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Posture, Shape and Performance

  • Posted: 14.04.2013
  • Author: Dave Rowland
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Posture, ‘Shape’ and Performance

Ultimately what drives us all as coaches is to see athletes improve their performance and reach their potential.  The purity of force expression that is athletics, whether running, jumping or throwing, ensures there is no place to hide for the athlete or coach.  The outcome is measurable; the dynamic arrangement of the body expressed in a personal best performance is breathtaking.

Posture is the foundation for efficient and effective movement.  It is not rigid. It is a dynamic state in which the body supports itself against the pull of gravity.  The increased loads employed in training or practice make meeting the challenge of maintaining the dynamic quality of athletic postural control more difficult and yet even more important.  Human postural management uses sensory information to drive muscular contractions that position the body relative to its surroundings,  e.g. the line of gravity relative to the base of support. It also aligns the segments of the body within and between limbs and allows us to move our bodies efficiently.

The outcome of this organisation is the ‘shape’ of an athlete or the representation of posture in the dynamic environment. It is what we see and seek to influence when coaching.  It is the overall image of the athlete the coach sees before, during and after movement. ‘Good’ shape is produced when the athlete holds the correct limb position, order of movement and alignment for the activity in all planes. It is mechanically better for force production, optimising the load placed through muscles and tendons and centring the athletes’ mass over their base of support. 

The ‘technical model’ so widely discussed in all events, is practically a series of postures selected sequentially to optimally align the links in the kinetic chain to produce the coordinated, efficient, fluid movements demanded by high level performance. Developing an awareness of ‘shape’ with the athlete requires critical observation, an understanding of posture and control during movement, and meticulous coaching over time. Whilst ‘good shape’ offers the optimal organisation of the athletes’ limbs it is often seen only in the context of the technical model and event specific training. However the movement patterns employed and developed through physical preparation e.g. squatting or throwing must be approached with the same attention to detail.  

The development and reinforcement of correct shape in athletes provide the ‘codes’ necessary tosafely access the higher volumes and intensities needed for performance improvement in the developing athlete.  Coach and athlete must together construct both the ability to maintain shapes under load and the capacity to do so on a repeated basis.  For the endurance runner this will mean retaining shape whilst applying low level force thousands of times each week; for the shot putter this means holding shape whilst exerting much higher forces less frequently.

The kinetic chain is only as effective as its weakest link.  Such weak links are not just muscle weakness and it is possible for athletes to perform relatively well, in the short term, with poor posture as the body is very effective at working around weaknesses with compensating movement patterns. Deviations from shape adversely affect force production, create inappropriate loading of tissues and lead ultimately to athlete breakdown, inconsistency, fatigue or injury.

Copying training programmes used by successful athletes with better shapes and performances is common and yet these programmes reflect another athlete’s ability and capacity to sustain shape.  They are unconnected to our athlete’s own shape or postural control ability and present a higher risk of breakdown.  Such demand for immediacy is a common theme amongst emerging athletes and coaches  alike and the ‘mirage’ of short term  improvements hides the true image of an out of ‘shape’ athlete whose time in the sport may be short as a result.   

At the heart of posture, shape and performance lies the ‘trunk’ through which all forces generated from contact with the ground must flow and be managed.  The term trunk offers a clearer description than the ‘core’ as it includes both the muscles of the front and back of the body along with pelvis and spine and their relationship with the limbs. 

Muscles of the body do not work in isolation but act as an extraordinary integrated system making training movements the best intervention for improvement.  We move by contractions of muscles connected to bones moving levers to produce force. For these contractions to take place effectively one end of the muscle must be fixed or stable; and the control of each link in the chain is thus dependent upon its neighbour’s stability.. In a dynamic environment this fixed point may move relative to other limbs through the changing sequence of postures necessary for excellent athletic performance.  The important concept here is the building of a stable base from which control can be directed and force generated

Force production begins at the centre of the body and moves out through the kinetic chain (proximal to distal). Excellent control first, and then strength development in the trunk via conditioning is literally central to postural control, shape maintenance and thus performance improvement.

 All athletic movement affects the trunk; waste not a moment of the warm up or the session to reinforce the best posture and the resulting shapes on which to build performance. ‘Out of shape’ may have more meaning than the person in the street thinks and should perhaps encourage us to focus on shape before kilos in the gym, depth jumps on the track and miles on the road.

Dave Rowland

National Coach Mentor - Physical Preparation

drowland@englandathletics.org

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