The Complete Guide To Real Life Squats – Part 2: How To Untuck Your Pelvis
In many modern bodies, our hips have basically outsourced a lot of their movement to our low backs.
That’s not awesome for our hips, our backs, or our squats!
In the first post in this series, we started to explore different positions that give you some of the benefits of squatting without the same loads to our bodies.
Today, we’re going to start improving our capacity by looking at how our hips function during squat movements.
The first step in helping our hips reclaim their movement potential is simply to start figuring out where our hips end and our backs begin, which is what this post is going to focus on.
FYI this can be super, super helpful for improving how you SIT so that it’s better for your low back, hip and pelvic floor, so it’s a win in lots of ways!
Let’s get moving!
Great squats start with untucking your pelvis
‘Untucked’ is basically a way to say ‘anteriorly tilted’ – in other words, ASIS (the bony bumps at the front and top of your pelvis often wrongly called your ‘hip bones’)– are travelling forward & down, and tail bone is lifting up. If that makes you feel confused, you’re not alone – it took me forever to feel like I ‘got’ pelvic movement. That’s a big reason we’re gonna practice it!
You can also call untucking a type of true hip flexion – the angle between your thigh bones and the front of your pelvis is getting smaller. OR look at your low back – if it’s hollow, you’re untucked, while a rounded ‘C’ shape is tucked.
Still not sure? Imagine lounging back on a comfortable couch – that is TUCKED.
Why is untucking your pelvis a key to your squat?
Untucking will help you:
- Find your back-line stuff during your squats – hamstrings etc – which is what we want to use for max pelvic floor benefit.
- The untucking motion is also how squats help lengthen & strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
Try this exercise to really get good at untucking. It’s also really nice on most low backs – please stop if yours is the exception and this hurts – you’ll need to find a different way to explore.
Pelvis untucking practice
✅ Sit on a half dome (BEST- this will help you move with ease) or a rolled towel.
✅ Start to rock your pelvis back and forth.
✅ Use your legs to create this movement – not your low back!
✅ Low back is relaxed – do not use your back and abs to create this movement!
Your legs and pelvis are just taking your low back for a passive ride today.
If you feel work in your low back, you may be used to using it habitually to help you move and this will be a good thing to work on. Just keep trying to keep it soft and use your feet to create the movement – drag your heels in (without letting them move) and then push away.
Try this daily until you feel like your pelvis is moving nicely & you have a sense of ‘tucked’ & ‘untucked’ in your body.
Also don’t let your ribs be part of this exercise – it’s not a yoga cat-cow. This is just the pelvis moving. If your ribs want to lift check out this post to start working on them.
Half round foam rollers (aka 1/2 domes) a good investment if you want to work on your movement – they’re super versatile! We use ours for sitting on all the time – because an untucked pelvis is also a key for better sitting!
My fave half domes come from here.
Here’s a link to some sitting tips if you want more untucking info and practice.
How Much Hip Flexion Do You Really Have?
Now we’re gonna flip it around and explore moving your legs towards your pelvis (instead of our pelvis towards our legs). This is still the basic movement of untucking but we’re going to move our legs not our spine and pelvis.
What’s the edge of your hip flexion?
Many people’s squats are limited by the range of motion in their hips & specifically hip flexion (e.g. where your thigh comes towards your pelvis).
If you don’t have full hip flexion, you’ll compensate by flexing your lower back (aka tucking your pelvis). This is often the reason people fall backwards when squatting.
Here we’ll start working on your hip flexion simply by finding your current range! When you find your true range, you can start to work at your boundary which is the place you can create changes.
Try this simple but powerful exercise & self-assessment.
Supine passive single legged squat
✅ Lie on your back, with something under the back of your head if desired.
✅ Lift one knee up to 90 degrees. Notice the relationship between your low back & the floor.
✅ Now, slowly pull your thigh in all the way to your torso, paying attention to what’s happening in your low back but letting it do what it wants to do. Did your low back curve change? Probably it flattened out.
✅ Return your knee to 90 degrees & observe your low back return to its neutral curve.
✅ Pull your knee in again, very slowly, stop as soon as you feel your low back curve start to change (aka pelvis is tucking). That’s your edge.
✅ Hang out there for a minute or two, then switch sides & repeat.
Just hanging out at this edge for a while every day can start to create change. Try it regularly and spend some time getting to know where your hips end and your spine begins!
FYI if you feel pinching in the front of your hip, try moving your thigh out wider. If you still feel pinching, move your thigh away from your torso until you don’t feel it & hang out there instead
Not sure if you’ve found the right spot? No worries! Repeat this exercise slowly a few times, find it as best as you can, you’ll get better with practice. Here’s some pix to show you how my back curves change when I change my hip position.
Need more hip flexion for your squats?
Now things are gonna get weird.
Here’s the deal. Before you can get great hip flexion, you need hip ROTATION. Yah, I know. It’s a bit odd.
But if your hip joint can’t rotate, it also can’t flex – that’s just the way hips (and most of your other joints) work. Rotation first. Linear pathways (including flexion) second
So lots of people spend lots of time trying to work on their hip flexion and it might get better. Or it might not change very much.
Lots of you have told me you’ve been working on your squats forever and they’re not getting better. Well, this could be why!
And now things are gonna stay weird. Because probably the reason you don’t have hip flexion (or rotation) is more because of your BRAIN than your BODY.
For most of us, our limits aren’t a lack of physical capacity – they’re actually because our nervous system (NS) only feels safe giving us a certain amount of range of motion. It protects us by keeping that range much less than we’re physically capable of achieving.
So, to get more range of motion in your squats you MIGHT need longer tissues but first you need to convince your brain to give you more flexion.
Using PAILs/RAILs to increase squat range of motion
One of the best ways convince our brains to increase our ROM is a stretching technique called PAILs/RAILs – silly acronym but a super key exercise technique. It’s hard, but very effective!
‘Progressive Angular Isometric Loading’ means “get into a stretch, then create force with the stretched tissues without actually moving’ – like you’re trying to escape the stretch.
‘Regressive Angular Isometric Loading’ means ‘create force with the shortened tissues which probably can’t move because they’re at their end range’ – here you try to go deeper but you probably can’t.
Together PAILs & RAILs get your nervous system feeling like it’s ok to give you more range of motion. Then when you get that range of motion, you can use it, and then your NS & physical hip stuff change & your squat gets better.
So it’s not that complex but it’s not that easy either. Which is why I made you a whole entire squat mobility class to walk you through it! Give this a go when you have about half an hour to spare. If it feels meaningful to you, then do it regularly to help improve your hip range of motion and eventually, your squats.
How did that feel?
Mobility work is no joke – it’s hard work and it can take some time to master. But it’s also exciting – it can create huge changes in joint resilience and range of motion, which can make all the difference when it comes to your squatting! The class above is a great first step that will get you started on the path to mobile hips and better squats – but there’s definitely so much more to explore!
If you enjoyed the class and want to work more on your squatting, try my Take10 online movement coaching program.
Or simply stay tuned for my next post in this series where we’re going to use pelvic untucking to explore our squatting technique!
Hi! I’m Petra! I’ve transformed my body and my life with better movement, and now it’s my passion to share this amazing work with anyone who wants permanent natural solutions to body pain and who wants to keep doing all the things they love every day of their life!