November 28, 2011
December 2, 2011

Over the past few months, we’ve regularly programmed at least one “skill day” a week, either for working on a particular skill or understanding how to best scale a skill movement for a workout. This Tuesday, we switched gears, but only slightly. Instead of focusing on a skill movement, we focused instead on a key body movement: use of the hips and the integral role they play through-out the broad spectrum of exercises CrossFit utilizes.

Neutral Spine and it’s associated curvature

Standing, or lying, in a nice, neutral position (the position most of us should find ourselves in naturally), our spine produces a subtle S-shape. This is our natural position, and the one we should normally default to. Under load, however, it’s sometimes necessary to actively promote the lumbar curve by tilting the hips back (“Anterior Pelvic Tilt”) or, conversely, negate the lumbar curve by tilting the hips forward (“Posterior Pelvic Tilt”).

Anterior Pelvic Tilt
In an anterior pelvic tilt, the top of the pelvis is tilted forward and the bottom backwards (i.e., if your hips were a bucket of water, you’d be spilling water forwards onto your toes).

In lifts such as the squat and deadlift, we cue initiating or leading with the hips: i.e., slightly tilting the pelvis backwards and pushing the hips back (notice I said “slightly” – beware that if you have a hyper-mobile lower back, you can actually over-arch, creating a problem as significant as rounding). In these lifts, the anterior tilt, or flexion, will help maintain the lumbar arch, stopping the lower back from rounding and thus helping to avoid compressing the vertebral disks too much.

The cue to “lead with the hips” focuses our attention on creating that anterior pelvic tilt. Pushing the hips back first will help to center the weight over our mid-line while simultaneously helping to maintain our natural lumbar arch through-out the lift. The converse of this is to lead with the knees (bend the knees first) which will have the effect of putting the weight forward of our mid-line while causing the body to sacrifice the lumbar arch and rounding our back in order to maintain our grip on the bar.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt
At the other end of the spectrum, we have movements like push-ups, handstands/handstand push-ups, and kipping, to name a few, which benefit from tucking the pelvis under into a posterior pelvic tilt in order to eliminate the lumbar arch and create a slight rounding in the lower back. In this position, the posterior pelvic tilt, the top of the pelvis is tilted backwards and the bottom forwards (again using our bucket of water image, we’d now be spilling water backwards onto our heels).

Tucking our hips to create that posterior pelvic tilt helps stop us from over-arching the lower back. During push-ups, or really any plank position, this keeps us from sagging in the middle. In kipping, it allows us to create a more stable rhythm, as our kip is then based on the movement of the hips rather than the swinging of the legs.

This is a great comparison drawing of a neutral pelvis at left in relation to a pelvis with posterior tilt at right and the resulting hollow position. Apparently Posterior Pelvic Tilt has carry-over to horse riding, as I borrowed the above photo from a dressage web-site.

The In-Betweens
Note that some movements, like overhead pressing, require us to squeeze our glutes and tilt the pelvis forward in order to avoid over-arching our backs when the weight is overhead. In other words, we are actually using a bit of posterior pelvic tilt in order to maintain the lower lumbar arch while creating a more stable spinal position when holding weight overhead.

To help everyone understand these concepts and put the particular positions into practice, Tuesday night’s Tabata workout consisted of 4 exercises all of which prominently featured the hip and hip position.

Tabata Mummy Crawl, Tabata B2B Squats,
Tabata Hollow Position Hold, & Tabata Plank-to-Squat

Tabata = 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, for 8 rounds (4 minutes total); 1 minute of rest in between exercises.

Mummy Crawl: Get into a plank position (arms extended) with feet on a towel, and then using only your arms, drag yourself across the floor. The emphasis here is posterior pelvic tilt (hips tucked forward) and a tight core to stop the body from sagging towards the floor.

B2B Squats: squats are a normal tabata exercise, but the B2B version (Bottom-to-Bottom, meaning you hold the bottom squat position during the 10sec rest) really drives home the need for that anterior pelvic tilt at the bottom. Without it, the pelvis will actually tilt under, causing the back to round. This is bad at body weight, but can be devastating with a loaded barbell.

Hollow Position: The “push-away” portion of our kip, the hollow position is the quintessential posterior pelvic tilt exercise, as failing to tuck the hips up/forward will result in the lower back peeling away from the floor, defaulting back to the natural lumbar curve. Pulling the shoulders off the ground during the hollow position helps to maintain the rounded position and completes the rocking chair shape.

Appropriate scaling for the hollow position is to pull one leg in towards the chest, in order to make tilt the hips forward easier. This is opposed to simply bending the knees slightly and raising the feet higher, which does flatten out the low back, but also presses the pelvis flat, turning the movement into a crunch-hold.

Plank-to-Squat: We chose the plank-to-squat as the 4th exercise in Tuesday’s hip-focused tabata because it utilizes both the anterior pelvic tilt (in the plank) with a quick transition to the posterior pelvic tilt (in the squat). Moreover, this is a movement we really like using to help create a more efficient burpee.

