Updated: Feb 15
Poor posture is a common consequence of our increasingly more sedentary lifestyle. One of the ways in which the body can be affected by too many hours of sitting is by tightening the hip flexors. This can lead to an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, which may then get perpetuated when exercising because the body will compensate in ways that are not so balanced. So even if you go to the gym and consider yourself a fairly active person, when the other half of your day is spent seated for many hours, you may not entirely escape this postural habit.
But wait...don’t go diagnosing yourself with APT just because you sit for many hours! Let’s talk about what anterior pelvic tilt looks and feels like. It can be fairly easy to recognize APT because the hip flexors (iliopsoas, psoas, and iliacus) will feel tight and produce an exaggerated lower back arch, where the butt sticks out more than what tends to be considered a “normal” amount. This is because the overworked hip flexors pull on the pelvis, tilting it downwards in the front, and lengthening as well as weakening their antagonist, the hamstrings and the glutes. It also creates a more “bulging” stomach, even when there is no stomach fat, and weakens the abdominals. Another consequence can be tight erector spinae, the group of muscles that run from your lower back all the way up to the base of the skull. This can cause the shoulders to round forward and the head to stick out. Pictured below you can see a healthy spine and one with an anterior pelvic tilt. Keep in mind that not all APT will look this exaggerated.
Although a sedentary lifestyle as well as activities that tighten the hip flexors are most commonly the culprit of APT, in some cases it can be genetic. The good news is that there are several stretches and strengthening exercises that can “correct” this postural habit. Since the tightness is felt primarily in the overworked hip flexors, the first and most obvious fix is to stretch this area. While this is an important part of relieving the tension, it will not make the problem go away entirely. The weakened muscles (glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals) need to be strengthened. Additionally, awareness should be brought to activating these muscles because your hip flexors are probably so used to compensating that you may not even realize how much you’re using them. Lastly, you may also want to release the tension in your back and open the chest, although, this will also come naturally once you increase glute and ab strength.
Below are a few yoga poses and exercises you can use to get started with correcting APT.
This is a gentle stretch for the hip flexors. I would use it in a “yin yoga” way at the start of your practice to release the fascia and connective tissues and increase mobility in the hip. When practiced regularly this pose can provide quite a bit of tension relief.
Start off by lying on your back with the soles of your feet on the mat and your knees bent. Lift your hips up and slide the yoga block underneath. Draw one knee in to your chest and either leave the opposite leg bent or extend it out in front of you. Alternatively if this feels too intense, this pose can also be done without the block. Try not to go to your deepest stretch. Keep it somewhere between 40-60%, and try to let go of muscular effort to hold this pose.
Become aware of the sensation you feel in the hip flexors. Notice if you are “holding them” and see if you can soften and just let gravity do the work to open them up. Hold each side anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes.
This subtle movement for your pelvis is primarily an awareness exercise to teach your body how a posterior tilt feels.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet hips width apart. Let your arms rest out to your side. Draw your bellybutton towards your spine as you press your lower back into the mat, curling your tailbone towards your pubic pone. Gently release and let your spine come back to it’s natural curve. Become aware of your hip flexors. Notice if they turn on or remain relaxed throughout this motion.
After a few rounds, continue the motion of this posterior tilt to lift your hips a little higher, activating your glutes as your hips come off the mat and grounding down through your heels. Release back down, vertebra by vertebra. Gradually lift your hips higher and higher until you come to your highest.
Bridge and One-Legged Bridge
This takes your pelvic tilt two steps further. Once you’ve lifted to your highest from your pelvic tilt, pause here for a moment. Squeeze your glutes and activate your hamstrings to remain lifted. If it feels accessible you might interlace your hands underneath you and come onto your shoulders. Lower down after a few breaths, vertebra by vertebra, letting the tailbone come down last.
To come into the one-legged variation, lift one foot off the ground, keeping your knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Bring your arms by your side, bent at the elbow, with your hands up towards the ceiling. Press the heel of your other foot down to lift your hips up. Activate the glute and hamstring. Try to keep the hip of your lifted leg in line with your other hip. Release back down and repeat several times.
Plank, Forearm Plank and Side Forearm Plank
These poses help to strengthen the abdomen and glutes in a way that’s less likely to overuse the hip flexors.
