First, let’s define an athlete (roughly).
ath·lete ˈaTHˌlēt/ noun: athlete; plural noun: athletes
Thank you, internet.
While some of us may fancy ourselves athletes, others are active merely as a health staple: heart health, brain health, weight loss, tapping the brakes on aging, etc. Still, others have more of a weekend warrior approach. Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not, you are a human that uses movement to heave yourself around this planet. So, we should move proficiently, right?
Let's Start With Standing - Here we will go over six hallmarks to ensure proper footing.
1. Foot Placement
The most common stance I see outside the office is the duck foot position. This position occurs when both feet are angled outward or away from each other. This stance puts uneven forces on the knees and may result in overpronation. Overpronation occurs when the feet have a tendency to roll inwards, which can lead to bunion formation, abnormal callous formation, and even arthritis.
And guess what, if you are standing like a duck, you are running like a duck as well.
This means that as you are pounding the pavement all of those abnormal forces are being transferred up to your hips, knees, and low back. Knees hurt? Check your stance.
The feet should be parallel to one another. If you picture the foot without toes, it looks like a rectangle. You want to put even an distribution of weight on each corner of the rectangle. I may explain it a little better IRL:
2. Knee Extension
Or as I like to call it, avoiding the flamingo stance; Hyperextension of the knees occurs when you are resting on your knees in a way that forces them in the opposite direction (left picture). This action is followed by the hips swaying forward. Basically, it means that you are using the least amount of energy possible to hold yourself upright. This may seem like a relaxed way to stand, but it ends up costing you energy in other ways by throwing off your posture (think poor breathing, low back pain, increased risk of knee injury).
Fix it - Keep a slight bend in your knees (picture on the right). This keeps your quads engaged which takes pressure off your low back and makes your knee joints happy, physically happy. Plus, this is the best way to be ready to spring into any athletic motion, whether that is to lunge for a ball, hop on top of something, or possibly dodge a bicyclist or motorized scooter (The threat is real).
3. Hip Sway
When I encounter this stance out in public, it breaks my heart. Resting into one hip over the other can cause the ligaments in that hip to stretch and may further cause your hips (or sacroiliac joints) to rotate and become uneven (or maybe they have been that way for awhile!). If you keep a slight tone in your glutes and hamstrings you will not only feel more alert, you will be supporting your body in a healthy manner.
Activate those glutes!
To achieve this sensation, pretend that each of your feet is a screw. Imagine turning your right leg in a clockwise direction and your left leg in a counterclockwise direction. This means that you are turning your legs in opposite directions while pushing or "screwing" your feet into the ground. This is accomplished through activation of the posterior chain (i.e. your glutes and hammies) and will leave you in a nice and supported stance.
4. Pelvis Positioning
The Two Faults:
Do you know anyone who stands like this? It is everywhere if you just take a look around at the grocery store...not that I am advocating you check people out at the grocery store. These people wake up and wonder why they have sciatica or a herniated disc. The truth is that there were signs of these incoming injuries way before they reared their ugly heads.
How to avoid these faults: Think about the pelvis as a bowl that is right side up and the top of your chest as a dome. The thoracic dome should always track directly over the pelvis bowl. How is this done? By using your core musculature, which is more than just "sucking it in". Your "core muscles" consist of your erector spinae muscles, lats, glutes, pelvic floor, traps, diaphragm, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, and yes, your transverse and rectus abdominis muscles.
This is where solid coaching by a trainer or movement specialist becomes essential. Even as an individual highly trained in anatomy you cannot observe yourself, or you may not even know what you are trying to feel for or activate. I will tell you that the second most common cause of injury I see is a lack of or improper muscle activation (or form).
5. Shoulder Positioning
This is probably the most common correction you received from your mom or caregiver growing up: "Stand up straight!". Having your shoulders in a forward or rounded position is setting you up for increased shoulder injury. In a resting position it may seem comfortable, however, when you go to use your shoulder to pick something up or perform an overhead movement (say, a pullup, snatch, or dumbbell press), your shoulder breaks.
Sticking your chest out and shoving your shoulders back is not the answer. Shoulder movement and articulation can be very complicated and is often missing from seemingly high performance athletes. You can start maintaining a better shoulder position by using the muscles surrounding your scapula, or shoulder blades, to place your shoulder in a more upright position. Note: The picture on the left shows that when the shoulder is rounded forward it allows for the head to come forward as well. Which brings us to the next point...
6. Head Positioning
Started from the bottom, now we're here.
Proper head positioning is one of the easiest ways to prevent neck and shoulder injury. Making sure to maintain your ear hole (external acoustic meatus) in alignment with the the tip of the shoulder will help the athlete to keep their shoulders in the correct position and put the least amount of strain on the structures of the neck.
When the neck position is forward it is putting increased pressure and stress at the base of the neck. I hear people all the time say that they carry their stress in their neck. Don't get me wrong, stress does play a huge role in injury occurrence and body degeneration, however it tends to attack the weakest link - Don't let that be your posture :)
Furthermore, all of the nerves that control your shoulder, arm, wrist, and mid-back come from your neck! If there is excess stress there from poor posture, that stress is going to kill any nerve activity that is happening from the neck along those chains down to your fingertips. This sets you up for crappy movement.
There you have it! Could I go on about more tips on how to use your body like an athlete/ human should? Yes, but this will get you started.
Stand athletic my friends,
Dr. Drwencke is a sports chiropractor, speaker, & clinical athlete in San Francisco. Her posts reflect some of the day to day interactions and questions from patients and clients. Dr. Drwencke strives to empower people through injury rehab and sports performance to lead healthy, productive lives.