Track Coach

TC232 Editorial Column

From the Editor – RUSS EBBETS


There are two ways one can analyze the structure of the body—via gait or posture. Gait is a dynamic analysis that deals with the symmetry and efficiency of movement. Posture is a static quality that looks for non-moving symmetry and evenness comparing the right and left sides of the body. If one were to combine the two the concern becomes dynamic stability, a combination of postures and gaits, movements with balance.

While there are bodywork specialists who prize one quality over the other the reality for most specialists is the recognition that both posture and gait are really two sides of the same coin. To deal with one to the exclusion of the other is to get half the story or solve half the problem.

But why is posture so important? It seems like such a simple thing. It is a simple thing if one’s understanding never gets past your mother’s admonition to “stand up straight!” While she was right, simply trying to follow that cue is about as effective as the voice from the crowd yelling, “Run faster!” as the sprinters whiz by. It’s not that simple.

We assume upright postures that are comfortable for us. For the rapidly growing adolescent that may be a “slouch.” While the kid may know he is exhibiting a poor posture, standing upright (shoulders back, stomach in!) may be an uncomfortable and exhausting struggle. With adolescent growth the long bones grow faster than the muscles stretch. The resulting short, tight musculature may contort the body into undesirable body postures that not only affect how one stands but also impact respiration, digestion, circulation, recovery and gait.

While growth spurts can take some of the blame for poor postures, biologic growth is not the only culprit. Gravity is a perpetual force that is either managed or mismanaged. Twenty-four hours a day for a lifetime gravity represents a relentless drag that exacerbates the slightest imbalance or asymmetry.

Maturity and adulthood seldom solve the problem. Adaptive postures from prolonged sitting can shorten the psoas and hamstrings with this “adaptive shortening” rarely counteracted to any degree. Sleeping, ironically, can present with its own set of problems with beds that are too soft and pillows that are too large. While one’s rest should be rest poor postures that are held 6-8 hours a day become another area difficult to counteract.

Work and athletic activities create their own set of challenges. Hand or leg dominance may be essential to complete a task and many of sport’s technique events prize asymmetric movements, like repeatedly throwing with one hand or jumping from one leg. There is a price to be paid for these uneven movements in terms of focal stresses and maldevelopment. Unfortunately, sensible solutions or suggestions may be impracticable—just try writing your name with your non-dominant hand. Finite or refined skills endlessly performed become habitual postural or movement patterns that are virtually impossible to correct.

White collar work, obesity and phone use all can have insidious and profound effects on posture. Remember that the 20-somethings have grown up knowing only the cell phone and texting. They have double-thumbed their way to adulthood with a posture that will be an orthopedic nightmare in the coming 2030’s and 2040’s.

So much for the “good news.” Fortunately, there are some preventive measures that can counteract the physical and psychological causes of postural problems that can be an “easy sell” to a motivated group, like athletes. A conscious effort to attain and maintain good postures may be an “easy sell” by a coach or parent if the athlete can be made to see that such simple biomechanical principles as balance, force production and ground contact times can be enhanced with proper postures. Coordination and the effectiveness of the body’s stretch reflexes and how they contribute to the summation of forces can become the goal for technique athletes looking for that extra inch or centimeter.

Even the aging athlete can benefit from some conscious postural attention as improved body symmetry can contribute to injury prevention and career longevity with added years to one’s life and added life to one’s years.

So while one’s goals might not include a postural “A” grade at West Point rounded shoulders, forward head carriage or a forward body lean all represent stances that create a silent assault to the body that dilutes abilities, compromises efforts and hinders careers.