The pelvis is like a bowl sitting atop your hips. If the bowl held water, it could spill in front of you, behind you, or to one side. With this image in mind, you can “compose” the position of your hips in various ways, shining a light on stuck areas to smooth out movements integral to your sport or daily life. The following exercises are effective on their own, but you may also “mix” them with any movement you desire–a track and field athlete, for example, could alternate work on the pelvis in conjunction with marches and skips. A CrossFitter might explore these exercises in the context of an air squat. But just to get the hang of feeling the position of your pelvis in space, I suggest trying out these exercises with a “lunge in place,” also known as a split squat.
First, perform a few split squats on each side.
Next, lie down on the floor, feet flat on the ground (ideally on a carpeted surface).
Pick your head up off the floor and notice if your pelvis:
—‘spills’ forward (an ‘anterior pelvic tilt’, when your belt buckle moves towards your feet and your tailbone pushes into the floor)
— remains still
—or spills backwards (a ‘posterior pelvic tilt’, when your belt buckle moves to face your head and your tailbone lifts slightly off the floor’)?
Note your first tendency, and then practice all three possibilities. Find out how the abs contract, in particular, while lifting the head with a motionless pelvis.
Back to some split squats. Pay attention to the orientation of the pelvis throughout the movement. Does your pelvis change position from the top of the split squat to the bottom? What muscles are working? What muscles work to keep the pelvis in the same orientation the whole time?
With the lunge, you’re generally on the right track with stronger glute contractions and a more intense stretch on the back leg. Working the hips in various ways before lunging, however, will change the quality of the sensations as well as their intensity or clarity. In general, being aware of your pelvis can help you contract your glute harder in leg-dominant movements, thus enhancing the sensory experience of the movement, if not its execution. See if you can distinguish between the quality (what words would you use to describe the sensation?), intensity (is the sensation faint, moderate, strong, overwhelming…), and clarity (how clearly do you perceive the sensation?) of your feeling as you explore these exercises.
Next, lie down on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Curl your pelvis up and back towards your head, as though doing a sit up with the lower half of your torso (this is another way of describing posterior pelvic tilting — using the terminology from before, the back of your pelvis, the part touching the ground, moves toward your feet as you lay on the ground with your knees up and feet flat on the floor, and the front part of your pelvis moves up and away from your feet, toward your head). Tilt as much as you can without your feet leaving the floor, lower your pelvis back to the ground, and then curl your pelvis in the opposite direction, creating space below your lower back. Try to relax your neck, arms, back, and chest.
How many reps should you do until it ‘works’? You’ll perceive the position of your hips differently with more repetitions–do what is a lot for you. Six consecutive repetitions might push you, but six cumulative repetitions — three reps, rest, one rep rest, two reps — may be uncannily easier. If “3, 1, 2” is an effortless way to get to six, “3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2”— twelve — might get you to the same limit six consecutive repetitions did, but with twice the amount of work, which is quite an improvement. Divide and relax to conquer, then return to split squats.
The next exercise uses the pelvic tilting of the previous exercise in an asymmetrical fashion. With one leg bent, foot flat on the floor, and the other extended, heel resting on the floor, curl your pelvis up as high as you can (your pubic bone should be higher than your pelvis, your belly concave rather than convex). Sense the weight of the extended leg, particularly the lower leg. Relaxing the leg will better illuminate the muscles moving your hips.
Now that you’ve completed these exercises, you’re ready to explore other variations.
Here are a few ideas.
*One leg lying bent on the ground, the other straight up. Try to get the glute and the hamstring to fire as opposed to the lower back.
This cue applies to all of the exercises.
*One knee leaning inward, one straight up.
*Leaning knees to the outside.
*Feet wide apart, knees pointing inward.
I encourage you to make these exercises a part of your movement routine for a week or two. After such a period of practice, you’ll know how helpful they have been relative to what movements you have combined them with (here, this movement was the split squat, but could easily be any leg-dominant movement).
Bio: David Mercier is a Bard College student studying nonfiction writing. A lifelong athlete, he now approaches physical training with an experimental bent, blending strength training with body awareness practices.