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By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman
- 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 that 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 let 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.
Two powerful posture improving drills from the SFG curriculum are the kettlebell arm bar and the windmill. An excellent complex of posture enhancing exercises with a light kettlebell is featured in the recent DVD by Gray Cook, Dan John, and Lee Burton, Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Continuums.
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 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 away towards 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."
By Jason Marshall, Senior SFG
Memories of my first kettlebell certification with Pavel back in October, 2007 are still branded in my mind as a reminder of how green I was when I took on this challenge. Part of my ‘green-ness’ was my ignorance of how my own body was moving through space and how to get my brain to tell my appendages what and when to do something. Many phrases were used copiously throughout the weekend that made absolutely no sense to me at the time. For example: “make space in your hips,” and “spread your hip bones apart,” and “make your femurs longer.” I was still trying to figure out the difference between a squat and a hip hinge. Ah, the good old days!
Since my completion of that course, I have tasked myself with spreading the message of strength and quality movement to open minds and ears that are willing to hear. In doing so, I’ve found it necessary to make the message simple and quickly transferable. The following is a visual, or intrinsic cuing, that I’ve used in helping my students understand those aforementioned phrases I wasn’t able to process early on.
Think of your femurs as being on sliders rather than being hinged on a single pivot point. The intent is to think that they can be shifted away from the pelvis, “making space for the hips” on these imaginary sliders. Think of pushing out against a force that’s trying to collapse your legs inward, “by spreading your hips bones apart” at the spot where your front pants pockets would be.
Also, imagine the femurs can “get longer” from the center of the bone. If the femur was divided equally in half, they could be “stretched” forward and backward.
Obviously, the bones in your legs don’t have the capability to move like this, but the mental focus and intent of the imagery really sets the hips for a proper squat. Try it out and let me know in the comments section if it worked for you or your students.
- Make Space or Pry Your Hips Open
- Push Out Against Hip Pockets
- Slide the Femurs Away from the Pelvis (Rather Than Push Knees Out on a Single Pivot Point)
- Make the Femurs Longer from the Center of the Bone
Even better: a video explanation.
Jason Marshall is the owner of a performance training studio in Lubbock, Texas called Lone Star Kettlebell. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sport Science from Texas Tech University in 2001. He is currently a Senior Instructor within the StrongFirst organization. He also holds a Certified Personal Trainer designation from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Jason trains athletes and students of strength from all walks of life ranging from many different populations for fat loss to improvement in movement quality for a better life. Jason has been involved with competitive athletics via many sports since his childhood. He is still competitive as a drug-free, unequipped powerlifter, with competition bests in the 181 lb weight class of; 463 – Squat, 319 – Bench, and 617 – Deadlift. Jason can be contacted by email for coaching and consultation via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.