Monday, November 21, 2011

Lumbo-Pelvic Stability In The Frontal Plane - Learn To Spot It And Correct It Part 1

I believe most coaches and trainers now know the importance of including single leg work in their clients’ programs.  It offers multiple benefits, but as I often point out, exercises must be performed correctly to reap their benefits.  Mike Robertson wrote an excellent blog post a while back titled, "The Truth About Single Leg Training", that explained why you should stop trying to max out on single leg exercises; make sure your form is spot on before adding weight or you are missing the benefit.

Well, in the next couple of posts I want to discuss a common mistake I see while performing single leg exercises and give a couple tips and exercise ideas to help you and/or your clients fix this fault.
We all know that it is common to see knee valgus (knee turning inward) during these lower body exercises, which is definitely problematic.  This usually indicates a hip weakness and many trainers and coaches are quick to fix this problem - at least I hope they are.

 Knee valgus - please do not let your clients do this

However, another mistake that I see just as often in single leg exercises is hip adduction and lateral pelvic tilt due to a lack of frontal plane pelvic stability.  When performing single leg exercises, the knee should be in line with the foot, but the hip should also be in line with the foot and knee. *** 
When the hip ADDucts, it will be outside of the knee and foot, and the pelvis on that side will be higher.  If this occurs, then their hip ABDuctors are most likely weak because they are not able to “push off” of that hip.  It also likely that their quadratus lumborum (QL) on the contralateral side is weak because it works in conjuction with the ipsalateral hip ABDuctors in stabilizing the pelvis.  This is the same as a Trendelenburg Gait, which I am sure some of you are familiar with, seen in figure (B) below.
So you may be asking:  Well, how do I fix this?  Good question.  First, I would say that you need to start emphasizing training in the frontal and transverse planes more often.  Many of us constantly train in only the sagittal plane and, therefore, do not develop good stability in the other two planes.   
Second, you need to choose exercises that are an appropriate level for your ability.  There are quite a few exercises to train frontal plane stability but many may be too difficult.

For example, if you have a client that cannot control their pelvis in standing, then put them into a half-kneeling or tall-kneeling position where there is less stabilizer demand. 

In part 2 of this series, I will discuss some cues for how to fix this fault as well as some exercise ideas with progressions and regressions.

Below is a video that demonstrates what frontal plane hip instability looks like.  I demonstrate this fault in both a half-kneeling and split squat position.   However, this mistake can occur in basically any lower body exercise.

The first two reps demonstrate proper hip alignment.  The last two reps demonstrate a lack of hip stability in the frontal plane - you can see the contralateral hip drop below the hip of the working leg.

In this video, I start in a good half-kneeling position and then I demonstrate what it would look like if I lost lumbo-pelvic control.  I then go back to a good position.  

I hope you can at least now spot this problem.  I will be back with part 2 soon, which should help you fix this problem.

Have a good week everyone!!

***There will be some adduction in true single leg exercises such as a single leg squat - so the hip will be slightly outside of the knee and foot.  If the contralateral hip drops below the working leg hip then there is excessive adduction, indicating frontal plane hip instability . 


  1. Zach,

    Would it also be possible to see such movement as a compensation for a tight hip flexor (i.e. rectus femoris) on the trail (back) leg? In other words, as they attempt to achieve the desired ROM of a split-squat or lunge, they compensate via lateral pelvic tilt & hip adduction on the contralateral side. Now, in asking this, I'm sure that if the person is extremely stiff/short in the hip flexor, that they probably have a laundry list of movement issues including a weak QL and hip ABductors.

    But, I am just wondering...


  2. Chris- Good question! If it is just a tight hip flexor then I would more expect it to pull just the front of the pelvis forward (due to its attachment) as they lower into a split squat or lunge. Therefore, tight hip flexors will more likely cause a person to flex their back leg hip (anteriorly tilt) as they go lower into a split squat (they cave over) because they cannot keep their hip extended. I see this a lot, in fact, and for these people, I will often cut the range of motion by putting a pad or two down under the knee of the trailing leg.

    Also, I did not point this out very well in my videos, but the lateral pelvic tilt usually occurs on the concentric (upward) portion of the split squat as well. The hip flexor should not be as much of a problem here because they will be releasing tension on it as they come up.

    Lastly, one way you could test if the lateral pelvic tilt is due to tight hip flexors is to have them try a step-up, which is not exactly the same, but it will take out any hip flexor restrictions.

    Hope that helps. Let me know if you have anymore questions.

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