THE INSTANT POSTURE FIX
Tight hips and hamstrings? The problem may be how you’re standing
RUNNERS OFTEN assume that tight hips and hamstrings are simply an occupational hazard, and that if they ever want to touch their toes again they’ll have to reduce the mileage or spend hours on the yoga mat. But physiotherapist Trevor Rappa says that running isn’t necessarily to blame – poor posture is probably at fault. And stretching will only provide temporary relief until the root cause is addressed.
A lot of runners, and people in general, carry themselves with what Rappa and others call ‘extended posture’. In this type of stance, a person carries his lower ribs in front of his body, his glutes jut out behind, and there is a big curve in the lower back (see right). It’s not just a bad look: this alignment impairs the functioning of the diaphragm.
‘Your diaphragm should be your primary muscle of respiration,’ says highperformance coach Mike Robertson. ‘If you get stuck in extended posture, the diaphragm flattens out and can no longer work effectively.’ When your diaphragm isn’t properly functioning, a cascade of problems results. Your brain, knowing that the body has to breathe, recruits help from other muscles – such as your hip flexors and lower back muscles.
‘If the diaphragm doesn’t work well, inefficiencies will result,’ says Jonathan Pierce, performance therapist to six-time world longjump champion Brittney Reese and a consultant to the Bowerman Track Club in Oregon, US. When your hip flexors are tight from repetitive use, corresponding tension can be present in the diaphragm. Tight hip flexors can also extend the lumbar spine, pull the pelvis downward and cause your glutes to stick out. Experts call this an ‘anterior pelvic tilt’. Robertson explains: ‘When your pelvis tips forward, it is literally stretching your hamstrings on the back
side, which can make them feel tight.’
But, wait, aren’t stretched-out hamstrings a good thing? Not if it’s your pelvis that’s doing the stretching, says Robertson. Working to lengthen and elongate your hamstrings can be good – if your hamstrings are actually shortened. However, Robertson says an anterior pelvic alignment is often putting tension on your hamstrings and it needs to be fixed if you’re going to get any lasting relief. Stretching your hamstrings in a downward-facing-dog pose feels good as you’re doing it – but it won’t stop chronic tightness, he says.
Experts say the real solution starts with posture correction. Being conscious of good posture and working to adjust your stance throughout the day is important. Robertson also recommends a simple breathing drill to activate your diaphragm (see right) and exercises to strengthen your hamstrings (see p95). Master these and you’ll shut down those overactive hip flexors, restore proper posture and give your hamstrings long-term relief. Here’s the first step to standing taller, breathing deeper and running better.
BAD (EXTENDED) POSTURE HEAD Over toes LOWER RIBS/STERNUM Forward of the body ABDOMINALS Stretched out LOWER BACK Has a dramatic curve DIAPHRAGM Flattened and not activated GLUTES Pushed back and up PELVIS Slants downward at more than a 10- degree angle Elongated HAMSTRINGS This stance contributes to chronic hamstring tightness.
Adopting this posture will help release tension on the hamstrings. PROPER POSTURE HEAD In line with heels LOWER RIBS/STERNUM In line with chest ABDOMINALS No longer elongated LOWER BACK Slight curve DIAPHRAGM Activated, fully functional GLUTES Under pelvis PELVIS Neutral or pointing downward slightly (less than 10 degrees) HAMSTRINGS Normal length