In Part 1 of this blog post, we talked about using the gymnastics bridge to improve posture and performance. In this post, we are going to talk further about many of the limiting posture factors that can impact sports performance.
There are also a lot of factors above and below the lower spine/pelvis that have to be considered as well. Here are some of the most common issues seen in gymnasts with this chronic posturing.
1. Tight Lower Back (always in extension)
Due to the sport being very extension based and requiring the athletes to use their lower back muscles, (deadlifting, Olympic lifting, back extensions and other posterior chain focused exercises) and they may become very overdeveloped. If the athlete is constantly activating the lower back musculature for skills while also not paying attention to mobilizing these muscles, they may become shortened and tight. Often this can be seen in simple flexibility drill like the sit and reach test.
2. Tight Hip Flexors and Limited Hip Flexor Mobility
In short, many athletes have a restriction in their hip flexor mobility for a variety of reasons Sitting at a desk all day is one of many common issues. Athletes often compensate with other joints for the hip flexor restriction during flexibility, and the hip flexors are under mobilised in many athletes. Tightness in the hip flexors and the tightness in the lower back muscles act together to tilt the pelvis forward. If the athlete is not taking the time to pay attention to both these restrictions, it may over time develop into the overall posture problem.
3. Hamstrings flexibility and weakness (weak underused glutes)
The hamstrings can quickly become overstretched and weakened. When an athlete practices some hamstring exercises and gets taught proper technique mechanics, they may be able to get the best of both worlds for flexibility/skill performance. Often times it quickly translates to hamstrings that are very flexible but not functional, meaning decreased power output capabilities and also a factor in the arch back posture.
Many athletes don’t properly utilise their gluteus muscles at all time. Many athletes show decreased activation of the gluteus during training, which leads to them being underdeveloped and to poor activation. How often do you hear a coach saying “squeeze your butt, squeeze your butt?” Unless the athlete uses it as an automatic movement pattern, it often times gets forgotten about.
4. Weak/Unused Lower Abdominals
Sorry to burst your bubble, but your 6 pack doesn’t guarantee you have good overall core strength, control, and stability. Often when we take athletes into positions they are not used to (leg lifts/stalder ups, v ups, hollows, round shapes, slightly flexed spine) in order to test all aspects of their core, the wheels fall off the train and they are amazed at how tough some exercises are. Many athletes do not execute core work correctly as their lower back pops off the ground as they try to compensate for a lack of good core strength/endurance. Many compensate with stronger ab muscles or their hip flexors.
Athletes need to be strong in all of these categories/muscle groups to protect themselves from injury and also successfully perform high-level skills. It is very common for athletes to show perfect shapes and control of the lower abdominals during drills or lower level activities, but then they completely fall apart under fatigued. As the body compensates for the poor movement patterns, it usually just does whatever it has to “get the job done” with poor form and technique.
These four factors contribute to poor posture and poor sports performance. Problems associated to these issues include:
Overuse injuries, muscular sprains, ligament sprint of the lumbar spine
Serious lower spine pathology like splitting vertebra forward (spondylolisthesis), and fracture associated with slippage (spondylosis)
Increased risk of lower back hyperextension
Decreased performance in hip extension activities (running, Olympic lifting, jumping, etc..)
Increase strain on hip flexors
Increase pressure on the lower back causing compensation due to lack of mobility
Inability to stabilise the core especially under fatigue
Increase chance of lower body injuries due to core stability
Compensatory movement patterns
Far too often we see athletes training to build strength and fitness, but failing to draw the link between posture and performance. Endless hours of lifting heavy weights and performing high volume repetitive repetition will never deliver the optimal results if the technique is compromised by posture. More education and awareness is required to help our athletes dedicate time to the best "bang for your buck" exercises. It would be a mistake to think that working harder is the key to increase longevity and performance. Movement quality should always take priority above all else to protect the health and longevity of the athlete.