Postural integrity simply refers to the ability to maintain proper posture through a multiple motions and through the entire range of that motion. It also implies maintaining this muscular stability for a given time. Although there is no magic number as far as time goes, ideally one can maintain postural integrity for the duration of an athletic contest. The reasons for this are numerous, but it is fair to say that once we have lost correct posture our movement becomes flawed, we are more susceptible to injury and far less strong or powerful. You can simply watch the end of any sporting event and look at those athletes who are still able to maintain a perfect “athletic position”. The athletic position is simply a perfect defensive stance in basketball, football, baseball, softball and most sports. The knees are bent, hips flexed, back is flat and tight, the chest is over the feet, head is up and shoulders are back. Those who can do this will still be moving as well as they can, or very close to it. Those who cannot will be noticeably slower and not move as quickly of efficiently. Although leg strength and conditioning will play a role in this as well, it is ultimately an athletes postural integrity that will give way before the other two.
We will look at some specific components of perfect posture in future articles, but at its most basic it requires proper spinal alignment, neutral pelvic tilt, a tall stance with the head up straight and the shoulders in a neutral position or pulled slightly back. Think back to when you were a kid and if you ever had a teacher, parent or coach tell you to “stand up straight” they were saying stand with perfect posture. Suck in your gut, stick out your chest and stand as tall as possible. If you have you athletes do these things they are likely practicing good posture. In my opinion posture should be worked on constantly because it can. Every drill, movement or exercise you do with your athletes that is in a standing position is an opportunity to develop perfect posture. Something as mundane as a knee hug is a great example of a warm up exercise that can be used to develop perfect posture and even work on single leg balance. Be sure to remain tall the ENTIRE duration of the drill and “Own” the movement, do not lean into your knee, and rather pull your knee to you while not leaning at all. There are countless examples of movements like this that are not designed to develop posture but are a great occasion to do so.
More challenging exercises that develop postural integrity could be pushups, pull ups, rows, lunges, RDLs, squats and various farmer carries. When performing any type of push up it critical to keep your entire body rigid and not break at the hips, round at the shoulders or “sag” at the lower back. The same is true for rowing motions, however, these movements specifically strengthen the musculature that allows us to retract our shoulder blades and keep our shoulders back. Unfortunately, I see far too many people perform these movements incorrectly, often because the weight is too heavy. One way of preventing this is to initiate all pulling movements by first squeezing the scaps together and then completing the pull or row.
Lower body movements such as the front or goblet squat are excellent at emphasizing core stability and spinal alignment while under resistance. I have all of my young athletes begin with goblet squats using a 4:1:1 tempo (4 second negative, 1 second pause and 1 second concentric) for the simple reason that it forces them to “feel” the full range of motion, and to focus on maintaining postural integrity. If they do not the DB or KB will likely fall forward and/or they will begin to lean forward to the point where the set should be terminated. The same holds true for all forms of lunges but perhaps the best lower body movement for strengthening the musculature of the posture is the RDL. Holding a load in front of, or beside, your body, keeping the shoulder blades back, head up straight and back/core set and strong is challenging as the weight becomes greater. Adding the hip hinge and the forward movement of the chest makes maintaining this position even harder. To emphasize this position I have my athletes perform RDLs with a pair of DBs in the beginning and use a 4:1:1 tempo. As they improve I switch to a bar, which makes sustaining the perfect posture position even more challenging.
The final group of exercises I use with my athletes, and especially young ones, are farmer carries. Using DBs that they can only hold for 30-60 seconds the athletes simply holds them to their side, while maintaining the perfect posture position. The core remains set, head tall and shoulders back, and to add a level of difficulty you may have the trainee walk down a 1”x 6” plank (mine is 10 feet long), which adds a balance component. Other variations can include performing single arm racked kettlebell walks with the weight held upside down, climbing up and over objects during the carry, holding one DB directly overhead and alternating arms after a given time, carrying a sand bag or ANY object you can think of that will make it difficult to keep their postural integrity.
From an athletic standpoint posture is critical for two reasons, good posture is the cornerstone of great acceleration mechanics, and the ability to accelerate and decelerate (Stop) as quickly and as efficiently as possible is what separates good athletes from great ones. It is also one of the most effective ways to prevent non-contact injury, including ACL tears.
With how much time today’s youth spend sitting in class, the car, on the bus, in front of the T.V. and playing video games, it is no wonder that they develop bad habits such as slouching and muscular imbalances like a protracted shoulder girdle (rounded shoulder). The good news is that it is also a very correctable deficiency. We have covered several ways to accomplish this, but the most practical way to improve posture is to practice good posture.
RDLs are a great way to develop postural integrity.
Notice the straight line from their shoulders down their back leg. Without the ability to maintain this position these men could not transfer the force they produce into world-class speed. Posture is absolutely essential in order to maximize speed!
Contact JC Moreau at TheStrengthU.com with questions or for more information.