🤔 Why is Flexion Important & What is my Pattern?

Flexion of the upper body is what you do when you roll forward to tie your shoes or do a full roll-up or roll-over in a pilates workout. If you can do it - Congratulations. Most of us are lucky enough to do it without thinking about it. Here is how to improve HOW you do it so you get the RESULTS you want to see from your workouts.

Optimal flexion keeps balance in the muscles on the front and back of the body and preserves and builds the muscles and reflexes of internal strength. Optimal flexion is when the spine stays long and wraps around the deep core muscles. Breath is smooth through the whole motion. Research shows that after low back pain many people lose this coordination after their symptoms have gone away. The pattern that remains is over-active muscles between the outer muscles on the front and the back of the body. The body is literally fighting itself as it goes into flexion.

When this type of flexion becomes habitual there is support in the upper abdominals and lift through the center of the body. You have learned to use internal support to release the hold on the back of the body and create supported spinal flexibility. This will support maintaining the lift of the torso off of the pelvis.

What is my pattern?

Both of the following patterns are typically adopted by people who have experienced low back pain. Both of these patterns are ways that your body will try to substitute for lack of internal strength by stabilizing the body from the outside in. All dysfunctional patterns of flexion and extension in the trunk tend to reduce overall strength, balance, and of course, respiration.

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Collapse/Slump Pattern: People adopt this pattern when their outer muscles of the front of the body overwhelm the internal support muscles. This usually looks like this: Chest pulled down and shoulders and neck pulled forward. This tends to over strengthen the obliques at the expense of the deep core muscles of the transversus, and diaphragm.

Problems this causes:

  • head forward posture
  • rounded forward shoulders
  • a tendency to always have to lift the chest and shoulders out of a slump
  • shorter waist
  • stress on PF
  • chronically tight hip flexors
  • poor leg extension
  • poor respiration because the diaphragm and intercostals are weak.
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Lean or Extension Pattern: The lean or extension-based pattern happens when the back extensors, obliques, and hip flexors are stronger than the deep support muscles. Those who have adopted this pattern tend to stand with a very erect spine with the ribs up. This will oftentimes look like good posture.

Problems with this pattern:

  • lack of flexibility
  • poor respiration because the diaphragm is held tight to support the spine
  • chronic hip flexor tension
  • weak Transversus and Respiratory diaphragm

  • loss of spinal curvatures

  • Difficulty with Flexion exercise because the spine doesn’t like to flex!

Leaning and slumping patterns are often an unconscious attempt to accommodate for lack of internal strength by those who experience low back pain, sitting for long hours, or simply aging without proper support. Working out harder with these patterns will tend to worsen our body's instinctual compensations. Both habits will cause our spine to become shorter, unstable, and more rigid. This is because these patterns are substituting for a lack of internal strength by stabilizing your body using external strength. You may feel pain-free now, their effects can be more damaging than you think.


  1. Knowing your pattern is the first and biggest step!
  2. Next: pay careful attention to HOW you do all of your flexion exercises and do your best to try to move in a different way. It may sound simple but just stopping and noticing when you move in your primary pattern and making the choice to activate different muscles is how you start to change your primary pattern.
  3. Patience!
  4. You may feel weaker and less coordinated when you first start to move in a new way.
  5. Don't give up! Ask your instructor for help or get a private lesson.