If you are reading this you are a human and you have a pelvis.
And if your name is Dave, you have your own hands, too!
But back to pelvises(pelvi?), Dave. When was the last time you thought about your pelvis? If you’re me, right now! It’s holding your organs, your legs are attached to it, your pelvis is pretty cool.
Today’s post is dedicated to your pelvis, it’s alignment, and getting it positioned proper to help you dance better with less pain and soreness.
Having good pelvic alignment is kind of important for dance. That ain’t no secret.
A good neutral pelvis position, or a centrated pelvis, ensures that the things attaching to it will be functioning optimally. Your hips and spine being the things most directly affected by pelvic alignmnt. Some people like to lump it into one fun word- The lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.
And a well-positioned pelvis keeps your organs happy, too.
When the pelvis is centrated, the muscles and other structures attaching to it will be able to rest somewhere in their middle range of motion. This is what you want. When a muscle is at mid-length it has the highest contractile strength. Neither a lengthened muscle nor a shortened muscle will contract as strongly as one at mid length as they are at a mechanical disadvantage.
Dancers will often do exciting compensatory things with their pelvises to get a little extra turnout, for example. As explained in THIS brilliant paper by Donna Kraswnow et. al.
Dancers may attempt to gain a few degrees of additional rotation by decreasing tension on the Y ligament with slight hip flexion, which lowers the anterior brim of the pelvis into anterior tilt and pulls the lumbar spine into hyperextension. By doing this they sacrifice the stability gained from the Y ligament and alter neutral pelvic and spinal alignment.
Another place anterior tilt creeps into dance is in tendu back-type movements.This can be the cause of or caused by tight hip flexors.
…when the dancer’s leg moves to the back (such as tendu battement to the back and in arabesque) and hip extension is restricted, the pelvis is pulled into anterior tilt and the spine hyperextends. The less hip extension a dancer has, the more contribution from the lumbar spine is required for all posterior movements of the femur.
Give your lumbar spine a break. Want better turn out? Center your pelvis.
Want to get on your leg? Get that pelvis centrated.
Want to manage your back pain? Yep, center that pelvis!
But before you can attempt to find center, you need to take an objective look at your pelvic point A. What’s your start position?
Is your pelvis sitting in an anterior tilt or a posterior tilt?
This is important stuff to know about yourself. A crucial piece of body-awareness that I am going to suggest today that you learn to cultivate.
Welcome to Sorting Your Pelvis 101- Anterior tilt edition.
To keep things super simple (stupid) we will only talk about the saggital plane in this post.
The saggital plane refers to forward and back movement. The pelvis is capable of moving in all sorts of whacky directions, but if you don’t have your forward and back sorted, then nothing else beyond that matters. Yet.
Pelvis Sorting Step 1: Know your habitual alignment.
Do you know if your pelvis tends to rest tilted anteriorally, posteriorally, or fairly level?
To simplify things, let’s think of your pelvis like a bowl of soup. The pelvis being the bowl, and I guess your organs are the soup. Mmm, organ soup.
If you tilt the bowl forward (anteriorally) the organ soup will spill out the front, onto the floor. This can make it look like your belly is bulging forward a little, and many dance teachers will tell you to “suck it in” to correct this look.
Sorry, but you can’t suck in your pelvic alignment.
This position is indicative of abdominals that aren’t stabilizing effectively, but “sucking it in” will do nothing useful. Finding neutral is what you need, and then the abdominals will do their thing reflexively.
If you tip the bowl backwards (posteriorally) the soup spills out the back, and all over your pants. This alignment can make it look like you have no butt, which is sometimes the look ballet dancers are going for. Also a result of constantly being told to tuck under- Not always a good cue, much like “suck it in”.
If it looks like you have no butt, chances are you aren’t using it either, and glutes that function are pretty important for creating force as well as stabilizing your hips and pelvis.
A level bowl of soup is ideal. No spills. No embarrassing pants stains. No prolapsing organs or “long-back” (a term a friend of mine uses to describe people with no butts).
I happen to be an excellent example of someone with a rockin’ anterior tilt.
Notice the booty poppin’ way my pelvis, if it was a bowl of soup, would be spilling soup out the front, hence “anterior tilt”. You also see how I try to compensate for this with some rib flare. Pobody’s nerfect.
Getting to neutral requires me to posteriorally tilt like crazy. Unfortunately, this is something my brain has a hard time understanding, nor should it have to try that hard.
If you are like me, then it might feel like you have zero connectivity to your lower abdominals, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t round your lower back or tuck your pelvis under without clenching every muscle in your body.
You need hamstrings, adductors and a TVA that function.
Pelvis sorting step 2: Do something about it.
So your’re ready to do something about it, eh?
Here are my top 3 drills (right now, probably will be different next month…) to help a little with the anterior tilt situation.
Note that to speed the process it might be beneficial to seek some kind of manual therpy like massage, acupuncture, or whatever gets you results. Work with someone you trust and who has experience helping dancers.
1) Foam roller diaphragm release.
Why? With anterior tilted pelvis also comes a compensatory rib flare indicative of diaphragm tightness. The diaphragm is the king of your body. If you want to change your alignment, strength, flexibility, whatever, you need to optimize your diaphragm function and get your ribs in a better position, deemed the “zone of apposition” by the Postural Restoration Institute. See this post for more info on that.
Use the inhalation to push into the roller, and as you exhale let yourself relax into it. It feels kind of like getting punched in the gut really slowly, so, not very nice.
2) 90/90 hip lift.
I seem to post a lot about this exercise, but that’s because I love it so much.
Why? Uber simple, and uber effective for getting more mobility into posterior tilt and lumbar flexion, continuing to work on breathing mechanics and rib positioning, as well as hamstring and core activation and downregulating the low back erectors a little bit. #winning all around.
With the roller between your knees (squeeze the roller, not your butt), curl your tailbone off the floor by pressing your knees up to the ceiling. Inhale for 4 counts, exhale all your air out (at least twice as long as the inhalation). Let your ribs come down towards your hip bones. Take 5 or 6 deep breaths.
3) Tall kneeling wall hump
I don’t know if I can take the credit for creating this exercise- It’s just tall kneeling up against a wall, but I do hope I can take the credit for calling it a “wall hump”.
Why? I like this because it grooves good core sequencing- moving into hip extension without slipping into anterior tiltage. It’s like a squat from the knees down. If it hurts your knees, don’t do it. Same goes for your lower back.
The goal is to get your hips, sternum, and between your eyeballs to smush into the wall at the same time, moving from the pelvis, and not leading from the ribcage or belly. It’s not a body roll. It’s much less sexy than that.
Try not to clench or squeeze your butt, or sink into your lower back.
As you lower from the wall, lead with the back of your neck. To aid this sequencing, put your hands on the wall and push your head away from it, keeping a slight double chin to maintain a neutral neck. Don’t revert back to anterior tilt locomotion.
Pelvic re-alignment is a journey, not a quick fix. You might never, in this lifetime, get there. It’s progress, not perfection. But if you believe in reincarnation, perhaps your work in this life will reward you with a level pelvis in your next.
And please bear in mind that these exercises are not for everyone. What helps one person achieve a neutral pelvis will not work for the next, and so it’s very important to find someone you trust to help you.
Those who get the best results will test the efficacy of their efforts daily, work on their corrective exercises consistently, and ask for help when they need it.
Next time I’ll talk about some of my favourite ways to centrate a posteriorally tilted pelvis. Stay tuned!