Posture. A bad word in the 2020s. Often a term overused by our athletes to give reason for their pain – “well I know my posture sucks” (as they say this I only curl into a deeper position of flexion or asymmetry). Irrationally measured by how high you can lift your sternum and tip fo the nose, and if you could hold a pen between your shoulder blades. As therapists and coaches we gone so far to the other spectrum – become more welcoming that there is no bad posture, and that there is no link to posture and pain – both have their truths.. though this doesn’t mean to forget our biomechanics (almost a sinful word nowadays).
Posture is dynamic and expressed as a range of positions through which the body can take shape – avoiding getting stuck in end of ranges, or positions that prohibit the integral tug-of-war between agonist and antagonist neuromuscular systems about an axis of motion. This loosely describes the classic term of centration from my friends in with the DNS team – knowing that this is an optimal neuromuscular strategy of movement and stabilization. This is also described by way of the ball on a plate metaphor
The first image shows the difference among different joints – each having different availability of range. Remember in global positions, we have a multitude of joints all looking for the ball to be relatively in the wineglass and not sitting on the edges. The second image shows the difference between physiological and anatomical barriers to movement. Loading at the anatomical barrier is where we will have more concern, and less durability.
Posture can be looked at joint-by-joint (knowing that there is regional interdependence at play), though also we can look globally (often assessed in clinic through ability to attain particular developmental positions that associate with the movement/skill we wish to explore d/t performance or pain).
Ability to attain a particular posture is affected through motor ontogeny – molded by use over your years in life (particularly your early years of movement development 0-16mo), but also by genetics (bone morphology including joint position, shape, bone length, etc). It may also be based on pathology (which you may not be able to modify in some situations (eg. tarsal coalition).
When working with my athletes, I have used ‘posture’ as a home-base to build off their future movement challenges. This posture will be distinct to them I try to have a consistent progression of skills that build off of each other. I hone in on three global positions:
1. SQUAT (w/ of variations of depth, stance width, CoM position
2. SPLIT STANCE (w/ variations of depth, split width, step width, phase of movement ie: 50/50, 60/40, etc)
3. SINGLE LEG STANCE (w/ variations of phase of movement ie: flexed/extended stance limb)
Generally – they will all have a very similar look within the same athlete – the slight changes being based on the movement of CoM d/t changes in BoS. There are a few internally driven cues that I use (already waiting to read posts from those using external cues exclusively..). Some include:
- Shin/torso angle link. Similar to the hashtag that has been used to describe optimal sprint mechanics – I am looking for some sort of link between the two.
- Stack the torso. Optimal positioning of the torso for appropriate breathing and stabilization patterns is important.
- Get off your heels! If we have been fortunate enough to work together, I’m sure you can remember me just pushing you over without warning. Physical cues work too, you know! Next time I lean in, I know you will either hit me back, or at least stand your ground in an athletic position to move from.
- Stare me down! Comes back to my olympic lifting days.. stack the neck. Again, a broad term better than ‘chin down/in’ which turns into the athlete trying to self suffocate themselves. This allows for a more ideal length-tension for peri-scapular muscles
Mastery of these 3 positions with challenges in the above that link best to the needs of the athlete will allow you to increase your dynamic demands and progressions.
Other challenges I may incorporate:
- Dissociation skills: neck, thorax, pelvis, and combinations of each; also femoral-acetabular dissociation in our split stance and single leg positions becomes available.
- Visual challenge: eyes open/closed aka mirror/no mirror aka can you do this on the field? – innately feeling and relating to this posture in different environments will help promote carryover. Do they know what >30 degrees of
- Creation of torso rigidity: when we start working into transitional movements (sagittal, coronal, and transverse planes), we will need to sort how to move our CoM. We can’t do that unless we take our torso with us. Here is where we can use different implements such as the Aquabag, ballast ball, the Powerspin gyro, medicine balls (a la Celebrini), Swiss ball vs the wall (fwd, behind, and laterally).
- Reaction: (move to catch a dropping ball, to a sound/whistle, to a visual or other tactical movement involved in the context of their sport)
- Other perturbations: challenging known deficiencies (internal or externally created)
- Load: Simple, effective, and necessary. I won’t get into this too much in this discussion, but perhaps in those upcoming (periodizing your rehab).
- Fatigue: Under-achieved in rehab generally. We want this to be a pattern they can *ahem*… suffer in. I remember working with Randy Celebrini, and him having some of his athletes be stuck in positions for what felt like hours – building that durability and resilience, rather than get tired and slowly stand up taller.
- Contraction/movement types: Tempo challenges (2:2, 3:1, 3:3, 3:3:3, etc.), catch/pulse (w/ or w/o impact – increased ECC RFD – single or continuous), jumps (SQJ or CMJ – single or continuous)
Next up: transitionary movements, decelerations, accelerations… how do they link with the foundational athletic positioning?