The importance of maintaining good posture in relation to sporting performance
In the first of this two-part piece on the effects of posture on sporting performance, we outlined the objective description of posture and identified some of the ways in which it can impact on an an athlete’s sporting performance. The best notion to think of when it comes to sporting performance is to imagine the human body as a vehicle. Looking to optimise performance by decreasing inefficiency, wasted energy and increasing power and performance are all crucial to achieve success. The muscular-skeletal system being the method of movement for the body means that the joints and muscles throughout the body must be prioritised to reduce the negative impacts of poor posture.
Having identified these impacts, we’re going to take a look at some of the methods implemented to help reduce the impact of poor posture and show the benefit it can have on your sporting performance.
Benefits of Good Posture
The biomechanical variables of a given sporting discipline can be different to that which comprises of good posture for the general population in daily life. In spite of this, there are a number of key components that translate across all forms of sporting and normal life that constitute the generically accepted concept of ‘good posture’.
The MedlinePlus US Government advice outlines two specific forms of posture;
Dynamic – ‘how you hold yourself when you are moving, like when you are walking, running or bending over to pick something up.’
Static – ‘how you hold yourself when you are not moving, like when you are sitting, standing or sleeping.’
The same branch of advice identifies the importance of the position of your spine as a fundamental contributor to good posture. Within this, there are three natural curves of the spine; the neck, the mid-back and the lower back. These curves are perfectly natural and looking to maintain these curves, rather than increasing them is key to both a healthy lifestyle and for sporting performance. If these curves are exacerbated due to slumped shoulders, a hanging head or over rotation of the hips, it can have a serious impact on your ability to digest food or to breathe as well as causing pain, decreasing flexibility, impacting the efficiency of your joints and making you prone to further injury.
Ways of Assessing Your Posture
Asides from being mindful of your posture whilst in a static position, staying active, wearing comfortable, low-heeled shoes and making sure your work surfaces are at a comfortable height to avoid consistent strain, maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to good posture. Additional weight through the skeletal system can cause additional strain in certain areas of the body, thus reducing efficiency and impacting on sporting performance.
Naturally, additional weight in certain sports, such as Weightlifting or Rugby, are essential to aid performance and, as a result, can serve in direct contradiction to the maintenance of good posture. As the Business Insider highlighted in their analysis of the biggest players at the 2019 World Cup, Ben Tameifuna weighing in at 151kg will naturally put considerable strain on his joints, thus decreasing their efficiency but allowing him to produce considerable force in his tackles.
Keeping a keen eye on your weight can aid the efficiency of your joints in movement and looking to identify a neutral spine and avoiding your shoulders slumping forward are crucial to maintaining good posture.
SportMedBC identifies a simple wall test as a perfect start to assess the quality of your posture. With your back against a wall and heels standing 2-4inches from the wall, the hips, shoulder blades and head should all be in contact with the wall behind you. If the head needs to be tilted to allow contact, then this indicates and imbalance in the neck and upper spine. The space between the wall and your lower back should measure one or two inches and a greater gap may indicate a pelvic tilt, demonstrating a further imbalance.
How to Create Good Posture
Whilst there are a number of ideas or methods that outline the concepts of good posture as being fundamental to their inclusion into daily life, they can mainly be summarised by an increase in daily movement and rotation, allowing the spine to decompress. Within this idea, Dr Robert Martin, a gymnast, chiropractor and medic from the 1960’s, surmised that counteracting three common bodily positions throughout the day with three uncommon positions will allow the human body to minimise the impact of the former three positions on bodily posture. Whilst not a direct release for spinal curvatures and compression, it offers an increase in movement and subsequent opportunity to increase spatial awareness, a side effect of good posture.
With the majority of individuals spending a considerable amount of time sitting down, whether commuting or at work, taking frequent breaks and adjusting your body’s position is crucial. Taking brief walks, gently stretching your muscles, ensuring your feet touch the floor, supporting your back and relaxing your shoulders are all key components to maintaining good posture whilst seated. Given the delicate nature of the skeletal framework of a human body, it naturally takes a consistent conscious effort over time to have an effect on the quality of your posture, meaning that awareness and conscious thought are often the biggest contributor to good posture.
Looking to maintain structure, alignment and symmetry are crucial to reducing injury through increased loads as well as achieving a more efficient execution of certain skills, meaning a constant analysis of streamlining this process becomes an important part of all athlete’s performance regimes.
Whilst the impact on sporting performance and injury prevention can be substantial, the fundamental principles of good posture are relatively simplistic. Maintaining a neutral position of the spine and avoiding a slumping of fundamental joints are at the core to all postural problems.
From here, extrapolating these principles to sporting performance becomes more complex and the specific movements required, often under duress and increased strain, can increase the pressure the body is asked to perform under. For specificity within a sporting skill-set, sound fundamental advice from a sport-specific strength and conditioning coach or physiotherapist is crucial to building a strong base from which to fine-tune the body for performance. An incorrect base in terms of fundamental movements can create an unstable platform from which to build a performance-focused athlete body, thus increasing the risk of overloading unstable foundations and increasing injury.
It is a fine balance to maintain and one that is not easily achieved, either as a result of incorrect technique or simply from innate skeletal structure of the body but one that is crucial to benefit an athlete’s all-round performance.