• Duncan Sutcliffe // MSc Sport Science

Body posture and running performance


Being involved in the sports coaching sector, I came across immense changes in the postures of school children over the last few years. Excessive cell phone, tablet, and laptop use has detrimental effects on one’s posture. This sparks the need for posture promotion at a young age to prevent long-term health problems or reductions in sporting potentials.

It is known that good posture may have infinite benefits to an individual, while postural limitations may cause a collection of problems. It has been stated: “If steps are taken to correct malalignment or structural deviation, the individual involved will not only be protected against injury, but the efficiency of his performance will improve up to maximum capacity”[1]. In a nutshell, body posture is the relationship between numerous body systems. Therefore, if postural imbalances are present, the mechanical processes are inhibited, which leads to a reduction in running performances.

Postural control is the ability to maintain good posture while limiting excessive muscular use. Restrictions in postural control may result in wasted energy and consequently, reduced efficiency of running. It is vital to maintain/develop a stable postural base which encourages effective postural control. This brings me to my next important aspect, a stable core structure. “A weakness or lack of sufficient coordination in core musculature can lead to less efficient movements, compensatory movement patterns, strain, overuse, and injury”[2-3]. Two muscle divisions are used while an individual is running or walking; postural and phasic muscles. Postural muscles maintain the muscular control and balance, while the phasic muscles are responsible for the actual movement[2]. A loss of muscular control or balance will ultimately lead to less efficient movement patterns.

HUMANS VS APES

Assessing the difference in locomotion between humans and apes may provide further evidence that posture is directly related to locomotion, more specifically – running performance. “Evolution selected specific biomechanical features that make human locomotion mechanically efficient”[4]. Figure 1 below illustrates the different joint positions during gait movements for apes and humans, along with the direction of ground reaction forces.

Figure 2 provides evidence that the total volume of active muscles is far less for humans than apes. This ensures that energy wasting is reduced which results in improved mechanical efficiency during walking or running. Although an erect posture will ultimately be less stable, evolutionary changes allowed for improved human endurance as a result of improved running/walking economy.

Posture and Endurance Running

Running Economy – As previously mentioned, economical running is essential for endurance running performances. Furthermore, upright posture leads to reduced postural muscle activation and wasted energy for a given task, and thus, improves running economy.

VO2 max – Various researchers concluded that kyphosis, lordosis and scoliosis may place excessive compression forces on the lungs which ultimately reduces the lung volume while running.6-8 This reduces the breathing capabilities, which consequently affects the VO2 max and physical performances of the participants[6-8].

Lactate – Due to the fact that breathing capabilities are directly related to body posture, structural complications caused by kyphosis may reduce the efficiency of waste removal, consequently causing lactate accumulation during running[6].

Posture and Sprinting

Postural promotion is a severely neglected aspect of sprint performances. The body structure of a sprinter is much larger in comparison to an endurance runner and therefore requires increased postural muscle activation while running. Although the time period may be much shorter, the forces acting on each active muscle are far greater during the 10 seconds of sprint running in comparison to 10 seconds of endurance running. Effective posture provides the body with an essential structural setup to initiate the pushing leg drive action which is crucial for improving speed[9-10].


COMMON POSTURAL IMBALANCES

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Are you sitting while slouching forward? Prolonged sitting can lead to anterior pelvic tilt. This occurs when the front of the pelvis drops and the back of the pelvis rises. This tightens the hip flexors and lower back muscles while limiting the activation of glutes and core muscles. A neutral pelvis is essential to ensure the forces of running are translated to the glutes and hamstring muscles for effective gait patterns.

Forward Head Posture

You are probably reading this blog post with a forward head posture right now. Excessive cellphone, tablet, and laptop use can cause a forward head posture. In terms of running, this postural imbalance places an unsuitable forward lean that originates from the waist, which places the center of gravity too far forward. This doesn’t allow for effective mechanical relationships between muscles and ultimately, reduces the speed or endurance of the athlete.

In conclusion, there is no such thing as a perfect posture, but there is such a thing as bad posture. Not only can good posture improve running performances, it is also responsible for enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem, which is essential for the positive mental state of an athlete. This being said, we all should strive for a better posture, regardless of athletic status.

  1. Lowman C. Faulty posture in relation to performance. J Sport Health Sci. 1958;29:14-5.

  2. Fredericson M, Moore T. Muscular Balance, Core Stability, and Injury Prevention for Middle and Long-Distance Runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 16. 2005;669-89.

  3. Akuthota V, Ferreiro A, Moore T, and Fredericson M. Core stability exercise principles. Curr. Sports Med. Rep. 2008;7(1):39-44.

  4. Grasso R, Zago M, Lacquaniti F. Interactions between posture and locomotion: motor patterns in humans walking with bent posture versus erect posture. J. Neurophysiol. 2000;83:288-300.

  5. Sockol MD, Raichlen DA, Pontzer H. Chimpanzee locomotor energetics and the origin of human bipedalism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2007 Jul 24;104(30):12265-9.

  6. Abd-Elkader SF, EL-Bab MF. The Back Rotation Resulted from the Wrong Body Conditions of Long-Distance Competitors and its Impact on Some Physiological and Morphological Variables and Recording Level. World. 2010;3(4):329-36.

  7. Kesten S, Garfinkel SK, Wright T, Rebuck AS. Impaired exercise capacity in adults with moderate scoliosis. CHEST Journal. 1991;99(3):663-6.

  8. Lenke LG, White DK, Kemp JS, Bridwell KH, Blanke KM, Engsberg JR. Evaluation of ventilatory efficiency during exercise in patients with idiopathic scoliosis undergoing spinal fusion. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2002;27:2041-5.

  9. Sayers M. Running techniques for running rugby. New Zealand Coach. 1999;7:20-3.

  10. Weyand PG, Sternlight DB, Bellizzi MJ, Wright S. Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground reaction forces not more rapid leg movements. J Appl Physiol. 2000;89:1991-99.

#SportScience #Biomechanics #Running

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