Recently, the following question was presented to me by a client regarding implementation of the “tuck” position outside of exercise sessions. As a topic that has needed addressing, no time like the present.
Q. Lani, today I’m having a soreness in my lower back that I usually don’t have. I’ve been trying to really connect with “curling my core and keeping butt” tucked during the day….not just when I exercise. I just started noticing this today….Today while doing my workout, on the curl up with hands on knees it really hurt. Any thoughts? Thanks a bunch.
My reply: If I understand you correctly, the “curling the core” is a reference to the pulling of the front of the torso in, while pressing the low and middle part of the back in the direction of the space behind you. And the tuck means the posterior tilt of the pelvis that comes with a tuck of the tail.
In my practice, I teach that while these positions and exercises may be important for correcting muscle imbalance, these are exercises not to be duplicated with intensity all day long. You should NOT be taking the deep tuck into all walking and standing movements. Rather, pull in the abdominal wall (as in 7 Seconds to a Flat Belly) which facilitates muscle balance through the waist, hip, and low back area, and provides a slight corrective direction to the tilt of the pelvis, as needed, into neutral spine. It stabilizes the area and activates many of the core muscles in a functional, fluid manner.
Likewise, the pressing to flat the back, meant to counter an exaggerated curve in the back, should not be fought for all day long. We have a natural curve in the lumbar area of the back (see image, left) and we should not be maneuvering to get rid of it. The natural curves in the spine, the basic elements of neutral spine, are designed to effectively cushion and distribute impact as well as facilitate functional movement. By no means should we be trying to eradicate them with excessive exercise.
Too much prolonged tuck and pressing the low back place a stress on the lumbar area and overwork the muscles at the top of the hip in back. This resulted in the soreness that you are experiencing. Physical therapy is for building strength and countering imbalances, but not always to be sustained in intensity all day long.
I know that there are those who will disagree with me on this one, and who suggest that you should be implementing this movement intensely all day long. I say no, because of just what happened to you.
Do the work during workouts. Combine corrective posture with strengthening the muscles through the middle and upper back, hips, abdominals and backs of the hips and legs. Let it train you to walk erect , with stronger back muscles, stronger glutes and abs, and shoulders rolled back into open chest position like a dancer. Then let the awareness of functional posture and strength of muscles gained during workouts carry you forward into beautiful movement.
You want to dance and flow through life, for heaven’s sake -not be crimped and tucked!
Go to Part 2 of 5: More Pelvic Tilt Talk: Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Lani, what a fabulously clear explanation and you set off a few lightbulbs in my head.
Thanks so much, can’t wait for parts 2 and 3!
@Lise: Hey Lise! Oh good, I’m glad you likey and am pleased to see this article helped.
Part 2 is about ready and #3 is in the works, too!
Lani, your pelvic tilt information has been a breakthrough for me. I am 19 years old and could not for the life of me figure out why i was experiencing so much lower back pain all of the time. I am rather skinny, but i had always seemed to have a gut. I am so grateful for the information that you have shared, and I am now motivated to do the streches and work on improving my posture. I feel like I cannot thank you enough!!!
It makes my day when I read a post like yours. Not because you’ve had pain, of course – but because a little information made a difference for you in quality of life. Thanks so much for stopping in to tell me. How did you happen upon this particular post? I’d love to know!
I have been experiencing lower lumbar pain/ache recently. It started about 3 weeks ago, and when it started it was intense. I was walking around like a 10month pregnant woman! Serious lack of movement there 🙁
The Doctor gave me some pills for three days and they helped, the pain left and I was able to move again.
Now I feel discomfort and I have been tucking butt while standing throughout the day to try and relieve the ache! LOL!! I obviously got that one wrong! 😀
So, if I understand correctly I need to try to arch my back a little throughout the day in order to shift the ache? Is that right?
Thanks for the great information, as always, Lani! :*
Just sorry it took me so long to find this article!
Tara, I have to laugh, you did such an excellent job of graphic description: “walking around like a 10 month pregnant woman’ – it so accurately describes the shuffle and waddle that can come with low back pain!
Thanks for your note, and it doesn’t matter that it took you a ‘long time’ to ask this question – any time is fine. Remember there is a ‘search’ feature in the right sidebar which is a great way to dive into the archives here at the blog, it’s getting pretty extensive.
On to your question.
First, did the ‘tucking’ relieve the pain? Is that what you would do to feel better? That tells you something about your particular situation. Was the pain below the waist in back? Often pain located THERE is referral pain from something going on higher, commonly in the lumbar reqion. It may be just muscle, but it may be related to discs in the spine as well. We all lose disc volume as we get older and due to genetics – or injury – it is more or less, and we feel it more or less.
Now, does ‘arching’ the back make it feel better? That means that extending the spine is relieving the pressure causing the problem.
It is possible to tuck too much and possible to extend to much. The point of the article is that going for the gusto with the tuck CAN be overdone, just as too much extension. We want to protect the natural curve of the back, which can be partially restored with a tuck during exercise and proper sitting and movement patterns, strengthening the abs (are you doing 7 Seconds to a Flat Belly? It is enormously helpful for the back!), and getting stronger glutes as well. There’s more, but that’s for starters.
And I do not recommend walking around all day with a tight tuck. The back is meant to have a slight curve and we’re meant to have flow and fluidity of movement, which a clenched and tucked backside do not allow for. Use your workouts to train position. Balance your muscles with specific exercise to create optimal alignment. Fix how you move and sit. But don’t think that just tucking your butt is going to solve all the problems. See what I’m saying?
You say your doctor gave you some pills – probably some muscle relaxants. Yet you need to address the cause of the problem. Did doc give you any suggestions for that?
Hope you are feeling better!
Thanks Lani for that extensive reply! :*
My Doctor wasn’t really that helpful apart from the pills, I believe they were muscle relaxants too (I didn’t see a box, she gave me them from her handbag! LOL!)
I’ve tried today to walk upright, do my 7 seconds exercise and not tuck my butt and it feels less strained. I’ll keep that up as tucking didn’t relieve the ache but I thought that as I was holding the muscles tight then the back may get relief from the stress.
Thanks once again :*
Tara, keep me posted on your progress.
Pills from her handbag? Yikes!
Lani, I’ve been following your advice and using your 7 seconds to a flat belly and I believe that it has worked, Dr Watson!
My back has been fine this past week!
Thanks Lani :*
Tara, yay, I am so glad to hear this! Fit Quickies to the rescue! And you’ll be glad to know I’ve been working with a Physical Therapist this week to develop some new Fit Quickies to target core support to relieve and avoid back pain. They are good good!
Most of all happy to see you doing better. Thanks so much for reporting in!