UNDERSTANDING THE INFLUENCE OF POSTURE ON BREATH AND ENDURANCE PART 2
As we look at how to improve athletic endurance, we explored in Part One the connection between good posture and breath and some consequences that occur when this relationship is disrupted.
Here, we offer a step-by-step plan designed to break the cycle of bad position, muscle imbalances, and energy leaks that can overtax your system and rob you of speed, power, and endurance.
Step One: Understand Good Position
Most trainers and physical therapists agree that maintaining good alignment and training trunk stability are critically important concepts for healthy movement. But while they offer cues intended to improve posture, they too often fail to provide a quantifiable standard against which to measure bad position.
Here’s a sequence we use to teach what proper spinal stability and organization look and feel like. Think of this as your “home base” or “safe” position whenever you’re tired, stressed, or on the edge of defaulting to bad patterns.
Faulty, over-extended starting position. The rib cage is tilted too far up and forward. The hips are tipped down and forward.
With one hand positioned at the front of your pelvis, palm up, squeeze your butt together until your feel your pelvis tip back and under. Your open hand should roll back toward your belly button.
Cement this position by tightening your abdominals. Don’t draw in or stick your belly out. Simply maintain the rigidity of the position and keep yourself from falling back into extension during inhalation.
By practicing the “ribs down” position, both in your daily life and in your training, you restore the natural dome shape of the diaphragm inside the ribs and improve the primary link in the flow of power between your upper and lower body.
Step Two: Restore Hip Position
We know that endurance sports can put tens of thousands of extra movement cycles on the hip flexors and quadriceps, making them easy targets for adaptive shortening and stiffening.
When this happens, the spine and pelvis are pulled forward and drawn down, reinforcing the over-extended posture and decreasing the ability of the glutes and hamstrings to keep the pelvis aligned under the rib cage.
Below is a one-two punch for resetting the hips: first, by inhibiting the quadriceps, then by strengthening the hamstrings.
The Couch Stretch (a.k.a. the “super quad” stretch) is one of the best inhibition activities we have to tone down brutally tight quadriceps, while reinforcing the “ribs-down-pelvis-tucked” position.
Hold for 2-3 sets of 60-90 seconds per side focusing on maintaining position and deep exhalations.
Once the front of the hip is loosened, immediately follow it with a hamstring exercise. The hamstrings directly oppose the quadriceps and serve as a muscular counterbalance to their influence on the pelvis—bringing it down in the back and up in the front.
In the exercise above, the hook-lying position is used to facilitate a sustained hamstring contraction and encourage posterior pelvic tilt—think rolling your hips back, flattening your back into the floor.
Hold for 2-3 sets of 6-8 deep breaths while actively pelvic tilting and reaching with your upper body.
Step Three: Restore Rib Cage Position
When you’re in an overextended position getting back to “neutral” involves introducing flexion—rounding your mid-lower back forward.
While flexion is often demonized—especially in the sedentary, deskbound population—it is exactly what most of the athletes we see need most.
Flexion-biased position reverses the extended posture—bringing the anterior ribs down and the pelvis up to meet in the front. This aligns the external obliques and hamstrings for optimal function, restores the diaphragm’s position, and inhibits the back extensor chain.
It also allows the posterior ribs to externally rotate, providing a clear path for air to flow into a part of the body called the posterior mediastimum—which serves as a sort of superhighway for the nerve fibers of the sympathetic nervous system as they project down from the head.
If you recall from the previous post, the sympathetic nervous system regulates the fight-or-flight response. When this area is compressed and lacks normal mobility it increases tension on the nerve fibers, and stimulates sympathetic tone.
The videos below feature exercises from the Postural Restoration Institute. Both drills integrate flexed postures with a deep breathing strategy that maximizes deep exhalation, facilitating optimal recruitment of the deep abdominals and hamstrings.
Perform 3-4 sets of each exercise for 5-6 breaths. Make sure to fully exhale during each breath, pausing for 2-3 seconds once all the air is out. Also, try to keep the fully flexed position during inhalation. This should feel challenging, but you are looking to feel the sensation of your back filling the space between your shoulder blades.
Speed and endurance drive performance, but both can be brought to an abrupt halt by dysfunctional movement patterns and poor position. Good position is the foundation for keeping various components of the movement system—biomechanical, biochemical, and respiratory—functioning optimally.
Recognizing good position is the first step. Then, you can understand when you’ve lost it and deploy the tools we’ve highlighted to build and reinforce new patterns. Over time these new patterns and positions will become ingrained your movement, allowing you to seal-off energy leaks and inefficiencies and restore ideal function.