I just read an article on Shape Magazine’s website called “Hold Up – Is the Barre Tuck Actually Bad for You?” The article talks about the “barre tuck” done in barre fitness classes. I haven’t been to a barre class, but I’ve been to many dance classes before (when I was a Flamenco dancer) where we were told to tuck the pelvis under. It was considered to improve our posture and our dance technique. What I’ve since learned about posture, after studying with Jean Couch of the Balance Center in Palo Alto, is that it actually does neither.
I followed the instructions given in the article describing how to get a “neutral” pelvis while up on the toes. What I found was that tucking my pelvis didn’t bring my shoulders back; it just left me with a bent spine. And it felt pretty uncomfortable!
ANTERIOR AND POSTERIOR PELVIC TILT
The article states that a “posterior” pelvic tilt does lead to problems, but so does what many instructors may call a “neutral” pelvis.
The author mentions that most people have an anterior pelvic tilt (this is when the front of the pelvis drops down relative to the back of the pelvis). Those of us who teach Balanced (aka “Spinefulness”) posture have seen that this is not the case in the US, and indeed in most industrialized countries. Rather, most people are sitting and standing with their pelvis in a posterior tilt (the back of the pelvis dropping lower than the front).
When seated, this looks like sitting on one’s tailbone or sacrum – the BACK of the pelvis – not on the sitz bones, where we are designed to sit. In standing, most Americans have their pelvis thrust forward and/or tuck their pelvis, so again, this leads to a posterior tilt. That leads to a curvier spine and loss of height immediately, and damages the spine due to the misalignment of vertebrae.
ARE YOU STICKING YOUR BUTT OUT?
The article says in an anterior tilt the “butt is sticking out and back is arched”. However, this is only the case if you are looking at it from the perspective of someone who is tucked! I look at a person with a posterior tilt and think, “You are sticking your butt in!”
Regarding the back being arched, we see a healthy, natural arch in people who live in less industrialized cultures (such as Bali, Portugal, India, Mexico, etc.) that is between the sacrum and lumbar 5 (the lowest lumbar vertebra). This is “natural” since it’s built into the anatomy of the spine, and you can see it in children up to age 3 in all cultures. Look at 2-year-old children and notice how straight their spines are, how aligned their bones are with the vertical axis of gravity!
Above this natural arch we see very elongated spines in these healthy people, with slight curves in the lumbar (low back) and thoracic (mid/upper back) areas. Their necks (cervical vertebrae) usually look straight. They stay very straight, strong, and flexible into their old age, rather than getting hunched over as we do in the US.
IS SITTING THE PROBLEM?
The article mentions that the anterior tilt comes from long hours of sitting. I have observed in my 22 years of studying posture that the problem is HOW we sit, not the sitting itself. We sit with the pelvis in a POSTERIOR tilt; the pelvis rocks backward and then the upper spine has to bend forward to compensate, leading to a rounded upper back and fatigued neck and back muscles. If we learn to sit in a healthier way (in “Balance”), we can undo that curvy spine and we’ll keep our spines much healthier.
I agree with the author that we do use the muscles on the front of our bodies more than those on the back. That’s why I teach my yoga students poses and exercises to help strengthen the back of the body, especially around the shoulder blades. This helps to realign the shoulders if they have become rounded forward.
I also agree that there are many risks to sitting, standing or moving with a posterior pelvic tilt. Herniated discs, sciatica, osteoarthritis in the spine, and excessive kyphosis (rounding) of the upper back are all likely outcomes.
I hadn’t heard of Steve Urkel before, but from the little video clip in the article, I can see why they included that! Wow! It might look extreme, but if you start looking around you, you’ll see that there are a lot of people who look like that.
A “neutral” pelvic position would be better than a posterior tilt, but for optimum health an anterior tilt is ideal. Google doesn’t agree, however. If you Google “anterior pelvic tilt”, the first page lists only websites that want to help you “correct” it.
LEARNING PAIN-FREE POSTURE
In terms of avoiding a posterior tilt of the pelvis when sitting, you can watch my YouTube video on pain-free sitting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2abFgAcLc8
In standing, rather than pushing your pelvis forward and ending up with slanted legs, keep your legs vertical so your pelvis stays UNDER your spine instead of in front of it. Then relax your pelvis. There’s no need to actively try to “make” an anterior tilt. Relaxation will allow it naturally if your bones are aligned vertically with the gravity line.
“Pulling in the core” may help at some points to elongate parts of the spine, but is not something I recommend to do on an ongoing basis. For many people, this leads to tucking and a rounded spine. It also leads to people holding their breath, which causes stress.
It’s true that you may feel fine tucking for months or years, but then one day your back may “go out”. That can be seriously painful (as I’ve experienced!), and can also lead to damage that may take a while to heal, and may cost you a lot of money. I prefer prevention to cure, so I’d highly recommend the same for you! Learn healthy natural posture now and avoid the problems that so many Americans suffer from. (You’ll look better too!)
© Dana K. Davis 2016. All rights reserved.