I’ve written a few posts now on Hyper Lordosis or Anterior Pelvic Tilt and it’s effects on lifting. The fact is, almost everyone has a degree of hyper-lordosis due to the fact we all use chairs far too often! From working to travelling to relaxing, it is all usually done in a seated position, this then in turn re-inforces the poor posture already lurking, causes tight lower back/hip flexors and weak or elongated abdominals/gluteals.
Most of us then try to address it with some stretching of tight muscles and strengthening the weaker ones. The problem with strengthening the abs is that the overwhelming majority simply don’t know how to. They will do something like sit-ups or crunches and hold a plank for minutes on end. The problem with these is:
- Situps work your hip flexors more than your abs, especially with the classic jerking off the floor type, crunches are a little better, but still involve the hip flexors and tend to lead to…
- Upper back rounding – When crunches are performed the movement reinforces poor posture by causing you to round your upper back each rep so leading into Kyphosis or a Neanderthal type posture – Instead of keeping your shoulders back and down with good posture, you’re constantly rounding your upper back and pushing your chin forward.
- Too much flexion and extension of the spine. Alot of people do situps by arching the lower back, pulling their body up with the hip flexors, then rounding forward towards the top of each rep. Think about it – what happens when you keep bending something back and forward over time? SNAP!
- Most people hold a plank ‘passively’ – hips sagging and upper back rounded (see post on RKC Plank for a better option)
- Due to the law of reciprocal inhibition (when a muscle on one side of a joint contracts, the other opposing muscle relaxes), your already inactive or weak glutes get weaker every rep because your hip flexors are strengthened with every rep! In other words – Sit-ups exagerate the problem you’re trying to address!!
Real Abdominal or Core Strength is simply the ability to stabilise the spine especially when under load. This is the primary job of the abs after all! How often are we even required to perform a sit-up/crunch type movement? I can’t even think of an example after getting out of bed! But, I can certainly think of many an occassion where I am supporting a load – Carrying shopping, picking up the kids/pets, moving things around, picking things up, etc etc.
If you’re already doing heavy deadlifts/squats/press’s then your core will already be getting plenty of stabilisation, if not, or you want to focus on it a little more you can’t go wrong with looking at the olympic weightlifters (especially the lightweight category). They are required to stabilise huge loads overhead and generally have the physique to match! Makes sense really, if you’re going to lift something heavy over your head then your abs are going to have to work overtime to keep your torso upright and stabilized.
To work on stabilisation, you can’t beat a bridge/plank type movement (performed correctly!)the light-weight Olympic lifters do things like supporting weight on their stomachs while they’re laying over two chairs, making their abs a “bridge” for the weight and forcing their whole core to stabilize and work to keep their back straight. A bit of an extreme version for most, but it is the general ‘bridging’ principle we’re looking at – Try the RKC plank to start.
Instead of doing hundreds of reps of easy situps and causing so many muscle imbalances, un-even weaknesses and strengths… if you’re going to do abdominal exercises to train your abs to contract your body in half… you should try harder ab exercises.
Try and focus more on lower ab work. Most people have weaker lower abs compared to their upper abs. This is usually due to crunches and upper ab work like that.
On top of that, posterioral problems and muscle imbalances are common from doing so many situps and from crunching your ribcage down towards your pelvis. You need to work your abs in a different plane of motion.
If you are lifting heavily on a regular basis, there is a great move for strengthening the abs, but also to stretch (decompress) your spine from those heavy loads. The Hanging Leg Raise and its variations
- They strengthen your abs
- They decompress your spine
- They stretch your back
- They help Correct Lordosis by training you to tilt your pelvis posteriorly and up.
Train your abs the way they were meant to be – As spinal stabilizers and with harder contraction exercises.
Firstly I’ll start with a correction – Everyone has lordosis! It is the natural curve of the lower spine (lumbar), it’s commonly confused with hyper-lordosis which is an exaggerated curve in this area. When lordosis is being described it is usually being confused with this.
Hyper lordosis is usually characterized by a protruding stomach and a deep lumbar curve making the bottom appear larger/stick out. Women are stereotypically more lordotic, but the condition effects many men as well, especially with a sedentary lifestyle.
It is commonly caused by overdeveloped or tight hip flexors (although some of us are just born with it). These pull the lumbar spine forward which in turn tends to cause lengthened or weaker abdominals, which then cause inactive glutes and an overdeveloped lower back due to the force acting on it whenever standing or walking. I spoke about these previously in August in a post entitled ‘Ramblings and an article or two’ where I included a link to T-Nation’s article ‘Force Couples’. However to put it simply the hip flexors are the biggest culprit for hyper-lordosis as we as a species generally spend too long sitting and so they become shortened over time pulling the pelvis forward into APT.
To give you a better idea of this, see the following image, the strong/shortened and weak/lengthened muscles are highlighted to give you more of an indication of how the pelvis is affected. Obviously there are different stages of the condition, severe hyper-lordosis can be crippling with a lumbar curve so deep the person appears at an almost 90 degree angle and the spine is at a massive risk of damage/hernia just moving around.
However I’m looking at a mild/light degree of APT that can be treated at home (I’ll come to the treatment in a later post). But, aesthetics aside (who wants to look like they have a fat belly and butt when they don’t?), I wanted to highlight the dangers of weightlifting with hyper-lordosis. When the lumbar curve is in overextension it alters the mechanics of the spine and can lead to injury or herniation of the discs.
The two worst affected lifts are; Overhead pressing – the danger is due to the weight pushing downwards increasing pressure throughout the lumbar region, this will also effect how much weight you can press as the weight will be felt in the lower back rather than the shoulders/triceps. Deadlifting – when the lift is achieved through leaning back (sway back) mainly using the stronger erector spinae (lower back muscles ) as opposed to locking out the hips with the glutes – again putting all the pressure on the lumbar area, but massively limiting the weight as the far stronger hamstrings and glutes are not firing to help the lift. Some may even feel the lower back tightness on a bench press due to the extreme arching caused by the rotation of the pelvis, or during a squat again due to the increased arch.
All of this increased pressure over time can a cause a herniated disc (again aside from looking like a neanderthal!) which will not only slow down your progress somewhat, can well be a weak spot for the rest of your life. Not good .. Fortunately, unlike kyphosis or scoliosis, hyper-lordosis can easily be affected and eased with simple stretching/foam rolling of tight muscles and strengthening of weak/inactive ones. I will post some examples of these over the next few days. Watch this space!