Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their movement patterns. They want to sprint faster, jump higher, push harder, etc. Much of their training is designed to help them get better at doing these things. But what if I told you that many athletes are carrying out basic functions—like standing and breathing—incorrectly? And that since these basic functions are flawed, the athletic movements built upon them are also flawed.
The problem is posture.
The mission of the Postural Restoration Institute is “to explore postural adaptations and asymmetries and their influence on the polyarticular chains of the body.” Founded by physical therapist Ron Hruska Jr., PRI aims to address “movement that is restricted in directions, planes or normal boundaries of functional range as a result of improper joint, muscle and mediastinum rest position.” Essentially, PRI wants to fix your posture—which has an extraordinary effect on almost every function of human movement.
STACK talked to Neil Rampe, ATC, CSCS, LMT, PRT (Postural Restoration Trained) and currently a manual therapist for the Arizona Diamondbacks, to learn how athletes can use PRI techniques to build a bedrock for elite, pain-free performance.
When he took his first PRI class in 2007, Rampe already had significant certifications in strength and conditioning, athletic training and massage therapy, in addition to a master’s degree in applied kinesiology. He quickly found the thinking behind PRI was unlike anything he had learned before. “It’s a paradigm shift and it was a bit of a different mindset than conventional education. And when you’re doing something new, you aren’t always 100 percent confident in it,” Rampe says.
But his skepticism quickly vanished when Rampe begin to see fantastic results from PRI techniques. “The results just spoke for themselves,” he says. “I used their philosophy and their methodology and I got good results pretty quickly. When you’re working in a results-driven profession, that speaks volumes.”
The PRI Philosophy
You may ask what separates PRI from other fields that focus on movement quality. The answer is a dedication to addressing the body with an appreciation for all of its systems and how they work together.
“It’s a multidisciplinary approach,” Rampe says. “You’re taking into consideration multiple systems. It’s not just about the orthopedic system or the muscular-skeletal system or the nervous system or the cardio-respiratory system. It’s about how all of these systems work in an integrated fashion.”
Although that sounds fairly broad, PRI aims to restore postural positioning to the way it’s meant to be, allowing each area of the body to serve the purpose it was meant to serve. Human beings are meant to have a certain posture, but the positions we assume on a daily basis can significantly alter this natural posture over time. That’s why PRI talks about posture restoration instead of posture correction—because PRI’s goal is to restore your posture back to its natural state.
Many common postural issues stem from a dominant overuse of one side of the body, which is caused by everything from behavior patterns to natural asymmetrical designs of major internal systems. This one issue can have significant effects on your hip alignment, your lower back to your breathing. When one postural issue arises in the body, it often sets off a chain reaction. Take for example, excessive anterior pelvic tilt.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Excessive anterior pelvic tilt, a postural issue where the pelvis is excessively rotated forward, affects many people, but most of unaware of the ripple effect it can have throughout their bodies.
“When your pelvis is excessively anteriorly rotated, your rib cage has a tendency to be anteriorly flared and your back is hyperextended,” Rampe says. “And that’s putting a ton of compressive force on your lower back and also having a detrimental effect on your ability to breathe properly.”
These ripple effects are the main reason PRI techniques rarely target a problem area directly, focusing instead on the likely origin of the problem, essentially addressing the issue at its root.
Another of PRI’s major principles is to establish the ability to have good alternating and reciprocal motion—something many humans lack due to poor posture. Reciprocal motion is a repetitive back-and-forth or up-and-down linear motion. The idea of alternating linear reciprocal motion is represented in many basic human movements, such as walking. Although you might think walking is easy, doing it with poor posture can take a toll on your body.
RELATED: 2 Ways to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt
A Different Breed
If simply walking with poor posture can cause issues, performing explosive movements—like sprinting, jumping or pressing—with poor posture can result in more frequent, more significant and more painful issues—all reasons why PRI is crucial for athletes. They perform explosive movements more frequently than the average Joe—which means the damage caused by their postural issues is typically more extensive and traumatic.
“John Doe just living life isn’t going to demand as much from his body as an athlete,” Rampe says. “Athletes are doing high-velocity, high-torque, high-strength and high-speed activities. So if your postural positioning as well as your stabilization strategy is poor, bad things will likely happen sooner and in a more significant way than they would for a non-athlete.”
Good posture allows your body to more easily discern whether you’re in “activity mode” or “rest mode”—which is especially helpful for athletes. One of the most important aspects in getting your body to switch into “rest and recover” mode is to achieve what Rampe calls “convincing exhalation,” an aspect of breathing that is only possible with correct posture. He says, “You need convincing exhalation to get air into some places you might not normally be able to get air into, as well as get air out of some areas you might not normally be able to get air out of. This allows you to get into a more rested state. The ability to adapt is a key survival component. You should be able to amp it up when you need to amp it up and wind it down when you need to wind down.”
Several players on the Diamondbacks have integrated PRI techniques and exercises into their daily routines. “Some guys do it each morning to get into a good postural position for the day ahead,” Rampe says. “And they’ll do it after a game to help facilitate their rest and recovery.”
It’s also becoming increasingly popular for athletes to implement PRI techniques as a type of “active rest” while they train in the weight room. “People are actually working PRI into their supersets or as an active recovery exercise. It’s allowing them to make sure they’re staying in a good postural position while they perform certain exercises that may otherwise encourage poor position if left unchecked,” Rampe says.
PRI Program for Beginners
The following is a list of simple PRI techniques that Rampe recommends for athletes. They work on several components of posture that many athletes struggle with, and if done correctly on a regular basis, they will help you improve your performance and avoid injuries.
90-90 Hip Lift
According to Rampe, the 90-90 Hip Lift is one of the most fundamental PRI techniques. It essentially encourages you to posteriorly rotate your pelvis, which decompresses your lumbar spine via hamstring activation and improves respiratory function. The 90-90 Hip Lift can also be performed with a balloon, encouraging you to focus on breathing in deeply through the nose and exhaling steadily through the mouth.
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Stair Short Seated Breathing
The emphasis of this technique is to restore optimal breathing patterns, allowing you to take air into areas that don’t typically receive air in a poor postural position. Like the 90-90 Hip Lift, Stair Short Seated Breathing can be performed with a balloon to add feedback and resistance to the breathing aspect of the exercise.
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Left Sidelying Knee Toward Knee
This exercise is excellent for activating the right glute and left adductor to help facilitate frontal and transverse plane shifts in the lower extremities, thereby encouraging a more neutral alignment.
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Standing Wall Supported Reach
Like other PRI techniques, the Standing Wall Supported Reach restores optimal pelvic position, improves breathing and inhibits overactive back muscles.
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RELATED: 4 Exercises to Fix Bad Posture and Help You Move Better