What “Stack Your Rib Cage & Pelvis” Means & Why It Matters
If you’re here, you’ve probably heard cues like “stack your rib cage over your pelvis” or maybe you’ve been told you have some rib flare or maybe even ‘open scissors posture’. All of those things refer to the position of your rib cage and pelvis relative to each other.
While there is no “perfect posture” that exists (see podcast episode #39 for more on posture), there are some times when we do want to pay attention to our posture or positioning, particularly during times when dealing with some persisting pain or nagging injuries, or when we are lifting heavy.
Full disclosure: Understanding this concept and mastering this skill can be helpful in recovering from pain & injuries and for athletic endeavors. AND it’s important to know you don’t need to operate every single movement at home or even at the gym with a perfectly aligned rib cage & pelvis. It may take a lot of practice up front, but I always caution clients to not hyperfocus on as the ONLY posture or position your body has access to.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s break this idea down into the what, why, when, and how.
What is “stacking your rib cage over your pelvis”?
This idea is really a position or posture where your rib cage and pelvis are facing each other.
Think of your rib cage like an upside down bowl, which is above your pelvis, another bowl but inverse to your rib cage, as shown in the picture below.
Remember: If the stacked position isn’t your normal resting position, it isn’t something to be worried about. You just want to make sure can get into this stacked position.
Why does it matter?
There are a handful of reasons this position can be helpful and is important to have access too. The biggest one is that when your rib cage and pelvis are stacked, you are in a better position to optimize IAP, aka core stability.
In this position, your diaphragm has plenty of room to descend to create IAP. However, if your rib cage is flared forwards, for example, your diaphragm will run out of space more quickly and it will be more difficult to generate IAP in all directions evenly or some at all.
Ideally, you want even or close to even pressure in all directions. Both for supporting your spine but also for maximizing your strength.
For more on how this works, check out this blog post on IAP.
When to prioritize this position?
As I mentioned earlier, there is no cue or posture or movement that is universally the “best” and the “right” one for everyone at all times. It’s important to understand when this matters vs. when it doesn’t.
When it matters depends on: the person and their current goals (ie pain, injury, performance, etc), the movement or exercise they’re doing, and the load involved in said exercise.
Times I have clients focus on this more:
- When they have low back pain or discomfort during the exercise, especially when this eliminates or reduces said pain/discomfort
- When they have a nagging injury or pain that tends to be worse with loads involving more spine extension (the “unstacked” position)
- During heavier lifts where they feel more of their low back muscles than the other muscles involved
- When they are pre- or postnatal
Times I have clients not focus on this as much (and sometimes even encourage a rib flare):
- If they want to do things that require alot of spine extension like a backbend or as they do a heavy overhead press
- Doing spine mobility training where we’re focusing on extension ranges of motion and strength
How can you work on this skill?
First of all, you need to have mobility that allows for this position. You at least need a spine that can flex to neutral and hips that can extend. If you try to practice this and struggle, you may need to work on your mobility first before you can practice this.
If you do have the mobility, you just need to build awareness and practice moving into and out of the position. Here is a YouTube video coaching the basics on how to do this.
What not to do:
- Just pin your ribs down in the front
- Squeeze your glutes
- Try really hard, creating a lot of tension in your body
- Grip the ground with your toes
What to focus on:
- “Ribs back”
- Trying not to spill water out of the bottom bowl (aka your pelvis)
- A gentle, subtle position shift with a full exhale
- “Soft knees” (not a mini-squat, just avoid hyperextensoin)
- Feeling your body weight shift back on your feet to be evenly distributed across your heel, midfoot, and toes
- Maintaining your height
Remember that this is a skill that takes practice and a lot of reps. At first, it will feel foreign and ‘off’ and require a ton of mental effort. Progress can be measured by being able to perform said movement with slightly less mental effort. That’s a win!
And last but not least, start practicing with a mirror and without weights before implementing this into your loaded squats or deadlifts. Make it easier before you make it harder.
Hi, I'm Dr. Jen Hosler.
I’m a bookworm, science nerd, and coach of all things movement (physical therapist and strength & mobility coach). You can catch me sleeping in & having a slow morning, doing CARs & lifting heavy things, or sipping a glass of wine on my time off.
Through a blend of strength & mobility training, I’ll help you master your movement & build a more resilient body that won’t hold you back from all the activities you love doing.
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