By jumping our feet close to our hands and landing in a squat position, we transition from the push-up to the jump in one move. The alternative is to jump the feet up a little, push off the ground with our arms, and then right ourselves the rest of the way using our lower back. The former is not only more efficient, but clearly better posturally, helping to keep better spinal position through-out the burpee. This efficiency translates not only into faster burpees, but will also allow you to maintain better form when said burpees are pared with a lift (e.g., deadlifts). To prove the point, we gave everyone a 5 minute break before putting this theory into practice with a quick 20 burpee finisher.

Great work – saw a lot of self-induced form correction during the workout, which was exactly the point. It’s a lot of information to be digested, but well worth the time to ensure that we function better as athletes. Now, go polish off some left-overs and get ready for Thursday.



  1. Steph says:

    Nice hollow position on the mummy crawls, Julia!!

    Like Amelia said last night, this workout was a slow death.

    Man, I’m glad we started with the mummy crawls. I don’t think I could’ve done much if they were placed in the middle! B2B squats weren’t as bad, but my quads still started to burn after round 6. Had trouble keeping the hollow position on the hold so had to switch to the plank after 4 rounds. It was my first time doing plank to squat and thought they felt fine, although I’m sure people like Julia were knocking them out whereas I was only getting 5-6 each round. The 20 burpees at the end took more out of me than I expected. Stuffing my face before, during and after Thanksgiving and not working out much has really caught on! Dammit!

    Looking forward to tomorrow!

    BTW, Chris is teaching tomorrow morning at 7:15 for anyone who can’t make it to the evening classes.

    Chris is also teaching the Friday evening classes, although those classes will be CF Dupont’s programming.

  2. Julia says:

    Super helpful explanation – thanks, Chris.

    Katie – nice squat!

    Burpees post- plank-to-squats felt really good. Great drill. And nice setup… well played, guys.

    Maybe we can add dressage to the list of activities to try sometime? Strongman stuff, prowler pushes, gymnastics… dressage.

  3. Tom Brose says:

    Of all the info Chris put into this post, maybe the most interesting thing that I’ve learned is how much you all love burpees. I mean, that must be the underlaying reason behind the lack of posts, right?

    Katie, that picture of you rocks! Great squat, depth and alignment hugely improved. Do you know how different that looks from a month ago?

    I hope everyone really understands how important it is to understand and hammer these positions. Absolutely critical foundational work for advanced movements and heavy loads. Practice here pays off bigtime down the road.

  4. Tom Brose says:

    Triple post! Thanks ladies.

  5. Katie says:

    Thanks!! I was trying to ignore Tom as he was taking pictures of me (really, I was just focusing on not collapsing…) It is cool to see the depth I can get now, there’s NO way I could have done that a month ago!

    Really interesting post, Chris, thank you. Aw, I wish I could come tomorrow morning, but I have to work early. :o(

    Tough workout, but I totally needed it after being away. The mummy crawls were probably the toughest. I sort of doubted I would be able to do the plank to squats, and I was pretty slow, but I did them! I was very pleased. This also means that I can do them in my burpees…so I think for burpees from now on I’ll start with regular as long as possible, then scale down to step back and jump forward.

    I’m heading to Vegas this weekend, so I’ll see everyone next Tuesday!

  6. Erica says:

    I expected my quads to be burning yesterday and today but they’re okay. Although they were on fire during the B2B squats and plank to burpees. Tom, I do LOOOVE burpees but with people like Dan in the class, I will be far from the burpee queen. My abs definitely took a hit on Tuesday. I have to admit it though, I kind of like it. It feels hard to hold some of those positions though for a long time and I have to be careful of not hurting my back, which is my go-to compensation.

    Is Chris teaching EVERY Wednesday morning and Friday evening or just this one?

  7. Tom Brose says:

    So, you’re calling Dan the burpee queen?

  8. Dan Samarov says:

    Burpee Queen… kinda like the sound of that…

  9. Steph says:

    Merson, Chris didn’t teach Wednesday morning. He taught this morning and will be teaching tomorrow evening, but he’s just subbing for Tex.

    And yes, great squat pic Katie!!

  10. Steph says:

    Speaking of polishing off leftovers…in an effort to make the remaining 8 pounds of turkey we still have left go down a little easier, I made some turkey meatloaf last night using ground up turkey breast. It turned out pretty well, although needs a little more binding agent. Anyone else getting creative with leftover turkey? Would love to hear about it!

    And speaking of eating, we have decided on a date for the CFDC holiday get-together! Evite going out very soon!

  11. Ben says:

    This workout was really challenging, the B2B squats were brutal. It was good to bring things like plank form into focus as I think that is an easy mental slip and I need to keep actively reminding myself about form.

  12. SBV says:

    Chris could use the remaining turkey to fill a calzone.

  13. Dian says:

    I’m going to try very hard to make class tomorrow morning at 7:15 since, by the looks of things here at work, I’m going to miss class tonight.