Fixing Athlete Posture

First, let me say that I am enjoying Human Movement and Biomechanics class that I am taking this semester at Lenoir-Rhyne University with Dr. Keith Leiting.

After taking a brief look at compression, tension, shear, and torsion forces and their effects on the body, we dove straight into assessment. Our first look at assessment was postural alignment. I have to admit that working with my chiropractor extraordinaire, Dr. Lawrence Gray, helped to prepare me for this section of biomechanics. However, this class has taken me even deeper, which I am applying to my athletes as we speak.

Posture

Here’s what I have noticed even with some of my top weightlifters. The majority of college students demonstrate varying levels of upper cross syndrome, which is what you see with people who have their heads forward, rounded shoulders, concave chests, and a rounded back. Now to be clear, my athletes have not become the Hunch Back of Notre Dame yet, but they are on their way.

I decided to address these issues now for two reasons: to protect the future of their postural health and to make them better weightlifters. You are also going to help avoid unnecessary injury by addressing each athlete’s individual postural alignment.

For example, if an athlete has a rounded thoracic spine with their shoulders rounded and most likely internal rotation of the humerus, they are going to have a tough time getting the bar overhead in an optimal position. If they can get the bar overhead, it’s most likely going to cause injury somewhere down the road. When the scapula elevates and rotates forwards, the acromion process and coracoid process (parts of the scapula that muscle tendons are connected to) roll forward and down.

Normally there is lots of space for the rotator cuff tendons to move around (subscapularis, supraspinatus, and to the posterior the infraspinatus) freely – at least that’s the way God designed us. There are also bursae sacs that lend help with lubrication and cushioning, labrums that line the actual rim of the glenoid cavity, and a synovial membrane that lines the joint capsule for added lubrication and cushioning. When the scapulae wing and rotate, the space for the tendons, bursae, labrum, synovial membranes, and muscles becomes limited. When space becomes limited, friction is sure to take place. With friction, you can guarantee that inflammation and tears are soon to follow.

In Athletes

In the sport of weightlifting, when the scapula deviates from its intended resting place, movement is going to be impaired. In the sport of weightlifting, optimal movement is absolutely required. Powerlifters can get away with bad posture for a bit longer, but they shouldn’t. When I was a powerlifter at the highest of levels, 90% of my fellow athletes had experienced shoulder surgery. The rest were on their way, and the sad part is they could easily avoid this injury by reading this article and applying the information.

I put some of my athletes through a quick biomechanical assessment, and I found the following four malalignments frighteningly common. I am going to explain each of them, tell you how to easily assess, and what to do about each.

Kyphosis

Normally it is accompanied by forward head syndrome and internal rotation of the humerus. It’s sometimes called upper cross syndrome because it has a cross-section of weak muscles that are lengthened and a section that is tight from being shortened and compressed. The tight muscles include the pecs, subscapularis, and muscles of the thoracic spine. The weak (lengthened) muscles include rhomboids, lower/mid trapezius, and weak external rotators.

How to assess: look for over development of the thoracic curve, which is normally accompanied by excessive lumbar curving and either no curve of the cervical spine or excessive curve due to the head forward and the athlete excessively extending to see in front of them.

Exercise to strengthen the weakened scapula while encouraging improved posture:

  • Prone Y Rotations

Soft tissue work:

  • Peanut Drive the Bus
  • Foam roll the thoracic spine with scapula protracted

Exercises to strengthen weak muscles:

  • Band Pull-a-parts and external rotation for the rhomboids and external rotators
  • Blackburns for the lower/mid trapezius
  • Face Pulls with external rotation

Exercises to lengthen tight muscles:

  • Band Distractions
  • Pitcher stretch

Here’s a video that will explain each exercise:

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Forward Head Syndrome

Normally this comes with kyphosis, but it can exist without being a hunchback. It’s easy to assess as well. You will want to have your athlete turn to the side, so you can view them in the frontal plane (aka from the side). You should be able to hang up a plumb line that perfectly runs though the ears, ac joint, greater trochanter, mid-knee, and the lateral malleolus. If the ears are in front of the ac joint, you have some degree of forward head syndrome. You might not have full-blown kyphosis, but you can rest assured that it’s coming as well.

Weak muscles include:

  • Deep cervical neck flexors
  • Deep cervical neck extensors
  • Rhomboids
  • Mid and lower traps

Tight/Shortened Muscles:

  • Sub occipital Muscles
  • SCM (sternocleidomastoid)
  • Levator Scapula
  • Upper Traps
  • Pecs

Manual work:

  • Levator Scapula lacrosse ball
  • SCM

Strengthen and stretch

  • Wall exercise for forward head syndrome Sub-occipital muscle stretch w deep inner 3 minute hold neck extensor strengthen
  • Band Pull-a-parts
  • Angels against wall

Humerus Internal Rotation

This one is common amongst not only my college athletes but also with my powerlifting brethren. Bench pressing is all internal rotation. If you focus on bench pressing without any regard for external rotators, you can be assured that your humerus will start to be frozen with internal rotation. You can also rest assured that shoulder surgery is inevitable unless you address the issue. This one is easy to assess.

Assessment: simply look at the athlete’s hands and see if they are neutral (palm facing in to the body or facing towards the posterior of the athlete (thumbs turn in). If the palms are facing behind an athlete, that athlete has internal rotation.

Tight muscles:

  • Subscapularis
  • Lats
  • Pecs

Soft Tissue Work:

  • Lacrosse Ball pecs and subscap
  • Band work distractions

Stretches:

  • Baseball pitch stretch against wall (arm externally rotate)
  • Pec minor against rack w unilateral wall slides
  • Wall Slides

Strengthen:

  • Pull-a-parts w external rotation
  • Prone Y’s on Bench
  • Lying DB External Rotation
  • Wall slide

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

This is very common from the sitting that is so common in society right now. It’s easy to spot because it looks like the person is sticking out their butt and stomach on purpose. However lower cross syndrome is actually the culprit.

Weak muscles:

  • Lower lumbar extensors
  • Abdominals

Tight muscles:

  • Hamstrings
  • Psoas
  • Illiacus
  • Rectus Femoris

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Stretches:

  • Half Kneeling lunge w lower leg elevate

Exercises to strengthen:

  • Planks
  • Curl Ups
  • Unilateral RDLs

Soft Tissue:

  • Foam Roll lumbar
  • Lacrosse ball or DB Psoas

I hope these exercises help to correct your athletes’ postural alignments. I am using them right now with my guys, and we are noticing daily changes in the positive. Remember, you won’t just be making them better athletes. You will also be affecting their long-term health and wellness. Don’t forget that is your job as well. Their parents trust you for that very thing. Let me know in the comments if you would like any other videos on correcting exercises.

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