Posture: An Easy Way to Up Your Performance

Posture in AthletesWhat do the above photos of top performers in three totally different sports have in common?

Posture

  • What would happen to the sprinter if she were slouched over? A waste of her remarkable muscle power.
  • The full contact karateka’s devastating spinning kick would turn into a harmless wobbly spinning top.
  • The archer would not be able to align her structure for a perfectly stable shooting platform.

In a great majority of athletic events and real-life tasks, a ramrod straight posture, or at least its approximation, greatly improves the efficiency. So get your carcass rebalanced.

Don’t Row Yet

A common recommendation for improving posture is to row. Yet you can row until you are blue in the face, but unless you have excellent thoracic mobility, you will fail to balance out your development and could get hurt in the process.

Does it make sense to load a movement one cannot perform without extra load? Would you put a barbell on the shoulders of a person who cannot do a single competent bodyweight squat? The answer, of course, is no. By the same token, if you are unable to open your chest up with no external resistance, you should not be rowing with weights.

First: Soft Tissue Work

You need to overcome the fascia’s and other tissues’ internal resistance first. Various soft tissue work will help. So would a stretch with a yoga block.

Lie down on the floor with a wooden block the size of a brick under your upper back. The block is strategically placed at a specific spot to ensure you are stretching where it should. You need to hang out there for a long time to allow your shortened tissues to “ooze” over the block. The head is supported by a folded towel that limits cervical extension and lets one hang out longer. Many minutes later, slowly roll to your side rather than sit up.

There are subtleties to this. You are well advised to see a yoga expert.

Yoga Stretch for Posture
Abby Clark, SFG, demonstrates the drill and comments: “While resting on the yoga block, take a moment to make sure your rib cage is stacked over your hips. While you press your rib cage down, make sure your pelvis is not tucked underneath and your low back is touching the floor. Now that your ribs and pelvis are in the correct position, you can relax your arms down on the ground while diaphragmatically breathing to deepen the thoracic spine opener.”

Kettlebell Drills

Two powerful posture improving drills from the SFG curriculum are the kettlebell arm bar and the windmill.

Then: Strengthen the Position

Once you have sufficient passive flexibility to have good posture—you can assume the posture, you just cannot hold it long—it is time to strengthen the right muscles. This is where rows and such come in. But chances are, you will not even need to bother with rows and will get the job done with the kettlebell ultra basics alone, the goblet squat and the one-arm swing from Kettlebell Simple & Sinister. The goblet squat forces you to raise your chest and the swing pulls the shoulder blades together and extends the entire posterior chain, from the base of your skull to your heels.

A little attention to opening yourself up will go a long way toward getting more speed, strength, precision, and endurance out of your muscles—with no added effort. As a martial arts master said, “Posture is balance and balance is power.”

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Pavel Tsatsouline
Chairman
Pavel Tsatsouline is the Chairman of StrongFirst, Inc.

24 thoughts on “Posture: An Easy Way to Up Your Performance

  • Thanks for the article. Brief but very informative.
    Aside from functional issues that come with bad posture it just makes you look bad.

  • I didn’t have a reply button below Joe’s comments, but yes, this is the book I was talking about. I think Pavel took away my ability to reply because, as I suspected, he found me to be tedious. Thanks Joe…

  • I just found a picture similar to this infamous kettlebell back squat. It’s on the cover of the book “kettlebell training for athletes” by Davud Bellomo. I have no clue to the quality of this book, but the position of the bells are similar to what I was trying to describe. Perhaps at times I externally rotated the bells even farther back, putting even more stress on the anterior shoulder structures. I never did get hurt though, and I have had a subscapularis impingement problem in the past, distant past , from inproper single arm pressing of tthe kettlebell. I essentially was keeping my scapula in the normal scapular plane while horizontally abducting my humerus past the scapular plane towards a strict frontal plane. Now if I press in a strict frontal plane I retract my shoulder blade to keep my glenohumeral joint in a neutral stable position. I hope all of my comments are helpful and not tedious, one can only hope.

    • So, out of curiosity, I read the “about the author” section at Amazon on David Bellomo. It said he had a graduate degree in exercise science and specialized in injury prevention among other things. I’m not saying that means anything, one way or another, I’m just stating it out of a pure investigative spirit . I do see some irony in the fact that he specializes in injury prevention, and I have been looking at this double kettlebell back squat with a critical eye towards the likelihood of injury. Looking at the picture on the cover of the book very closely, I can see that he is holding the bells with his glenohumeral joint in the scapular plane. When I squatted just like this with the bells held in the scapular plane, I used to call it my high bar back squat. And, when I would retract my shoulders into a perfect frontal plane I would call it my low bar squat, tongue in cheek to myself, what can I say I lift by myself at home.

      Like I said, I really hope I am not being tedious, although I most certainly probably am… But I would really love to have a conversation about this a little bit, knowledge is power, right? The quest for truth, and all that jazz…? Holding the bells in the scapular plane doesn’t seem to be that bad…? Many lifelong bodybuilders have religiously stuck to their behind the head bar presses, and some more than likely have not injured themselves, right? I love the double kettlebell front squat, I think it’s absolutely out of this world. But my progression with the bells in the frontal plane really helped me get there. And, the back squat version really seems to put more tention on my glutes, while the front squat puts more on my quads. Isn’t it good to have both in your toolbox? Not to mention the original reason why this was all brought up, it helped my posture, through some kind of neural facilitation, no doubt.

