Focus on the Pelvis
Part 1: Leveling the Pelvis
If you have visited our ChiRunning Facebook page you will see that we’ve had a lot of what seem to be different types of questions lately:
- “I’m getting a pain down the side of my knee”
- “My lower back hurts after I run, even though I’m focusing on keeping my column aligned”
- “My feet tend to cross when I run and my ankles hurt; what am I doing wrong?”
Knees, back, ankles — all different body parts and yet it turns out that the source of all these ailments was the same thing in each case: the runner or walker need to refocus on leveling their pelvis by engaging the structural support muscles found deep all around the abdomen, rather than the surface muscles which are designed for movement.
Finding and using the right muscles to level and stabilize the pelvis remains one of the most important activities in ChiRunning and ChiWalking, so we decided it was time to address it again. This article we will refresh our memories on how to level the pelvis, and the next, we will review the steps needed to find and increase your ability to rotate your level pelvis around the vertical axis of your spine, which will allow you greater fluidity and relaxation in either your running or walking practice (or both!).
When we think of the abdomen, we often think of the big muscle (the rectus abdominus) that runs right down the front, and many of us have done hundreds and thousands of situps and crunches to develop the strength of those muscles. Don’t worry, you haven’t wasted your time; crunches really are good for you. But these muscles are designed for movement, not support, so when we engage them to support our column they try hard to do the job – so hard that they get tired and eventually give out, leaving our core unsupported.
The support muscles of the abdomen are deep underneath the “six-pack” rectus and go all the way around the trunk and way down into the pelvis, front and back. These muscles are a little hard to touch, so we have to Body Sense carefully to find and use them. If you have trouble isolating this movement at first, don’t feel alone. These muscles can easily become ‘de-tuned’, especially for those of us who have to sit a good portion of the day or have experienced significant lower back pain, and once that de-tuning has occurred the support muscles have to be retrained to engage when we ask the pelvis to level. Here’s how to do it.
Establish your posture by setting your feet hip width and parallel, and then lengthen your spine using your hands on your belly and under your collarbone, as described in the books and the DVDs. Make sure your head is balanced over your shoulders; use your finger tripod on your collarbones to check. That 15 pound weight of your head can cause a lot of imbalance if it is not aligned properly!
Now, with your legs and gluteals relaxed, and your body weight supported by your skeleton and not your muscles, lift the front of your pelvis. It will feel like a swivel. If you feel your gluteals tightening, stop, relax and start over. Likewise, if you find you have lifted the front of your pelvis by tightening your upper ab muscles — the rectus we were talking about before (and you will know you have done this if you are having trouble breathing!), again stop, relax, re-establish your posture and give it another try.
Lift and drop your pelvis several times to help your body and mind be able to tell the difference when it is level and when it is tilted. See how relaxed the rest of your body can remain while you perform this leveling and tilting. If any other muscles like rectus or glutes sneak into the party, kick them out and keep focusing on using the deeper abs. Keep checking that you can breathe freely and that your glutes are relaxed.
Yes, it is possible to over-tilt the pelvis; we’ve had several people on the Facebook page who found they were doing that. Over-tilting is almost always associated with tightening the glutes; relax those, and you are unlikely to over-tilt.
Another important feature of the pelvis in ChiRunning and ChiWalking is that it must remain level from side to side; no dipping, no ca-twalking down the fashion runway, which can cause pain and problems in the hip and along the knee. Your goal is to be able to keep the pelvis level not from front to back, but also side to side.
It may seem funny that something so basic to good ChiRunning and ChiWalking form can feel somewhat elusive; again, don’t worry. With practice and time, you will find the right muscles and the right level of tilt. Versions of these same pelvic tilt movements are prescribed as physical therapy to low back injury patients to help re-train their core support muscles, so when you can do these you will have done much to prevent future back trouble. You will also have made an important step in improving your running or walking form. Spend time practicing these movements and be aware of your pelvic alignment in other activities too, especially sitting at your desk or in the car.