The Myth of Recovery Posture – Your Coach Taught You Wrong

If you ever played a sport growing up, chances are you heard a coach yell, “Get your hands off your knees!” while you and your teammates were gasping for air.

Said coach would then insist you put your hands on your hips or on top of your head, instead. Their reasoning was that one, standing tall allowed their team to open their lungs and take in more oxygen, and two, bending over is a sign of weakness to be avoided at all costs.

The funny thing about this is that a recent study found bending over to be the superior recovery posture compared to the classic “hands on the head” pose.

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The study (Michaelson et. al, 2019) compared two postures (“hands on knees” vs. “hands on head”) to see how they impacted athletes’ recovery from high-intensity interval training.

The study found that the “hand on knees” posture resulted in superior heart rate recovery and greater tidal volume (the amount of air inhaled into the lungs with each breath) compared to the “hands on head” posture.

How could this possibly be? After all, doesn’t having your hands on your head “open up your lungs” while bending over close them off?

Not quite. The problem with the hands on the head posture is that it flares your ribcage upwards, extends your back, and closes off your posterior ribcage so it cannot effectively expand during inhalation. The posterior ribcage actually contains a large volume of your lung tissue, so closing it off is far from ideal. This inhibits the diaphragm, the primary muscle of inhalation, from working effectively. To overcome this, many of your back and neck muscles will try to make up for the lack of diaphragm function during inhalation.

This is a textbook example of inefficient breathing.

A more optimal position would be to place your hands on your knees and look slightly upwards. Unfortunately, the athlete in the above photo from the study is looking down instead of up, but is she were looking up, she’d be in a more efficient position for her airway, as the cervical extension would allow proper airflow into her lungs.

There’s a reason your body naturally gravitates to the “hands on your knees” position when you’re absolutely gassed during a workout. When you’re really tired, your body will want to bend over and put your hands on your knees. The body knows best when it comes to these things, so why fight it? With your hand on your knees, your lungs are allowed to fill with a greater volume of air. This in turn supplies more oxygen to the working tissue so you can more quickly clear the oxygen debt you’ve accumulated through exercise. Your oxygen debt is essentially the specific amount of oxygen you need to recover when fatigued post-activity.

Why You Must Reach During Exercise

Why You Must Reach During Exercise

Reaching is one of the most important activities to have in any exercise program.

There, I said it. Let me tell you why.

Plenty of programs have bench press, often times at high volumes. They’re constantly doing upper body pressing and pulling exercises to stimulate hypertrophy and/or strength adaptations.

A common idea is that if you balance out the amount of pressing and pulling exercises you do, your shoulders will be healthy.

But does that actually work? How many people still get nagging shoulders despite thinking they exercise properly?

A lot.

The answer is not more pulling. The answer is not “shoulder stabilization” exercises.

The answer is maintaining a scapula that moves freely on a ribcage in a healthy and productive manner.

Image result for scapula on rib cage

Notice that there is a normal degree of thoracic flexion in a normal human spinal curve.

A scapula is a concave (rounded) bone that needs to sit on a convex (pushing out) thoracic ribcage. Pulling the shoulder blades back & down, extending the lumbar spine, and elevating the anterior ribcage does not allow for optimal shoulder-scapula mechanics.

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But this is often how individuals perform upper body pulling exercises.

THE BENEFITS OF REACHING

Reaching is immensely important for shoulder health. Proper reaching involves the following:

  • Retraction of the posterior ribcage + Forwardly reaching arms – Activation of the serratus anterior
  • Depressed and internally rotated anterior ribcage – Activation of the obliques
  • Dorsiflexion of the ankles – Facilitation of flexion and ribcage retraction
  • Proper respiration to maintain all of the above

The serratus and oblique muscles are often weak and under-utilized in nearly all trainees that don’t actively train them properly. The result is a scapula that cannot move properly on a ribcage. It’s a ticking time bomb.