To come into plank, stack your shoulders above your hands and stretch your legs back, lifting your knees off the ground. Press your heels back and firm up your core by drawing your navel in and squeezing your glutes. Try to keep a flat back. A common tendency for people with APT is to keep the butt lifted and let the belly sag. Counter this by squeezing everything in towards your center and curling your tailbone towards your pubic bone.
Forearm plank can be done in the same way as plank, except the forearms are on the mat with your shoulders stacked over your elbows. Keep the hips at the same height as the shoulders. Firm up your belly and squeeze your glutes.
For side forearm plank, keep all of the same activation in your center but roll over onto your side, stacking one hip on top of the other. Peel your chest open so that your top shoulder stacks on top of the bottom one.
Low to High Crescent Lunge
This one kills two birds with one stone as it is both a great way to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings and stretch the hip flexors.
Start off in low crescent lunge by coming into a tabletop position. Step one foot through your hands, stacking your knee above your ankle. Tuck your back toes. Bring your hands to your front thigh. Press your hands down into your thigh and then ground down through your front heel and squeeze your glutes to lift your back knee off the mat. Press your back heel away from you and stretch your arms above you.
Crescent Lunge with Spinal Flexion and Side Bend
These are two ways to feel a deeper and different stretch of the hip flexors and can help bring awareness to the sensation you feel here.
Come into crescent lunge from all fours as described above. Press your hands into your front thigh, scoop the bellybutton in towards your spine and round your back slightly. You will likely not have to round the back too much to feel this stretch in the psoas. Release by coming to a neutral spine or taking it into a slight arch, sort of like a cat/cow motion. Observe where you feel sensation and repeat for several rounds.
To come into the side bend, bring your spine back into an upright position. Stretch your arms up over head. When your right knee is forward, grab onto your left wrist with your right hand and side bend to your right. Do the opposite when your left knee is forward. Notice how this changes the stretch.
Lizard Lunge with Thoracic Twist
This pose continues to stretch the hip flexors and strengthen the back of the legs, while beginning to release the tightness in your back.
Start off in plank pose with your shoulders stacked above your hands. Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand, stacking the knee above the ankle and keeping your knee in line with your toes. It may feel better to bring your left hand down to a block at any height in order to let your right hip drop down. From here reach your right arm up as you twist and then twisting in the opposite direction, thread your arm underneath your left arm pit. Repeat this motion for several rounds. Inhale to prepare and exhale as you thread the arm through. Then repeat this whole sequence on the other leg.
Now that you’ve dealt with the source of the issue (the tight hip flexors and the weak glutes and abs), we can begin dealing with the consequential tightness of your overworked back. This is another yin pose to release tension in the thoracic spine and gently open the pecs.
Bring one block down to the mat at the bottom of your shoulder blades at the lowest or second height. Bring the other block under your head at the same height. Lie down over the blocks and either keep your legs extended or let your knees drop out to the side and bring the soles of your feet together. Arms can come out to a T position. Remain in this pose passively for 2-4 minutes, allowing gravity to gently open your back and chest.
Use this time to practice releasing muscular effort in all of your body.
Reclined Spinal Rotation and Pec Opener
This last exercise is a gentle, yet dynamic back and chest opener.
Start off by lying on your right side with your knees bent and your right arm extended directly in line with your shoulder. Stack your left knee on top of your right knee and your left palm on top of your right hand. Gently begin to trace a circle with your left arm up over head, letting your fingers trail along the floor. Start to peel your chest open as your arms comes up over head and continue this circular motion until you are in a supine twist with your left arm extending to your left. Try to keep both shoulders on the ground. Retrace this circle, moving back to your original starting position. Continue for several rounds and then repeat on the other side.
These poses and exercises are not the only ways in which to correct anterior pelvic tilt, but I hope they give you some idea of where to begin. Remember that you primarily want to focus on strengthening the glutes, hamstrings and abdomen, and next stretch your hip flexors, and release any residual tension in your back. When you practice a routine that includes strengthening you will probably begin to feel the tension in your hips and back decrease and will be able to reduce the stretching over time.
One additional thing I would be wary of is over-stretching the hamstrings. Until you strengthen them, stretching can do more damage than good so take it easy in poses that lengthen such as downward facing dog and forward folds. Keep your knees slightly bent in these types of poses to reduce the stretch. Although your hamstrings are probably not so tight, you can use similar modifications to these common yoga poses that I've outlined in my 5 Yoga Pose Modifications for Tight Hamstrings blog article in order to reduce the amount of stretch.