Tucked vs. Neutral Pelvic Alignment in Exercise

Understanding pelvic alignment in exercise should be a priority for anyone seeking to maximize the effectiveness of the moves they do. The alignment of the pelvis affects everything above and below it, from the alignment of the spine and neck to that of the legs and feet.

Tucked pelvic alignment is associated with poor posture, back pain, and at the least, inefficient movement patterns. When we over tuck the pelvis, we engage a set of muscles including our hip flexors, glutes (butt muscles) and quadriceps in a way that creates an inefficient, and potentially injurious, alignment of the pelvis.

In Pilates instruction, there is some variation about whether to do certain exercises with a flat back or a neutral spine. Some Pilates exercises are done in a way that allows the back to lengthen along the mat in response to the engagement of the abdominal muscles creating a slight tilt of the pelvis. But this is not the excessive tuck that is getting in a lot of people's way. There is not much debate, however, about the overly tucked pelvis. It won't work.

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Neutral Pelvis

woman laying with a neutral pelvis position
Ben Goldstein 

In the photo above, our model has a neutral pelvis. Neutral is generally the most efficient and natural alignment for the pelvis, whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down.

To see that our model's pelvis is in a neutral alignment, notice that if a plate were set on her lower abdomen, it would lie flat, not tilting down or up. If she were to take this position standing, you could imagine that her pelvis was a bowl of water and that the water sits evenly and not slosh out to the front or the back.

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The Overly Tucked Pelvis

Tucked pelvis
 Ben Goldstein

Here our model has over tucked her pelvis. This is a common habit in exercise, but ultimately it is very limiting. It is a position that does not stabilize the pelvis or work the abdominal muscles in optimal ways.

You can see that if a plate were set on our model's lower abdomen, it would not lie flat, it would tilt toward her belly button. In order to get her pelvis this tucked, our model has engaged her hip flexor muscles in a way that is going to inhibit freedom of movement. There is too much tilt to the whole pelvic structure.

This position might look familiar. Lots of people end up here when they try to do exercises like crunches, or the Pilates roll up and chest lift. This position makes it harder to get up, and harder to work the muscles you really want to work, like the abs.

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Tucked Pelvic Alignment Inhibits Efficient Movement

Take note all of you who have trouble doing the Pilates roll-up. If you attempt to do a Pilates roll up with an overly tucked pelvis, your effort will be futile. Your hip flexors are bunched up at the front of your thigh at the hip crease, your quads are overly involved, and there is no way you can get your upper body up-and-over with your pelvis tucked. Not only that, but you might be able to imagine how the exertion of hip flexors can make the legs want to fly up, a common problem in roll-up moves.

Learn to work with differences in pelvic alignment for exercise yourself: Practice finding your neutral alignment. Then go to the roll up and do it without a tuck. Once your abs get strong it will be much easier than fighting your hip flexors.