You can do all the “rotator cuff” stabilization exercises you want. They won’t do anything significant if your ribcage isn’t working well with your scapula in the first place.

If we can achieve a good reaching position, we can restore a healthy and necessary Zone of Apposition:

SO HOW CAN I ADD REACHING IN MY TRAINING?

There are many ways to add reaching. You can have individual exercises that target reaching specifically (a good place to start), and once you understand the above principles of good reaching, you can add it to many exercises.

It’s essential that breathing is the top priority of these exercises. Ensure that you are inhaling through your nose (feeling the ribcage expand 360 degrees) and exhaling through your mouth fully to ensure activation of the obliques.

Once you feel your obliques turn on, keep that abdominal compression and keep breathing slowly. Air will follow the path of least resistance. Obliques that are “on” causes air to go backwards into the posterior ribcage, facilitating good thoracic flexion and a Zone of Apposition.

Here is one exercise I like to start people with to teach them how to reach:

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1. Stand facing away from a door, and place your heels 7-10 inches from the wall.

2. Stand up straight with a ball between your knees and feet shoulder width apart.

3. Bring your arms out in front of you as you round out your back, performing a pelvic tilt so your lower back (mid-back and down) is flat on the wall.

4. Squat down slightly as you squeeze the ball.

5. Keeping your lower back flat on the wall, inhale through your nose.

6. As you exhale through your mouth, reach your arms forward and down so your upper back comes off the wall (your lower back should stay flat on the wall).

7. Hold your arms steadily in this position (reach), as you inhale through your nose again and expand your upper back. You should feel a stretch in your upper back.

8. Exhale and reach further forward. You should feel the muscles on the front of your thighs and outer abdominals engage.

9. Repeat this breathing sequence for a total of 4-5 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.

10. Slowly stand up by pushing through your heels, keeping your lower back flat on the wall.

11. Relax and repeat 4 more times.

And here is an example of how you can add a reach to just a basic side plank. It’s so easy and beneficial that  it doesn’t make sense NOT to add it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_QZ2jxN5JA

Why golfers BENEFIT so much from finding their heels

If you aren’t already, stand up, and notice where your weight is on your feet. I bet you that you are on your mid-foot and/or toes. Don’t worry, this is normal, but not ideal if you want to be a better golfer or stay out of pain.​

Now, try to lean forward completely on your toes. Ouch! That’s kicking in your quads and back. Then try to find 100% on your heels. That feels…weird. Off balance, but your quads and back is likely to relax.

What you’ve discovered is how weight distribution affects posture and muscle activation. As humans we tend to default to having our weight forward, which kicks in our back and quads (see the image below. Anterior tilt = weight on toes).

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If we are stuck in this extended state, we are going to struggle to rotate. Our days out golfing are going to hurt instead of be enjoyable. Our ribs MUST be back in order for us to rotate (see THIS article for more info).

Our heels are a secret to unlocking our golf game. Heels will kick in hamstrings, glutes, and abs, which we all need in an effective swing. It will allow you to rotate freely while keeping you out of pain. This doesn’t mean you keep 100% of your weight in your heels as you swing so that you fall backwards. What I am describing is an even weight distribution, about 50% on your heels and 50% on your mid-foot.

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Next time you hit the range or play a round, try this out! You can benefit enormously from just a simple change like this. At Sandhills Sports Performance, we specialize in helping clients find their heels and turn on the right muscles. If you would like to learn more, click HERE to sign up for a FREE complementary consultation with us!

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Get Stronger Immediately With Your…Tongue?

