|PowerPosture™ was Reviewed and Recommended in the September/October 2000 issue of Fitness Swimmer Magazine in the article, "Straighten Up and Swim Faster"|
Most serious swimmers want to swim as well as possible, within the constraints of their family life, professional demands, age, gender, exercise time available, and natural physical abilities. They don't want any unnecessary obstacles hindering their progress, so they do their best to eat well, get enough rest, keep their body fat down, work on their swim techniques, and weight train.
But one factor which many people unknowingly disregard is the development of proper upper body flexibility and strength balances for optimal stroke mechanics, muscular force generation, and cardiovascular system function. How do you know when you are close to your optimum? Just keep the following biophysical fact in mind:
To reach your potential in swimming, you must have proper muscle flexibilities and strength balances, and if you do, you will be able to maintain proper, efficient posture all the time, without thinking about it!
For empirical proof of the posture and performance connection, simply look at the posture of virtually world record - level athlete, in any sport which requires high level work output. From swimming to track and field to triathlon to power lifting, the very best have good posture all the time! A picture of Jenny Thompson, Kieren Perkins, or Brooke Bennett with anything but good, straight posture is rare. And the posture of the best masters swimmers (and triathletes and runners) is usually as good as that of younger competitors.
The reason for the association of good posture with optimum performance is that the muscle flexibilities and muscle strength balances which enable you to produce the maximum speed, strength, and endurance in most physical activities also enable you to hold good posture all the time, "automatically". If a top-level competitor has poor posture, it does not disprove the need for good posture. Rather, it demonstrates how much talent they have and how much training they have done, to be that good despite poor posture and its associated unbalanced flexibilities and muscle strengths. With correct muscle flexibilities and strengths, and the resultant proper posture and biomechanics, they could be even better, perhaps even a record-holder!
Now, after all the hours (or years!) of training you have put in, and the thousands of dollars you have spent on equipment, training programs and videos, swim camps, travel, and/or coaching, wouldn't it be a shame to never reach your potential, to never swim as fast as you are capable, just because of something as simple and easily correctable as inefficient posture and poor flexibility?
So how do you develop proper flexibility, strength balances, and posture for best swim performance?
- First, you should know what is "proper postural alignment". Within fairly narrow limits, proper relaxed standing alignment is the earlobe over the middle of the shoulders, over the hip joint, and over a point about an inch in front of the ankle joint.
- This proper postural alignment will generally be present when:
- The shoulders are held back and down, and the head is held back so that the side of the earlobe aligns over the middle of the shoulder.
- The upper back is relatively flat between the shoulder blades, and the upper back and neck curve forward only slightly.
- The chest curves out, so that the forward tips of the shoulders will be 1 or more inches behind a yardstick placed across the upper chest. (Many male swim catalogue models have a flat - looking upper chest and forward head, indicators that they are incorrectly weight trained and not top-level swimmers).
- The collar bones are level or slope only slightly upwards.
- The chin is 3 or more inches above the outer tips of the collar bones or the sternal notch (the hollow at the base of the neck, above the breast bone).
These postural standards apply to people of all ages. There is no research evidence that posture and flexibility have to get worse with normal aging. Unless a degenerative spinal is present, posture should be as straight at age 80 as at age 20.
Besides better swimming performance, there are many other desirable functional advantages of proper posture and flexibility. These include:
- Optimal organ and muscle function for maximum energy, endurance, and vigor in all activities.
- Optimal biomechanics for the best possible muscle performance in all activities.
- A neck, shoulders, and upper back which are no more painful or fatigued than the rest of the body at the end of the work day or at the end of a long drive (i.e., arrive at the meet fresher!).
- Greater concentration and mental ability, as the result of this reduced pain and fatigue.
- Fewer upper and lower back problems.
- Little or no height loss with age.
- A flatter and stronger stomach - in fact, without proper posture, you can never achieve the flattest stomach and the smallest waist possible.
- A more respect - producing, confident, competent, vigorous, and youthful appearance.
However, instead of proper posture, most adults (including swimmers) stand and walk with their head thrust forward ("forward head posture"), their shoulders hunched forward and often shrugged upwards, and their upper back rounded. Over time, this poor posture causes the following bodily adaptations which decrease swimming performance:
- Neck lateral (left and right) rotation range and upward rotation range both decrease, so it is necessary to roll farther to breathe during freestyle, and to raise the chest farther out of the water to breathe in breast stroke and butterfly.
Chest and front of shoulder muscles shorten and tighten, which:
- Decreases potential chest power development when swimming.
- Decreases endurance by increasing breathing work.
- May decrease breathing depth, making it less efficient.
- 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, thereby reducing swimming power.
- Makes them fatigue more easily.
Shortened top of shoulder muscles (trapezius) from shrugged shoulders prevents full and easy downward movement of the shoulders, reducing stroke length and reducing power delivery during the last part of the stroke, when hand speed and force generation should be the greatest.
Neck, back, and shoulder muscle loading increases, which:
- Makes those muscles work harder and causes more general fatigue in that area, making it a "weak link" in the body's overall performance capability.
- Overdevelops those muscles, adding unnecessary muscle mass which consumes oxygen which could otherwise be going to the working arms and legs.
- Makes upper back muscles and spine more injury prone in daily life.
