to finish off a pull be contraindicated? Should we not simply ensure we keep the spine and pelvis neutral throughout the entire life?
Excellent questions Christian.
1. Definitely agree with your comment about structure. Everyone is unique, and those with damage to posterior elements best avoid any APT or lumbar hyperext.
2. You can actually shift the “OPL” of a muscle to longer lengths over time. This was first shown in 2001 here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11323549 and now there are probably a dozen papers showing the same thing. I should have mentioned this in the article! I meant to and then forgot. These folks have gradually gotten their hamstrings to produce their greatest force at longer lengths which is actually something good for sprinting (so is APT for that matter as the hips are stronger in hip flexion than at anatomical position). But you can also shift the optimum length of muscles to shorter lengths. I think hip thrusts do this to the glutes, which is good for sprinting. So muscles need to be strong in all ranges but especially in sport specific ROMs for maximal performance.
3. Agree that the Janda lower crossed thing is beaten to death and probably off-base.
4. Yes, Stu wouldn’t advise any PPT. I don’t advise end range with American deadlifts and American hip thrusts, just some to ensure less erector and max glute involvement.
Very interesting article. So by extension (no pun intended), would you maintain a posterior pelvic tilt when squatting above parallel before transitioning to an anterior pelvic tilt as you lower to the floor, gluts touching calves for a full ROM squat? Would you then reverse the order on the way up?
I’d love an answer to this too, since I always start a squat by APT and try to hold it throughout then lift.
…while this topic has been discussed for 30 years, I think you can never learn enough or analyze or practice it enough.
I am glad it is more mainstream these days. People used to look at us as if we had three heads, for differentiating APT and PPT and slowing them down to get it.
Internally understanding the subtle mechanisms of these things is what differentiates body ease and graceful movement from ugly, blocked and turbulent movement.
It is very nice that You analyze this problem(at least somebody is doing it) :), but the complexity of this subject is realy very high. Most coaches in the gym are repeating mantra keep the right curves, spine in neutral position, etc. But biomechanicaly, is this position same for young athlete or sedentary overweight after 40? Why are coaches forcing the same movement and position for almost every client? I almost cry when see in gym coaches are saying “bravo, that is it”, etc, when client over 40 is doing the worst overhead squat I ever see, with big hyperextension, or while doing goblet squat coaches are forcing every client to keep the kettlebell touching the sternum and making hyperextension. I am also a coach, but changed my mind and perception when diagnosed with spondilolysthesis, L5S1 like Cristian above. Than began to speak with middle aged people about their spine, many of them have problems, even it is not diagnosed. Solution? Different for almost everyone, but for me in general, I also use posterior tilt, avoiding any exercise which compress spine, or trying to find a different variation(eg: instead of heavy squats doing unilateral), and trying every day to learn something what phisyotherapists never teach me. Most of movement patterns and biomechanics are different, there is no identical squat(or any movement) for everyone, try to find the adequate one for that person. I am still searching for myself, to avoid surgery. Even Mcgill, Liebenson, Osar, etc, can not analyze every situation for everyone and there is no one advice for everybody. This is only my opinion and experience, also not for everyone
Nice ending Bret! haha 😉
I’m currently writing a book and I love the two graphics on this page. I’d like to ask permission to use them in the book, naturally giving you full credit.
Would you mind contacting me so we can discuss this project?
Thanks a lot,
According to my chiropractor i have both anterior and posterior pelvic tilt. It is like someone has wrung my pelvis,leaving one side twisted one way the other the other way. This is likely due to my old dislocated knee injury but i am not sure what exersices would be best.
Hey Brett, so you agree that “the anterior pelvic tilt is the correct pelvic rotation for squatting [and] lifting heavy loads off the floor.” However, in your American Deadlift video, you were trying to get rid of the anterior pelvic tilt. So are you agreeing or disagreeing?
Hopefully you still reply to this article.
I have a rather pronounced version of APT, most likely reinforced from years of squatting, deadlifting and sprinting (and thinking abdominal work is an afterthought).
I noticed I often got hip strains, so, as you noted, I’ve begun “standing tall” and really squeezing the glutes at the top of my squats, while bracing the abdominals.
However, here’s my question: isn’t this dangerous for your thoracic spine when you do low-bar squats with considerable weight? With high-bar squats and front squats, no problem, but since I more “hunched over” with a low bar squat when locking out the hips (as to not have the bar roll off my back when I do this), I was wondering if this was not hazardous for the spine.
Many thanks for all your great work and fantastic articles, you’ve changed my life for the better more than once.
I have major ATP, how do you feel about sumo squats? It seems to me my pelvis stays in alignment in sumo squat with no tilt problems. I think I might make sumo squats my primary squat because I don’t have to worry about the tilt that way.
Hi Bret. I have been struggling with the squat for years. I finally discovered a tad aboit my problem but I am quite pertubed by what I learned. You see, I seem to be able to hold a rather good back until I get to 90 degrees. Then I poaterior tilt and in coming up I go lordptic for the first few cm and then regain the ab bracing
So what the heck is going on?
Lordotic that is