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More Thoughts on Assessing an Athlete's Posture

By John Platero

First, let me say I'm a huge Vern Gambetta fan. However, I disagree with some of his points in the article "Perfect Posture" (Training & Conditioning, March 2006, Vol. XVI, No. 2). Discussing ideal posture for sports and ideal health can be challenging as he states "When posing for photos or giving a presentation, our posture is static. In sports, posture is dynamic, always moving." This is true. However, if you were to examine the static posture of most right-handed tennis players or right-handed pitchers you might see a hiked right hip, a lower right shoulder and a longer right arm. Compare that to a professional cyclist with a posterior pelvic tilt, reduced lumbar curve and exaggerated thoracic curve and you might come to the conclusion that structure follows function. Is this okay? Is this healthy? As Diane Sahrmann states in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, "A useful criterion for assessing precise or balanced movement is observing the path of instantaneous center of rotation (PICR) during active motion. The PICR is not easily analyzed and radiologic methods are necessary to depict the precision of the motion. "Great. Who has access to that?"

If all these sports have different demands which result in different structural or postural changes then the only thing we do have that remains constant is static posture. Ideal static posture is exactly that; ideal. Sports are challenging, fun and demanding, but in my opinion not exactly healthy. Going down a mountain at 70+ mph on skis wearing nothing but Lycra is not exactly healthy. Flying into a corner with 30 other people on motorcycles is not exactly healthy. Look at John Elway or Jim McMahon's knees and tell me playing professional football is a healthy thing to do.

Mr. Gambetta makes valid points. He suggests "The first step is training yourself to critique key points in movement." I agree with him, but how? Fluidity is very hard to assess and is very subjective. It's an art. I play drums, which requires as much balance, timing, coordination and accuracy as any sport. If you were to study the posture of 10 of the world's best drummers you would find quite a variety in their set up. Will there be some postural changes? Definitely. Not unlike the pitcher, tennis player or cyclist, the repetitive movements or function required by the activity will create tightness and weaknesses. How can you identify tightness or weakness without a starting point or ideal point? You have to start with static posture. Ideal static posture is the only common place to start.

Mr. Gambetta states "We must think of proportionality rather than symmetric muscle balance." For what? For the sport or for health? This is also very subjective. If, for example, a hiked hip and lower right shoulder on a pitcher is working, should we change that or leave it because he's got a great record? The gist of this article makes me think yes, we should leave it. For a professional athlete who makes millions of dollars and can afford the possible surgeries and pain-management techniques when they are over 40, this might be the answer. But how about the kids? How would a coach, athletic trainer or therapist know whether or not his or her athlete can withstand the repetitive movements that caused this posture? Without a video camera and a force plate, dynamometer, or some contraption to measure force, how could you determine how much force these joints can take in that position performing the repetitive movements of their sport? You can't. Everyone is the same but also different. That's my point. Dynamic posture is a reality, but every time we determine what ideal dynamic posture is, someone breaks the mold. Take Sean Kelly, the #1 cyclist in the world during the 1980's who had the worst posture on a bike of any cyclist at the time, or imagine the thickness of the meniscus in the knees of Shaquille O'Neal. Can the average athletic participant follow these leaders in their sport? Will their structure be able to withstand the demands of the function of their sports?

The reality is static posture remains the same. Dynamic and static posture are both equally important for the longevity of the health of the athlete. However, static posture is a lot easier to quantify. No one I know of has the ability to see the future to determine how long an athlete's body will last performing the same repetitive movements of their sport. Look at Bo Jackson and Brian Bosworth, both great athletes whose injuries ended their careers. In his article, Mr. Gambetta states "Tight muscles can contribute to poor dynamic posture, so a sound program of functional flexibility that addresses the target muscles must also be part of the athlete's daily routine." How could you quantify which muscles are tight if not by comparing them to some kind of standard? That standard is static posture.

He also states "If an athlete has particularly bad dynamic posture, he or she may need some remedial work. First analyze the posture to ascertain the cause. If there is a weakness in a particular muscle group then those muscles must be targeted for recruitment." I agree with him, however, we must have a starting point. That starting point is static posture.

Again, I highly respect Mr. Gambetta's expertise and have enjoyed his writings. This article insinuates we should discard static posture altogether. I think that would be folly. He makes a multitude of good points but I disagree with him on static posture.

John Platero
Director of Education
The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers

© Copyright 2006 MomentumMedia. All Rights Reserved.

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