Functional Movement: Bend

Bending is a required movement pattern that is part of our daily lives.

While some of us may not need to bend as much than others, I can think of a group that bends quite a bit – Parents. Picking up kids, toys, groceries, several baskets of laundry, car seats, etc…

When do the mechanics of this movement need to be given more attention? A couple specific examples come to mind – when your center of gravity is off balance due to a pregnancy or if you have recently given birth and you have a weak abdomen due to a shift in organs, joints, and connective tissues.

Proper bending is one of the first things I work on with both prenatal and postpartum clients.

If you are unable to bend using the correct prime mover muscles, there is a greater chance for injury which will only escalate over time.

What is a bend?

A bend occurs when we hinge at the hip and our chest moves forward and down. The muscles involved are our glutes, hip-flexors, and hamstrings. A key focus when bending should be utilization of the deep abdominals (inner-core: diaphragm, TVA, Multifidus, & Pelvic Floor) to help keep the spine and heal pelvis in a safe, neutral and stabilized position. If you round your back while bending, you’ll add pressure to your vertebrae that can result in an injury – such as a herniated disk – and low back pain.

Bend with your booty, mama!

The prime muscles involved in bending are the Gluteus Maximus. In addition to our glutes, we must activate our inner-core unit (deep abdominals) as we move into the frontal plane. This will help to keep our head, spine, hips, and pelvis in a neutral position and reduce the chance for injury.

If you have a weak inner-core (and lack of diaphragmatic expansion and TVA, Pelvic Floor, and Multifidus recruitment) you’ll be unable to stack your spine – which will snowball – causing the back to round down, shoulders to pull forward, and pelvis to tilt anteriorly and, overtime, cause your glutes to become under-active. When this happens, other muscles will come into action to try and stabilize your spine and pelvis, including your back extensors and hamstrings. The above chain reaction is one of the reasons why some parents and grandparents who find themselves picking up kids a lot will pretty quickly notice they have a sore back – especially as the kids start to become heavier!

First: Get the Bend Pattern RIGHT:

Static, Non-Weighted Bend

Start in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands by your side. Hinge forward so that your hands rest just above your knees. Maintain a neutral head and spine. Engage your glutes and hold for 30-60 seconds so long as you can maintain good form – keeping the activation out of your lower back.

If you feel your lower back turn on before 30-60 is up, there is likely an imbalance happening somewhere – keeping you from recruiting your glutes. I often find that clients are sticking their tailbone in the air, which puts the pelvis in a compromising position which restricts glute and core activation.

If your low back turns on when holding a (unweighted) bend for 30-seconds, contact me for some further corrective exercise investigation!

Add Weight

If you can access your glutes with a static, unweighted bend, progress the movement by adding weight and reps. Hold dumbbells by your side or a barbell close to your thighs (with hands shoulder-width apart). Be sure to engage your shoulder blades back so that your shoulders don’t round forward.

Asymmetric Loading

Try a single-leg deadlift to recruit more inner-core stability. Ensure your hips and pelvis stay level as you hinge forward.

Kneeling Bend

If you can keep your glutes engaged for more than three minutes in the above exercises, progress to the kneeling bend next time you train in a deadlift. A shortened lever makes these more challenging, so I often make sure clients can perform an optimal standing bend before adding a kneeling bend.

Side note: We don’t always have the option to perfect our bend pattern and get our glutes to turn on before we have to perform a kneeling bend. The reality is, our kids need us to care for them – and that care requires bending, whether kneeling or standing. Some clients come to me with a weak core and injured low back. We work to get the mechanics right and they still have to go home and care for their children! The key is always to get the inner-core working and then we add movement. Until then, contact me for the best tips and tricks to bathe/care for your newborn/kids – if you have low-back pain – that you can do while you work to get your low back turned off in a bend position.

Find and strengthen the glutes with Glute Bridges

One way to begin activating and training your glutei muscles – and keeping your low back safe in a bend pattern – is with hip extensions (glute bridges).

Start by lying on your back with your feet close to your butt. Take a deep diaphragmatic inhale as you lift your hips up so that your shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line.

Exhale (and find inner-core engagement) as you slowly lower your pelvis back down to the floor.

Repeat for 15-20 reps, 2-3 sets.

Glute Bridge Progressions

Asymmetric Loading

Progress this by subtly lifting one heel off the floor, to encourage asymmetric glute engagement. The more you raise your heel, the more challenging the movement becomes. Perform an even number of reps on each side.

Add Leverage

Extend your arms so they are over your chest. Gently squeeze your palms together to activate your chest and shoulders. This will provide leverage to your upper body which will challenge the core even more.

Add Weight

Hold a dumbbell, bar bell, weight plate, or sand bag on your hips. This will increase the challenge to your glutes and will help you build more strength within these muscles. You can also try holding a weight in your hands and add leverage by extending it over your chest for even more inner-core effort.

Workout with your little ones!

If your child is able to hold his or her own head up, try these glute bridges with them sitting on your hips or lying on your stomach. They’ll enjoy the ride as you build strength and stability!


Contact me for a full movement assessment to troubleshoot your bend movement.

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