To answer that question in one word: neither.
I’ve read and heard a lot of advice offered from voice teachers saying to deal with lordosis (that’s a fancy word for swayback) in the mid-back region, or pain in the low back we need to tuck the pelvis. I’ve even heard teachers say tuck the pelvis AND engage the glutes to really get support for the high notes.
I get why. Many pedagogy texts offer the same advice on tucking and some of them have been around for a long time. The good news is more recent texts acknowledge this position isn’t correct – a healthy spine is not straight, it has two natural curves in the lumbar and cervical spine.
The position of the pelvis is only one factor in why the lordosis and low back pain are present and in the case of lordosis, it isn’t the most major factor. And, engaging glute muscles can be a major compensation red flag for a core that isn’t firing reflexively in response to breath and movement.
Let’s unpack these ideas of tuck and duck a bit. Tuck is a posterior tilt of the pelvis – think standing against a wall and rolling the pelvis back so the low back is flat to the wall. Duck is an anterior tilt of the pelvis – think standing against a wall and rolling the pelvis forward so there is not just a little space behind the low back, but a lot of space.
Bony markers in the body are how we determine tuck, duck and neutral. The markers we use are the ASIS (anterior, superior iliac spine), the nobby points of the front of your hip bones, and the pubic bone, the place the two halves of the pelvis come together in the front of the pelvis. If the ASIS and the pubic bone sit in the same plane (as in, we could drop a pane of glass in front of them and they would both touch the glass equally), then we have a pelvis that is neutral to the leg. When the pubic bone is in front of the ASIS we have tuck. If the pubic bone is behind the ASIS, we have duck. When standing at a wall, a neutral pelvis will allow for a small space behind the low back.
You can click here to see an image on Flickr of a neutral pelvis – it is a right lateral view showing ASIS and pubic bone on the right side of the image. I tried to find a stock photo of a neutral pelvis, but couldn’t!
To figure out what your default position is, take your shoes off and put your hands on those bony marker points, and make an assessment of their position relative to each other. Try it again with shoes with varying heel heights to see if you notice a difference.
My default is anterior tilt, which I see in many women, especially post childbirth – women’s lumbar spine has a bit more give to accommodate the load placed by the expanding womb. But, without question my anterior tilt was likely in place prior to having 2 children. I know I have a psoas that is tighter on 1 side as is my rectus femoris, to name just a few of the muscles contributing to the placement of my pelvis. There are an equal number of people who live with a tuck position. The reasons why our pelvises are in these non-neutral positions is always multi-factorial.
The factors contributing include our footwear, our patterns of lack of movement (sitting) and repetitive movement (running on a treadmill, for example) and simply being a human in the modern age. The solution comes from a shift to greater whole body movement, a reawakening of some dormant muscles and ditching shoes with heels. That means shoes with heels of any kind, not just 4 inch stilettos. Your 1/4 inch flats are contributing too.
Why does a neutral pelvis matter? Well, from the standpoint of biomechanics, when we think about gravity, which is a force that moves in one direction – straight down – to build bone in our femur head and socket of the pelvis, we need gravity to be able to do its job. When the pelvis is at an angle, but gravity is straight down, it isn’t helping to build bone. When the pelvis is tucked and the bottom of the sacrum is further into the body than the top, we end up with pelvic floor problems. From the standpoint of the voice, a non-neutral pelvis means we don’t have a solid foundation for the torso to rest on and that means voice function is impacted because the spine and all attaching bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons are impacted. Your whole body is your instrument so we need your whole body to be a well functioning machine.
Neutral, once you find it, may feel like you are in either tuck or duck. Your proprioception is challenged and neutral will probably feel wrong. I suspect this is why some folks are saying either tuck or duck, because assuming they worked with a qualified someone to address their pelvis position, their new position felt like one of these two ways.
However, giving a blanket tuck or duck to solve the issue of position or pain is a recipe for more problems down the line. Solving the riddle of the issues requires individual assessment and a whole body approach because everything in the body impacts everything else in the body. I always assess postural habits, using bony markers in the feet, lower and upper legs, pelvis, ribcage, shoulder girdle and neck/head to get a picture of the whole person. The rest of the solution requires us to move more and integrate moving in different ways, spending a lot of time simply being aware of our habits.
Hit me with questions….