Athletic posture includes the way you hold your body and the position of your spine, joints and head. It affects bio-mechanical and bio-motor ability and likelihood of injury. It should be seen as the foundation of all functional movements. However, it is possibly the area that gets the least attention. Building athletic performance on a poor foundation should be avoided at all costs.
In sports, the base of control comes from correct posture. From this comes the ability to run, jump or throw, or simply to perform any functional movement. If this base of control is not aligned correctly, you won't be able to perform the movement with the appropriate degree of control.
Unfortunately, because our bodies are so versatile, when something is mechanically incorrect, we adapt. If one component isn't working correctly, our body adjusts and overcomes it, albeit in a less efficient manner, using muscles incorrectly. These changes happen so gradually and so subtly that we often don't notice them.
Causes of Poor Posture
Poor athletic posture in the general population comes from sitting too much. Because of our ancestry, we are not developed for sitting. Sitting compresses the spine, the glutes and the hamstrings. And since more and more work and schooling involves sitting down—at desks, while driving, playing video games or using a computer—the problem is becoming worse. We also don't walk straight, introducing our quadriceps into the motion rather than our glutes and hip flexors.
In addition, many sports over-strengthen some muscles, particularly the quadriceps. This leads to an unbalanced ratio of quadriceps-to-hamstring strength, which in turn pulls the front of the pelvis down. The result is anterior pelvic tilt (APT), where the front of the pelvis is lower than the back. Once this occurs, the position of the spine changes, causing a curve, which then shuts down the hip flexor muscle group.
Good Posture Basics
Sports scientists, coaches and therapists talk of having a "neutral" posture. This means having a stable, neutral, balanced position. If you drop a plumb line from your ear, it should bisect each joint—the shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. These joints should be in a neutral position, which will improve spine alignment. You can see it in this picture, where the red line represents the plumb line:
The pelvis must also be held in a neutral position. This means the peak of the pelvis from the front to the back on either side should be at the same height, as shown by the green arrows in this image below:
Benefits of Good Athletic Posture
The first and most important impact of correct posture is to reduce the likelihood of injury. For example, APT creates tightness in the hamstring by lengthening it, which can lead to hamstring strains and tears. Often, someone with a tight hamstring will stretch the muscle with the aim of loosening it, but if this is caused by APT, it will have almost no impact, and injury will result.
Second, good posture activates the deeper muscle groups and the deep core muscles, which increases the stability of the body and ensures that for each movement, power and speed are not lost in a weak core. Again, merely strengthening the core does little to improve performance if the wrong muscles are doing the work.
The results are less injury and greater speed, power and control. Who wouldn't want that?
How to Get Good Posture
To achieve good posture, you must make proper positioning a priority in all of your movements. This is not a pre-season requirement or a minor extension to your training. It is fundamental. The way to achieve it would be a continuing and regular Pilates or yoga-based program two to three times per week. This type of exercise can complement your functional training; it doesn't need to replace it.
There are also specific exercises for improving pelvic alignment by increasing hamstring strength. See my article on Plyometrics for Runners, on exercises that strengthen the posterior chain, particularly the Glute Ham Raise.
Working on flexibility in general is very important, but increasing the flexibility of the hip flexors and quadriceps as well as the muscles in the lower back will greatly reduce the likelihood of hamstring strains from APT.
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