​It has been shown in studies (Vico et al, 2014; Alghadir et al, 2015) that tongue position contributes significantly to postural stability and potential muscular strength. Why is this? It’s because the tongue is part of a myofascial chain called the Deep Front Line. Myofascial chains are lines of pull throughout the body which distribute strain, transmit force and affect the structure and function of the body. The theory of the myofascial chains help manual and movement practitioners explore how one structure affects other distal (further away) structures in the body.​The line we are discussing, the Deep Front Line, runs from your head to your feet and is one of the main stabilizing chains of the body. ​

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In a proper position pressing up against the hard palate, it provides stabilization down the chain and the surrounding muscles will have less of a stabilization role and are able to contribute more to lifting the weight.
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The time you go to the gym or lift something heavy, try this out. Compare your strength with your tongue on the bottom of your mouth versus pressed up against the roof. Try to firmly (but not overly so) maximize the surface area the tongue covers.

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Back pain – Why it doesn’t have to be that complicated

Back pain has been a difficult area to manage long-term for many people. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Many physical therapists and trainers look at the back when that’s where the pain is, but that isn’t the most comprehensive approach. The thing is, the human body needs every joint to do its job, or else a change within one joint can cause a cascade of compensations down the chain.

Your major joints alternate between mobility and stability purposes so that the stable joints provide stability for the body to move through the more mobile joints. Low back pain will occur because it is trying to be more mobile to make up for lack of mobility through the hips. In the naturally asymmetrical body, our left pelvis is forwardly rotated and the right pelvis is backwardly rotated. As a result, our femurs (thigh bones) compensate and cannot express full, healthy ranges of motion. If they cannot do that, then the back begins to be more mobile than it should be, causing you pain.

This picture illustrates the position we are stuck in with the aforementioned natural pelvic orientation. So what should we do? A significant amount of back pain cases I see are resolved through training the hamstrings and obliques through proper breathing, particularly on the left side to pull our left pelvis back. If we can get a more neutral pelvis AND breathe well, then we are addressing the root of the problem. Proper breathing is essential because it will help facilitate activation of the obliques and reinforce good ribcage mechanics. In addition, our body will understand that if it can breathe through a new position, the position isn’t a threat and we can maintain that position long-term.

​And that is EXACTLY what we do at Sandhills Sports Performance. We treat the body as an entire functioning unit, not as separate parts. This is our approach in both our physical therapy practice and wellness program.

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Why your core training is WRONG, and how to fix it

“Toning up the core” is a common concept within practices in the Health & Fitness community. Hundreds of sit-ups, planks for minutes, and extension-driven ab wheel rollouts are a few examples of exercises personal trainers or online resources will likely prescribe to you.

The problem is, you aren’t training your core effectively with those exercises. You’re either targeting one muscle group in the core (the Rectus Abdominis) or training a pattern of extension that you’re already stuck in, making your pain worse.

If I gave you a TRUE core exercise that involved correct respiration, you would be shaking and begging for mercy within 15 seconds. The “core” is not designed to just do sit-ups. Its function is to help you breathe and stabilize your body throughout the day.

Take a look at the following diagram of the core musculature:

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That’s a lot more than just your Rectus Abdominis, or your “six pack” abs. And you know what muscle works with all of these abdominal muscles for breathing? Your diaphragm, which is HEAVILY involved in core functioning.

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Your diaphragm is supposed to ascend and descend during breathing, and if our Obliques and Transverse Abs are not securing our ribcage down, we are setting ourselves up for dysfunctional breathing and pain since our diaphragm can’t do its job if the ribs are stuck flared up. Flared up ribs means less room for the diaphragm to move.

True core training involves breathing. Any good core exercise forces you to own a position and not compensate by extending your back or moving out of alignment. It’s transverse abs and obliques, all while keeping those ribs down so we assist the diaphragm in getting in a proper position.

This is what we do at Sandhills Sports Performance. You will never see anyone do a sit-up here!

So next time you do a core exercise, keep those ribs down. Get a full inhale through your nose and exhale ALL that air out through your mouth. Own the position, or else you aren’t owning your core.

​See the video below for a great core exercise that hits your obliques hard. Keep your pelvis posteriorly rotated, keep those ribs down, and breathe!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gu5U580aM8

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