When we think about getting stronger, our mind normally drifts to the capabilities of our glutes, quads, pecs, lats, etc.
One area it usually does not go? Our tongue.
Yet studies have found tongue posture can significantly impact postural stability and muscular strength.
For example, a 2015 study published in the journal Somatosensory & Motor Research found that compared to habitual jaw resting position, "tongue positioning against the upper incisors can enhance the postural stability during upright standing on an unstable surface and in the absence of vision in healthy young adults."
A 2014 study published in the journal Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons found that using an "extended up to the palatine spot" tongue position results in 30% greater knee flexion peak torque during isokinetic testing than a "thrusting on the lingual surface of incisive teeth" tongue position. In English, having your tongue on the roof of your mouth seemed to result in greater hamstring strength than having it in the middle or floor of your mouth.
Weird, right? Why is this?
It's believed to relate to the fact the tongue is part of a myofascial chain called the Deep Front Line. Myofascial chains are lines of pull throughout the body which distribute strain, transmit force and affect the structure and function of the body.
Myofascial chains help movement practitioners explore how one structure affects other, more distal (farther away) structures in the body.
The particular line or "chain" we are discussing is called the Deep Front Line. It's believed to be one of the main stabilizing chains of the body, running from your head to your feet. Any disturbance to the integrity and position of the Deep Front Line can result in compensations up or down the chain.
The proper position of your tongue at rest is on the roof of your mouth. Yet many people rest and train with their tongue at the bottom of their mouth.
There's a classic saying in strength and conditioning: The body follows the head. If the tongue is not in an optimal position, it reasons that the rest of the Deep Front Line is going to have to pick up the slack. This can result in those stabilizer muscles trying to do more than they're capable of, and overall force production from the "prime movers" suffers.
That is why proper tongue position is so critical. It provides stabilization from the top down, allowing other muscles to have less of a stabilization role and more of a force production role.
The next time you're at the gym, give it a try. Wait until you're lifting something heavy (80%+ of your one-repetition maximum), and do one set with your normal resting tongue position, and another set with your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth.
Do you feel a difference? The impact will obviously vary from person to person, but most people will notice a positive change. The takeaway is that tongue position matters more than most people think! If a tongue position is seriously inhibiting your breathing for whatever reason, stay away from it. But otherwise, don't be afraid to experiment with tongue posture and see the effect it has on your training.
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