Types of Posture: Sway Back

By Stephanie Muir

sway backThis is the final article for our series on the various posture types. So far, we have looked at kyphosis lordosis, flat back and finally today will be looking at the posture type, sway back. We will be looking at the specific features of the sway back and how Pilates can be an effective way to minimize common postural niggles associated with the stance.



Sway back posture

Looking at a person from the side with a sway back they look as if their hips are leading the way. Let’s paint a picture from head to toe of the side profile. Head forward, chest and shoulders appear to be leaning back, lower stomach and pelvis hinging forward with the knees locked and legs behind the hips. What is the most evident in the sway back is the hinge forward at the hips. As you can imagine this puts a lot of strain and weight on the lower back and the joints supporting this area.

What does this mean for the muscles? Again, from head to toe, the deep neck flexors are weak and the neck extensors are tight, chest muscles are tight, mid-back muscles are weak, abdominals are weak and lower back muscles are tight, hip flexors are weak and the hamstrings are tight. This is of course a general overview of the posture and some individuals with this posture type may differ. Your pelvis in a sway back posture tends to be posteriorly tilted which means the pubic bone is pointing upward if you were to lay down on the floor.

sway back

Common Complaints

Discomfort in your head, neck and shoulders due to incorrect shoulder girdle alignment. Headaches as a result of tension in the upper body are common, plus rotator cuff issues thanks to the tight chest and shoulders. Misalignment of this area can further create issues in the elbows and wrists. Neural symptoms such as tingling and numbness in the arms can result. Exercises and activities that engage the upper body may be challenging. The imbalance at the hips affects everything from the lower back to below the pelvis. As is common today complaints of lower back pain and stiffness are noted. Fatigue in the body is also associated with being out of alignment. Not specifically to sway back, but to all muscular-skeletal imbalances.

sway back

How Pilates can Help

Strengthening your core will always be integral to correcting any imbalance. Generally, when one’s alignment is out it is a given the powerhouse is not being utilized as it should and there are incorrect movement patterns. Assessing powerhouse strength and correcting movement patterns is the first step. Basic exercises from a safe and effective position for a person with a sway back posture will be prioritized. Use a pillow if necessary for the head to bring the head, neck and shoulders into alignment and emphasize the weight of the tailbone in a supine (on the back) position to bring the pelvis into a neutral. From a neutral pelvis position and the relevant support pre-Pilates exercises such as single leg slides and knee drops can be taught to grasp activating the transverse abdominis. Once there is an understanding of movement from the center, exercises involving more planes of movement can be added.

Exercises for Sway Back

Starting from head to toe. The Pilates magic circle is a great prop that can be used to create resistance necessary to elongate and engage muscle groups. In this case it’s a great tool to lengthen the neck extensors and to strengthen the neck flexors. To open up the chest and shoulders arm circles, chest expansion, spine twist and pulling straps are just a select few of the exercises in the repertoire. To strengthen the mid-back, we have again pulling straps, chest expansion, swan and four-point kneeling exercises. In order to strengthen the abdominals and hip flexors the good old hundred, Pilates teaser and five abdominal series will build strength and endurance. Strengthening the abdominal muscles will in turn open up the lower back. To further assist stretching the lower back exercises with a focus on articulating the spine such as roll-ups, pelvic curls and semi-circle on the reformer. Strengthening the glutes (bottom muscles) and hips from a neutral pelvis position.


Pilates Anytime Teacher Kristy Cooper Demonstrating Pull Straps 2

To conclude, we all have different postures that develop over the years thanks to how our genetics respond to daily habits. A posture type is merely a guide and not necessarily exact. What is important, is to know your body and what it needs movement wise. The ideal alignment is what we strive for because it allows for efficient movement. What that means is we get to move with minimal discomfort and fatigue on the body. Pilates instructors are trained to identify imbalances and use the ingenious exercises of the method to help restore balance and in turn restore health.


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