|Power Posture was Reviewed and Recommended in the May,1999 Issue of Runner's World Magazine in the Health and Fitness Section on page 30|
To be the best runner you can be, you need to have "power posture". And most runners would like to be the best runner possible, within the personal constraints of lifestyle, family, profession, age, gender, and training time available.
The very best runners in the world, of all ages, have "power posture" - their posture is good all the time, whether they are standing or running. From sprinters like Michael Johnson to distance runners like Haile Gebrselassie and Tegla Loroupe, from top masters like Andrey Kuznetsov and Tatyana Pozdnyakova to past stars like Frank Shorter and Waldemar Cierpinski (no matter what his drug status was), all have great posture.
These runners match the standard description of proper posture - earlobe aligned over the shoulders and hip joint, shoulders held back and down (so the upper back is relatively flat), chest curving out, and collar bones level or sloping only slightly upwards. The result is that their chin is 2 or more inches above the outer tips of the collar bones. When running, this basic head up, shoulders back posture is maintained, while the shoulders may be a little elevated to facilitate deeper breathing.
Some world class (but not world record-holding) runners deviate slightly from this standard, generally with their shoulders hunched or a bit rolled forward (for a somewhat flat-chested appearance), and/or their head jutting forward somewhat. This does not show that "proper posture" is not critical for top performance. Rather, it shows how much talent these runners have to be able to run so well with inefficient biomechanics - they could be even better with proper posture!
The postural perfection of top runners is also found in virtually all world-class athletes in sports where high level physical work output is necessary, from ultraendurance athletes to the explosiveness of power lifters. The reason is that the muscle flexibilities, ranges of motion, and strengths which produce "power posture" result in maximum speed, strength, and endurance in most physical activities.
However, most people (including runners) are not able to hold optimal posture at all times, which means that their muscle strength balances and flexibilities are not correct for optimal physical performance. Instead of efficient posture, they normally stand and walk with their head thrust forward ("forward head posture"), which is usually accompanied by forward hunching and shrugging of the shoulders and a rounded upper back.
Why do most people develop this posture, when (in the absence of degenerative spinal diseases), there is no evidence that posture has to get worse with age?
A "normal, modern" life history of sedentary, hunched forward activities which gradually alter their muscles' flexibilities and ranges of motion. This generally sedentary, hunched over profile fits most runners, who are students or have white-collar jobs and work seated at a desk, or are doctors, surgeons, dentists, or nurses who are bent over patients a great deal of the time.
No lifelong, regular exercises specifically done to prevent postural degeneration.
Overemphasis on resistance movements like pushups, situps, and bench press which overdevelop anterior shoulder, chest, and abdominal muscles and thereby pull the head and shoulders forward and pull the ribcage downward.
Over time, forward head, round-shouldered posture produces the following changes which decrease running ability:
- Neck ranges of motion, both left and right and upwards, decrease (of safety concern in all activities where head movement for all-around vigilance is necessary).
Chest and front of shoulder muscles shorten and tighten, which:
- Decreases endurance by increasing breathing work
- Pushes the ribcage down, which makes the stomach protrude and weakens it
- Upper back and back of shoulder muscles lengthen and loosen, which:
- Weakens them
- Makes them fatigue more easily
Neck, back, and shoulder muscle loading increases, which:
- Makes those muscles work harder and fatigue quicker
- Diverts oxygen from the working legs or arms, decreasing performance
- Makes upper back muscles and spine more injury prone
- Increases risk for temporomandibular (jaw) joint disorders (TMD; these can make maintaining a relaxed jaw while running difficult or impossible)
- Lower spine curvature changes to compensate for the excessive forward curvature of the upper spine, which:
- Weakens and overloads the lower back
- Can cause chronic lower back pain
- Worsens existing lower back problems
- May alter pelvic position, which can reduce running efficiency
- Altered head, shoulder, chest, spine, and pelvic positions reduce biomechanical efficiency, which reduces performance and may increase injury risk.
A summary of how all of these effects interact to decrease running ability is:
In a runner, forward head posture results in overdevelopment of the upper back and neck muscles, adding run-slowing weight. A forward cantilevered head requires more energy to hold up, which can prematurely fatigue the neck, shoulders, and upper back, and uses oxygen which could otherwise go to other muscles. A forward head affects spinal curvature top to bottom, and even pelvic tilt and range of motion can be adversely affected. Hunched shoulders impede upward movement of the ribcage during breathing, and the tight chest muscles that chronic forward head posture and hunched shoulders cause further impede breathing. Even if a person with poor resting posture runs with good posture, they still have to work against all the biophysical changes which forward head posture has caused, as well as exert extra energy to hold that good running posture, so their performance will still be suboptimal.
The last point is important. Runners have said to me, "I have poor resting posture, but I run straight, so it's O.K." But since poor resting posture causes your muscles to shorten and tighten, you have to fight against yourself to hold yourself straight when you run, and therefore are expending excess energy and probably fatiguing more quickly than necessary. So the following summary statement stands:
- No matter how hard they train, anyone who has forward head, hunch shouldered posture at rest or during exercise will never perform up to his or her physical potential, in running or in virtually any other sport!
Obviously, to achieve peak physical performance, one must prevent or cure forward head posture and all the biophysical changes it causes. Some people may believe they are disciplined enough to reestablish good posture by "just thinking about and doing it". But people cannot think about posture all the time, and the moment they stop thinking about it, their existing muscle balances will pull them back into poor posture. Plus, reestablishing good posture alone will not correct the losses of range of motion and flexibility resulting from years of poor posture. The only time-effective, assured cure for forward head posture and its associated biophysical changes is active exercise intervention, as with PowerPosture™ .
Besides its affect on performance, establishing "power posture" is worthwhile for runners because it will have positive effects on other parts of your life:
- A more respect-producing, confident, competent, vigorous, youthful appearance
- A flatter and stronger stomach (proper posture is necessary for the flattest stomach and smallest waist possible)
- Optimal organ and muscle function for maximum energy and vigor
- Minimal height loss with age (no height loss up to at least age 50 is possible)
- Fewer upper and lower back problems
- No greater neck, shoulder, and upper back fatigue than in the rest of the body
- Greater concentration and mental ability (as a result of less pain and fatigue)
- The best possible physical performance in most sports, including running
In summary, to be the best runner possible within the personal constraints of lifestyle, family, profession, age, gender, and training time available, a person must have proper neck, shoulder, and upper back posture and flexibility. Therefore, PowerPosture™ truly belongs in the training arsenal of anyone who wants to be the best runner and healthiest person they can be!