4 ways to improve pelvic mobility in your gait

Are you experiencing hip pain, back pain, or even knee pain when walking or engaging in other dynamic activities such as climbing stairs or running? Do you find yourself constantly searching for the perfect shoe or feeling like something just isn’t quite right? Your gait is one of the most powerful assessments of movement efficiency, revealing how you interact with the ground. The way you absorb impact and utilize it as energy is profound. 

Today, we’re going to delve into the topic of pelvic mobility and how it influences your gait cycle. We’ll also explore some exercises that can help you improve your walking, dynamic movements, and even running if that’s something you’re interested in.

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What you need to know about pelvic mobility

When walking, we encounter 1.5 times our body weight in force. When running, we encounter up to three to four times our body weight in force. And when we’re jumping, it could be up to eight times our body weight in force. That means that we have to be efficient about how we interact with the ground.

After doing probably thousands of gait assessments at this point, I’ve realized that there are some common themes, and one of them is something that is often ignored: pelvic mobility

We’re always thinking about what we need to stretch or what we need to strengthen. But we also want to consider how the pelvis moves in our gait cycle. We actually need proper rotation of the pelvis, side bending of the pelvis, and forward and backward motion. Any excessive movement or limitations in these aspects can affect our stride length, how we interact with the ground, and the impact force coming through our body.

So, although there are many things to talk about with gait, we’re going to zero in on pelvic mobility today. For example, Kim et al. showed that in chronic stroke patients, an anterior pelvic tilt, which is when your pelvis is forwardly tipped, affects balance and symmetry. These simple factors can have a significant impact on our overall function.

Ways to improve your pelvic mobility

1. Pelvic mobility from the floor

Place your hands on your hips and forward bend, tipping your pelvis forward and arching your back. Then, bend the pelvis backwards, flattening your back to the floor. Repeat this motion a few times, initially assessing if you feel any discomfort, if the motion is smooth, or if there’s any shaking. Notice if it feels limited in one direction more than the other.

Next, move into side bending. From here, bend your hip toward your shoulder, then return to the center. This can serve as both an assessment and an exercise. When using it as an exercise, focus on your breath. Inhale and exhale as you flatten your back in the forward backward bending, and if you’re doing the side bending, inhale deeply with a diaphragmatic breath and exhale as you go into a side bend. Once again, observe if there’s symmetry between the sides or if one side feels painful or crampy. All of these observations are essential.

2. Table position

Come up into a table position, and you’ll perform the same exercises from here. Focus on initiating the movement from the pelvis, not the upper back. As you go into the forward bend, tilt the pelvis forward, and as you go into the backward bend, tilt the pelvis backward. Coordinate this movement with your breath. Inhale as you tilt the pelvis forward, allowing the abdomen to expand. Exhale as you tilt the pelvis backward.

When moving into the side bend, think of it as “wagging the tail.” Breathe in, and then exhale as you perform the side bend. Pay attention to whether there’s symmetry on both sides or if it feels restricted. All of these observations are essential for how you would perform the exercises.

3. Pelvic rotation in table 

From table position, straighten one leg and rotate the pelvis toward the stable leg on the ground. Take a breath in, and then exhale as you drop your pelvis into this hip, and then bringing it back up to neutral. Inhale, and return to neutral. This exercise is really helpful for working on rotating the pelvis into a stable leg.

4. Airplane exercise

This exercise focuses on maintaining a stable hip while moving the pelvis toward the stable leg. Stand on your right leg and position your left leg as a kickstand. You can start with a breath in as you rotate your pelvis into your right leg and exhale as you bring it back to neutral. You can also progress this to single leg (no kickstand). Inhale and exhale as you return to a neutral position. This is a challenging exercise, and I recommend mastering the others first before advancing to this one.

All of these exercises can be powerful in improving your gait and how you interact with the ground. I recommend performing them in order, ensuring you can do the first-level exercises before moving on to the standing ones. Of course, you can integrate these into a comprehensive program that includes strength, stability, and mobility exercises. This can significantly impact your overall gait.  

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What your pelvic floor has to do with your tight hips

Let’s discuss the pelvic floor’s role in our hip mobility and function.

We’ll cover functional anatomy, root causes of poor hip mobility, and of course, how the pelvic floor can influence this.

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The Pelvis

The intrinsic stabilizers of the core are foundational. When we’re looking at the pelvis, the top of the intrinsic unit of our core is the diaphragm, while the bottom is the pelvic floor. These two things have to work together in a very fluid, rhythmical fashion for everything to have the proper sequencing, timing, and coordination. This is essentially what we refer to as motor control.

Once again, at the bottom of the pelvis, we have the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is actually feeding into the deep hip stabilizers via the fascial tissue. This is what keeps the hip in its socket—think of it as a suction cup similar to the rotator cuff. This integration also occurs with our hip flexors or deep psoas.

Our psoas is also a deep stabilizer that prevents the hip from shifting forward, so it’s very important. It’s also deeply connected with the pelvic floor which integrates with the transverse abdominis—think of that as our natural weight belt. Drawing the belly button in is a way to feel this muscle. However, functionally, this will contract on our exhalation.

This ultimately connects to our diaphragm. These deep stabilizers have to work reflexively. If they don’t, we begin to see pain, injury, and mobility issues. The body will start to find stiffness where it needs it; it will create stiffness if there is a lack of stability.

To take it one step further, what you can do is try this exercise.

Breathing Exercise (with pelvic floor integration)

As you take an inhale through the nose, the tongue resting at the roof of your mouth touching the back of your teeth, allowing the pressure in the abdomen to go all the way down to the base of the pelvis, our pelvic floor will be in a lengthened position. Then as we exhale, our diaphragm goes back up to its resting position. The pelvic floor is gently contracting and lifting, and then that pressure is decreasing, of course. As the diaphragm goes back up, our abdominals are contracting to create that corset, and thereby we have a full diaphragmatic breath. This diaphragmatic breathing is critical to having an optimal hip function.

So why might you have tight hips?

Some of the several reasons include:

1. Sitting

This is the most common reason as to why you might have tight hips. Increased sitting decreases joint mobility and decreases the elasticity in your muscle and your fascia, creating ongoing stiffness.

2. Poor Breathing

Another thing that you might not think about is breathing. If we are not diaphragmatic breathing, as I just mentioned with proper sequencing and coordination, that can cause tight hips.

3. Pelvic Floor Tightness

Squeezing or clenching the pelvic floor is common as this is where we tend to hold a lot of emotions.

4. Stress

Because we hold our emotions here, stress is a big driver of tight hips and pelvic mobility.

5. Poor Hip Stability

If you are not sequencing properly from that stabilization perspective, you can not create force through the glutes. This is necessary to move the hip to its full range. This can lead to tightness and compensation. Your body will always figure out the path of least resistance, so if you don’t have stability somewhere, it will find stability by tightening things up.

How to Address this Issue

One of the simplest ways to begin to address this is to begin to work on your breath.

You can do this lying down with your knees back. It’s a great starting point. Stacking your rib cage over your pelvis is really important. We want the ribcage stacked right over the top so the diaphragm so it can communicate effectively with the pelvic floor. Inhaling, breathing 360 degrees of pressure into the abdomen, exhaling, contracting the abdomen—think of it like a corset or weight belt.

Now, begin to integrate it into everything you do: your day-to-day activities, exercise, stress management, and so on. Adopt this breathing pattern as your normal healthy breathing pattern which is exactly what it is. We breathe 25 000 times a day, so this is really how you want to think about breathing all right.

This can help you improve your hip function, hip mobility, and core function and give you a new perspective on why you might have tight hips.

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