  • I can’t tell for sure but the yoga block pictured does not look like a 9″x6″x4″. Is there a recommended size? Great post btw

  • Two upper body posture drills that work instantly for me are Wall Bat Wings (Dan John), and Original Strength segmental rolling (Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert). I can feel and see the difference after less than a minute of work.

    For full body posture change that “sticks”, the recent Ruck Walking article (Al Ciampa) fixed everything. I use a $15 gym bag loaded with a 40lb bag of wood stove pellets, and put my arms through the handles. The bag sits vertically along my back from lumbar up to the top of my T-spine. I walk 2 miles in 30 min a couple times a week following his instructions. Head up, nose breathe, shoulders down and back, swing arms, minimize forward lean, and contract glutes every step. After the first 2 weeks and maybe 8-12 miles, it dramatically corrected my collapsed upper body, released my tight hip flexors, and completely fixed my anterior pelvic tilt. Miraculous!

  • Never have I had a drill that has had such a huge benefit for me . Instantly this was a positive influence . Thank you Pavel I wish this was introduced during my RKC weekend. I remember you working with me and challenging me on my posture. Keep up the good articles .

  • So my daughter says that she can record me doing this exercise. If it turns out to look like I pictured in my head, I don’t use a mirror when I lift , maybe I will post it to YouTube. When I googled “double kettlebell back squat” I found a only one reference, mine in the comments of this article. I doubt very seriously that I am the originator of this exercise, I started it as an easier version of the front squat. I am sure many have looked for an easier version of the front squat. Although I can now do a proper double kettlebell front squat, more or less, I still use this “back squat” now and again because it clearly works my glutes more than the front squat. It was only later that I discovered how this exercise improved my thoracic posture, with the kettleballs stretching my chest out in the posteriorly positions rack, and the neural facilitation of the thruster / shoulder press while the shoulder blades are retracted.

    • The more I think about this “double kettlebell back squat” the more I think it is not good for your rotator cuff. If you want a kettlebell exercise that will put more tension on your glutes than the double kettlebell front squat, go to Pavel’s “Beyond Bodybuilding” for the sumo deadlifts off blocks. On a second note, I have been practicing my double kettlebell front squat, if any exercise is going to be good for strengthening your spinal erectors it would be this one. I don’t think anything could be better for your posture than that, after you square away your flexibility.

  • A simpler and more effective way to correct forward head posture and rounded shoulders can be seen in the video at the link below (scroll to bottom of linked page to find video)
    https://essentialsomatics.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/how-stress-creates-neck-and-shoulder-pain-and-shallow-breathing/
    This somatic exercise releases all the muscles of the chest, abdominals, front of neck and internal rotators. Watch the video and give it a try. Somatic Exercises take advantage of the way your brain controls resting muscle tension and uses Pandiculation to reset the level of tension in your muscles. Also no props required, just some time and awareness.

  • Thank you for the reminder!

    Combined with crooked armbars, it has helped my bench press tremendously.

    Scott

  • I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna like this, but I’m gonna put myself out there and tell you a kettlebell exercise that helped me. For lack of a better term I’ll call it a double kettlebell back squat thruster. I am almost certain that you will not like the rack position for the kettlebell back squat, kind of like a closed W scapular retraction exercises, elbows pressed tight against the side of the rib cage. It is kind of like a bilateral version of your bar press in Power to the People. I do realize that this puts much strain on the subscapularis, but I have found that if I maintain proper scaption, ensuring that the subscapularis is locked in a straight line with the retracted scapular plane, no hyperextension, it is very helpful in facilitating an extended thoracic spine. Not to mention strengthening the most important rotator cuff muscle in my mind for shoulder stability , the subscapularis. In this position the kettlebells work to stretch out the front. The squat is, more or less, towards a typical low bar back squat position, emphasizing glutes. The top press in this position really seems to also help facilitate the extension because it incorporates the motion of the entire shoulder complex. I couple this with a narrow palms forward pull ups. Sometimes I will also incorporate a push-up plus in the circuit. Just writing all of this makes me cringe with visions of injury, but it feels great, what can I say.

    ken

    • I always feel it necessary to qualify what I’ve said. .. Elbows as tight against the rib cage as they will go, biceps and possibly latsts getting away a bit. I should also probably say that I used to 32 kg bells. I’m not necessarily a youngster either, I am 41 years young.

      • No, sorry I don’t… I looked on the Internet to see if I could find a double kettlebell back squat, to no avail. I think that just means I’m crazy or something, that’s not the first time I’ve felt so . Maybe I could get my daughter or my wife to help me take a small video or pic of it. I’m not exactly the most computer savvy person in the world, though.

  • As an older man who’s developed some bad posture habits from sitting in front of computers all his life, I am interested in improving my posture and movement by using kettlebells.

  • Reason I started taking your certification 8 years ago linked to posture improvement.
    I didn’t know it at the time but subconsciously my demand in posture improvement skills kept me going to RKC/SFG events.

    Past 10 years my height improved by 2.2 centimeters, nearly an inch.

    Arm bar did help, yet I have a feeling muscle memory of arm bar and other thoracic drills combined with diaphragm breathing on daily basic helped me tremendously.

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