Lower spine curvature changes (usually increasing, but sometimes decreasing) to compensate for the excessive forward curvature of the upper spine, which:
- Weakens and overloads the lower back, which may decrease ability to tolerate the butterfly and breast stroke kicks.
- Can cause chronic back pain.
- Worsens any existing lower back problems.
A rounded upper back increases lung residual volume (the amount of air left after a full exhalation) which decreases breathing efficiency.
Together, the effects of a forward head, hunched shoulders, sunken chest, excessively forward curved upper spine, and altered lower spine curvature:
- Reduce overall biomechanical efficiency and hinder proper function of most organs, which reduces overall physical performance.
- Physically impede the upward motion of the ribcage, increasing breathing work.
- Increase general injury risk because of decreased loadbearing abilities of the back, which could affect swim training.
- Can cause height loss of more than 2 inches, which compresses organs and reduces their efficiency.
- Makes one look stooped, saggy, and "old", which hurts self - perception and confidence, and does not convey to others (in swimming competition or in daily life) confidence, competence, vigor, energy, or athleticism.
In summary, forward head, round - shouldered posture decreases swimming performance because:
- The extra load from holding the head forward overdevelops the upper back and neck muscles, adding unnecessary body weight and taking oxygen which could otherwise be used for the arms and legs.
- Spinal curvature is altered top to bottom, making the organs and muscles less efficient.
- Hunched shoulders get in the way of the upward movement of the ribcage during breathing, and tight chest muscles reduce chest expandability, so breathing ability is reduced.
- Decreased shoulder range of motion due to tight chest and shoulder muscles decreases stroke length and strength, and by holding the shoulders forward, prevents efficient arm recovery and forces one to roll excessively to breathe.
- Forward head position puts the head farther down into the water, forcing one to roll excessively and/or work harder to get the head out to breathe.
A person who swims with proper alignment but has poor resting posture will still have reduced performance because that posture shortens their chest and shoulder muscles. To hold proper alignment, some muscle force must be used to keep those shortened muscles stretched out, and this decreases muscle strength and takes oxygen which could otherwise go to the specific swimming muscles.
So, it should be apparent that no matter how hard they train, anyone who has forward head, round - shouldered posture at rest or during exercise will never perform up to his or her physical potential in swimming, or in virtually any other sport!
The critical question, then, is why do most people develop poor posture, when there is no evidence that posture has to get worse with normal aging? The reasons for most people's poor posture include:
- A "normal, modern" life history of predominantly sedentary, hunched forward activities at work and at leisure, which gradually shape them into this posture.
- No exercises specifically done to prevent muscle shortening, muscle weakening, and postural degeneration.
- Overemphasis in strength training on front of body flexor 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.
- In swimmers, there is the additional effect of the predominantly forward and downward arm rotations of swimming, which tend to develop rounded and hunched shoulders.
For best swimming performance and overall health, you need to counteract these environmental influences which tend to cause forward head posture and all of its performance - reducing muscular changes. To do this, there are 2 training guidelines to keep in mind:
- Make sure your weight training does not worsen your posture. A properly designed program balances development between the back and chest, so it produces straight posture rather than a "weight lifter's hunch". Anyone who lifts weights and has poor posture basically shows everyone that they really don't know what they are doing.
- Do specific training to correct any existing muscle flexibility and strength deficits, and once corrected, to prevent their recurrence. That is, do what is necessary to counteract the many daily influences (including swimming) which may worsen your posture. A specific stretching and strengthening program like PowerPosture™ which takes only 5 - 10 minutes a day is all that is necessary to do this.
Some swimmers may think that they don't need a specific exercise program to reestablish good posture, because they can "just think about it and do it". But this process seldom works, because good posture alone will only very slowly correct muscle imbalances, and it will not reestablish proper range of motion and muscle flexibility. And when a person invariably stops thinking about posture and slips back into poor posture, they undo some of their progress. The only time - effective, assured cure for forward head posture and its associated biophysical changes is an active exercise program like PowerPosture™ .
The PowerPosture™ stretching and strengthening exercises were selected to cure or prevent all of the performance - decreasing physical changes listed in this article. The video demonstrations of the exercises make it easy to do them correctly, so you get optimal results with maximum safety. The 12 exercises are gentle and easy to do, and will add only 5-10 minutes to your workout. Most of the exercises can actually be done anywhere and anytime, even during your swim workout recovery intervals. The program includes self - assessments, discussions of workplace and daily life factors, a detailed demonstration of how to best stretch and how to do the 12 PowerPosture™ exercises, and instructions on how to design a "posture friendly" weight training program which will improve your posture rather than worsen it.
PowerPosture™ was painstakingly developed as an integrated whole, so it is highly effective (as in, "produces the effects desired"). In fact, the program is double money-back guaranteed to improve posture and/or reduce neck, shoulder, and/or back pain and fatigue in 60 days or less if you do the program for at least 10 minutes per day. But in over 2 years on the market, no one has ever requested a refund!
THE BOTTOM LINE:
For the best swimming performance possible within the constraints of lifestyle, family, profession, age, gender, and exercise time available, you must develop proper neck, shoulder, and upper back posture and flexibility. The PowerPosture™ program will enable you to develop these attributes quickly and easily. PowerPosture™ truly belongs in the training arsenal of anyone who wants to be the best swimmer, as well as the healthiest and best looking person, that they can be!