Try the #1 Exercise to Get Rid of Your Back Pain–Pelvic Tilt Exercise

If you’re trying to relieve back pain, the first pain-relieving exercise you want to master is the pelvic tilt exercise. Here’s how.

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Physical therapists call it the “pelvic tilt exercise.” Pilates instructors call it “Imprint.” You can call it whatever you like, but this classic Pilates movement is an essential exercise to relieve pain–especially low back pain.

Even when I went to physical therapy for my broken neck, my therapists had me do the pelvic tilt exercise. Little did they know, I had an extensive pre-existing relationship with this well-loved exercise.

I learned Imprint ages ago when I started working toward my Pilates certification. For years, I taught Imprint to my students. Then, one day, I discovered I was missing a key component of this valuable exercise.

Here’s the full story on how to do the pelvic tilt exercise correctly. Don’t let this deceptively simple exercise fool you–there’s more to it than you think!

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Why the Pelvic Tilt Exercise?

Whether you’re in Pilates class or physical therapy, you’re going to do the pelvic tilt exercise. The reason this exercise is so popular is because it protects the low back from any strain or injury.

Plus, when you do the pelvic tilt exercise correctly, you’re not just learning how to engage muscles to reach your low back to the floor. You’re also learning how to move back to neutral afterward.

For many people, it’s this returning movement–this movement back to neutral–that’s the most important part of the exercise.

This, friends, was the part of the exercise that I was missing.

It’s really common for people to contract a muscle, then relax it. They think this lack of contraction will move them back to neutral, but it doesn’t!

Instead, you need to find the correct muscles (the opposite muscles from what you just used) to move yourself all the way back to neutral. If you skip this important step, you’re missing out on the best part of this exercise.

And, honestly, if you’re not using the right muscles as you move, you’re probably not going to fix the issue that’s causing your back pain.

If you’re searching for the best way to learn how to relieve your back pain from the privacy of your own home, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation. I’ll teach you everything you need to know to feel better right now and stay pain-free in the future.

But first, before you can learn how to do the pelvic tilt exercise, you have to learn how to find neutral with your pelvis.

How to Find Neutral

picture of what you'll see when your pelvis is in neutral
This is what you will see when your pelvis is in neutral.
  1. Get on your back with your knees bent, feet in line with your SITs bones (the bony part of your bottom), and arms reaching long by your side.
  2. Make sure your pelvis is in neutral. To do this, connect your pointer fingers and thumbs to make a triangle. Place the heels of your hands on your pelvis and your connected pointer fingers on your pubic bone. Look at your hands. Are your thumbs and pointer fingers in the same plane? They should be. Make any adjustments you need to get to this neutral position. Once in neutral, you can leave your hands in this position to observe how your pelvis moves in and out of neutral or you can return your hands to your sides.
  3. Make sure your neck is in neutral. Your chin should not be tilted up.

How to Do the Pelvic Tilt Exercise

picture of the pelvic tilt exercise
  1. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Get on your back with your knees bent, feet in line with your SITs bones (the bony part of your bottom), and arms reaching long by your side.
  3. Before you even start trying to move your pelvis, I want you to take a moment to breathe. Feel the muscles all around your waist expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. 
  4. As you breathe, find the center spot in your abdomen. It should be centered right to left, front to back, and between your bottom rib and the top of your pelvis. When you exhale, you should feel all the muscles all around your waist hug toward this spot.
  5. Inhale into the sides of your rib cage and, as you exhale, hug your abdominal muscles toward that center spot. Your low back should reach toward the floor, although it probably won’t completely touch or press flat against it.
  6. Make sure that the muscles in the front of your hips and your glutes aren’t active. They aren’t supposed to work if you are correctly doing the pelvic tilt exercise.
  7. Inhale and find the muscles in your low back to return your pelvis to neutral. When you activate the correct muscles, you’ll feel your back start to lift away from the floor. If you’re not sure how to find the correct muscles for this movement, here’s an idea. Imagine you’re out with a person you don’t really like, and they put their hand on your low back. Possibly you would be polite and wouldn’t pull away or make a big deal about it, but inside of you, every fiber of your being would be trying to get away. This is the image that I use to get my pelvis to return to neutral.
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 while breathing. Make sure your neck stays in neutral and your shoulders stay away from your ears.

For the Visual Learners…

Below is a video of how to do the pelvic tilt exercise. Sometimes, it’s just easier to do something when someone shows you and talks you through it.

Before You Do the Pelvic Tilt Exercise, Don’t Forget…

This exercise is almost always used for a therapeutic purpose. As you move, pay attention to how you are moving your body, the muscles you are using, and how you feel as you move.

If you feel pain or extreme discomfort at any time, stop what you are doing and reevaluate how you’re moving. Make sure you were using your muscles to both move you into and out of Imprint.

After you’ve fine-tuned how you want to move, you can try practicing the pelvic tilt exercise again. However, if you still feel pain, stop and contact your doctor.

Be aware, pelvic tilt may not be the best exercise for you. This video explains why.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re researching the pelvic tilt exercise today because you have some back pain that you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! After experimenting with the very best and easiest ways to relieve hip + back pain, I figured out a powerful combination of exercises to ditch pain and get back to living a completely active life. Are you ready to get started?