"Stand-up straight and stop slouching"! As many already know, teachers, coaches, and parents often say this scolding phrase. In fact it is so common that it often goes unheard. Could this bit of advice actually have some value or is this just a way to give kids a hard time?
Obviously, this phrase is said to more than just people who play sports and is actually important advice for everyone. However, for athletes, being yelled at to "stand-up straight" and "keep good posture" may be the best advice that they will ever hear in their entire athletic career!
When one is slouching or not "standing-up straight" they are in a bad posture position. This most likely means that their shoulders are rounded forward (causing their chest and upper neck muscles to shorten and become tight, and the muscles on the back of their shoulders and between their shoulder blades to become lengthened and inhibited from firing). Depending on the exact "slouching" position, this probably also means that their powerful glute (butt) muscles and core stabilizing muscles become less active and their hip flexors (muscles at the top-front of the thighs) become tight, potentially leading to back pain.
Essentially having good posture means having good muscle balance. Muscle balance is the term used to describe the state when muscles (on all sides of any particular joint) are at their appropriate length and tension. When a muscle is tight and shortened, it causes other muscles on the other side of the joint to shut-off, lengthen, and become weak. This leads to undue stress and often times leads to injuries and poor performance. Having good muscle balance is exactly what every athlete should strive for if they want to prevent injuries and be as strong and powerful as they can.
Therefore, the take-home message is that bad posture can lead to muscle imbalances, weaknesses, and injuries in the shoulders, hips, and core/back regions of the body. Actually, bad posture can lead to many more issues than these, but for the sake of simplicity I am limiting what I speak of in this article.
At this point, it is probably clear how muscle imbalance can lead to injuries, but you still may be wondering how it can hurt your speed? As stated earlier, bad posture usually leads to rounded shoulders. Proper running form involves pumping the arms in a front-to-back manner and minimizing the arms crossing the midline of the body. This is very tough to do when the chest muscles are tight. As a side note, if your main goal is speed enhancement, and you have rounded shoulders, you may also want to limit the use of bench pressing exercises and push-ups. These exercises may further tighten the chest muscles and round the shoulders making it more difficult to sprint with proper arm action.
Bad posture also leads to weak core stabilizers. A strong core is essential for speed because it absorbs force and aids in energy transfer from the arms to the legs. When the core is weak it will "leak" energy as it transfers from the upper to the lower body, causing a less powerful and explosive run.
Finally, bad posture can also lead to tight hip flexors, which in turn, limit the strength and power of your glute and hip extensor muscles. Obviously, this will compromise your overall hip flexibility and most likely will mean a shorter stride length when running. Perhaps the worst consequence of bad posture is that it leads to the glute and hip extensor muscles from achieving their full strength and power potential. These sets of muscles are the most important when it comes to generating power for speed.
Therefore, I will say it one more time, "stand-up straight and stop slouching"!
Thurman Hendrix is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and specializes in training athletes. As a former pro baseball player he will help you increase speed in a very short amount of time. To learn how to improve your 60 yard dash and baseball specific speed, visit: http://www.60yarddash.com.
© 2010 Thurman Hendrix
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