movement is a primary element of success in athletics. Often, given the
direction of our society toward the easy life, our young athletes have not
developed the postural integrity needed for high performance. Posture is clearly
related to the efficiency of movement and performance out come. The purpose of
this article is to examine the function of postural musculature (especially the
spinal and abdominal musculature) as applied to athletics and to recognize the
implications of the same for performance and training.
The abdominal and
spinal musculature (the “pillar” of the body) performs several functions,
including protection of internal organs, movement, stabilization and elastic
energy production. For the purposes of this article, we will be connected
primarily with the functions of stabilization and elastic force generation.
When a force is
applied to any body, proper stabilization of that body is necessary to insure
that the force applied produces optimal displacement of the body and not
distortion within the body. Force applied to an unstabilized body becomes
absorbed as angular movements of individual body parts at the expense of
The push up. Without stabilization of the pillar region during the movement, the
trunk would sag to the ground as the body is lowered to the ground. The force of
gravity would cause the sagging if the abdominal musculature did not contract to
stabilize the pillar region.
Since optimizing the
displacement of the body is a primary concern in athletics, stabilization of the
body via action of the postural muscles is critical. The unique anatomical
structure of the human body implies that certain ideal postural alignments must
be maintained to optimize performance. The lack of stability in a body as a
force is applied to it often results in the force being applied eccentrically.
This produces rotation in the body rather than optimal displacement and creates
stability problems in the locomotive process.
Such an eccentric
force occurs at takeoff in the jumps when the strength of the athlete s not
sufficient to counter the forces of takeoff. An eccentric line of force results,
typical of the jumper “collapsing” at takeoff.
We know that the
muscles are able to generate more force when a contraction is preceded by a
stretch of that same muscle tissue. This elastic energy gain results from
stretching of associated contractile and connective tissues as well as the
reflexive action resulting from that stretch. The process of human locomotion is
cyclic in nature. Various oscillating movements of the pelvis occur in both
transverse and frontal planes during the cyclicaction of running. Postural
alignments and stabilization patterns that help to facilitate these oscillations
results in a tremendous elastic energy gain at no metabolic cost. We must simply
employ techniques which evoke these reflexes.
There is an optimal
rhythm that produces maximal elastic energy. The interesting side of this
elastic energy generation is that we do not have to volitionally produce it. We
must “allow” it to happen. As an example, we can look at maximal speed
running. Coaches who understand that there is a maximal controlled rhythm for
the system (an optimal “harmonic”) recognize that pushing beyond this point
will inhibit elastic energy generation and disrupt the harmonic. Thus cueing the
athlete to “relax as you fatigue”.
In human locomotion,
postural integrity issues center around alignment of the head, spine and pelvis.
Improper alignment of these creates potential for ineffective force application
and potential for injury.
The head should be
kept in its natural alignment with the spine. Misalignment of the head creates
compensatory muscle action to counter misalignment. Such compensatory movements
occur at great cost. Recruitment patterns are altered and vestibular function
(balance) can be disrupted.
The long jumper who looks down at takeoff creates potential for increased
forward pelvic tilt, and the resulting negative effect on force application on
A slight upward tilt
of the pelvis is conducive to maximizing force application and elastic force
generalization. A neutral position would result in a slight compromise in force
application, while a forward tilt of the pelvic girdle would result in both
impaired range of motion of the hip and greatly sacrificed elastic force
We all have seen the
sprinter who exhibits little knee lift yet shows a great deal of “backside”
action in the sprint stride. Often showing a great deal of forward lean and high
tension levels, this athlete appears ready to fall on every stride. More often
than not, the culprit is a marked forward pelvic tilt (which results in the
inhibition of the elastic cycle and thus increases metabolic expense).
The impairment of
free movement of the legs associated with a downward rotated pelvis results in
inefficient extension patters. Also, the body wrestles with forward rotation and
stability problems that increase opportunities for co-contractors in related
musculature. These co-contractions are then potentially manifested in the form
of injuries to the hamstring, groin and quadriceps. Also note that since the
spine, head and pelvis are tied together via musculature, ineffective alignment
of one will have a bearing on the others.
Elastic Energy Conservation
misalignments generally result in sacrificed during the locomotion process. When
these situations occur, musculature that normally contributes to elastic energy
gain is recruited instead to perform a dual function. When they are used to
stabilize due to faulty alignment, elastic function is compromised. This
decrease in elastic energy generation results in increased metabolic cost
(promoting fatigue) diminished force application and increased injury potential.
The training of the
pillar region of the body is a must to achieve optimal performance. The
stabilization role of this area is fundamental to providing prime movers a
stable point from which to pull.
Often, the posture
of an athlete is a function of his/her lifestyle. The athlete needs to make a
conscious effort to change lifestyle patterns that promote poor posture and
alignment. Overstuffed non-supportive chairs, high heals and other societal
baggage can be overcome with patience and awareness. The goal of a postural
development program is to begin with a plan to establish proper stabilization
patterns and through repetition, progress to non-volitional application of the
Rule in Doing Postural Work
Regardless of the
movement or exercise used, the athlete must first stabilize the hip girdle
before moving. Contraction of the abdominal group locks the pelvic girdle in
place (recall that the pelvic girdle is normally a very movable joint). When
stabilized, the hip provides a solid area from which the leg extensors and
flexors can pull. If the athlete does not first stabilize the pelvic girdle
before firing the hip flexors, the hip flexors will pull the pelvis forward,
limiting range of motion and causing incorrect recruitment patterns.
It is better to do
less volume in pillar work and do it right than to do high volume that is a
result of improper technique. Many athletes can do hundreds of “crunches”
but do them improperly – firing the hip flexors before stabilizing. This
simply reinforces poor pelvic tilt tendencies.
pelvic region is the root of movement in track and field. Since the prime movers
of the legs connect to the pelvic girdle, range of motion and elastic energy
generation around this joint are the foundation of optimal performance. Often,
athletes train the legs and upper body at very high levels, but then tie them
together with a weak pillar region. Stabilization of the pillar region during
movement requires that the pillar region be trained at an equally high level.
Understanding the nature of postural integrity gives the coach the information
needed to develop exercises to train stabilization potential of the pelvic
girdle and efficient posture.