Just as important as sleeping and nutrition, posture has a huge impact on an endurance athlete’s performance. You often don’t hear a lot about posture, but there are a million articles about training core, some good some not so much, but good core training is all about maintaining good posture and a neutral spine. The best “core” activation comes from movements where proper spinal position is being challenged while the arms and legs are doing work. A good example is front squatting. Sit-ups and crunches don’t facilitate proper posture. Core muscles are about stability, not movement, besides do you really want to reinforce a movement pattern that makes you look all crunched up?
Why does this matter? Neural function peaks when the spine is held in proper posture. A spine in excessive flexion or extension will result in neural-inhibition that will down regulate force through the extremities and non-optimal body function. The bottom line is that to improve optimally as an endurance athlete, you need to have the best posture you can attain. The better the body can communicate neurologically, the better the muscles will function.
Endurance sports provide unique challenges to posture. Fighting against gravity to maintain good posture is hard enough, maintaining posture in a prone position on the bike is even harder. Impact forces from running can also make slightly bad posture a lot worse causing further breakdown. For example, a slightly forward head posture in running will exponentially increase the pounds of pressure on the cervical spine with each step making the head come even more forward. This also happens on the bike as excessive cervical flexion can lead into thoracic or lumbar flexion as the miles accumulate.
An important skill for everyone, athlete or not, is gaining kinesthetic awareness. Do you know when you are in a bad position? Do you know what a good position is? This can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning but think about a few key points. Are your shoulders back, chest tall? Is your head jutting forward or are your ears in line with your shoulders? Are you slightly bracing your abdominals and lower back muscles to prevent excessive lordosis or curvature in your lower back? Pick one or two of these and check periodically throughout the day.
If you have done a bike fit with me, you have probably heard me say something about straight feet. As an endurance athlete you ride your bike and run with your feet relatively straight so why is your default standing position have externally rotated feet? A really good thing to pay attention to is how are your feet angled and trying to keep them straight throughout the day. Feels weird? What do you think is going in the hip that makes you want to point your toes out and how does that relate to your lower back?
Toes out is a sign of external rotation in the femur, which puts the medial glute into a shortened position. The medial glute attaches to the external surface of the ilium and inserts on the lateral femoral condyle. The medial glute acts as a pelvic stabilizer when walking, standing, or when one leg is doing work (sound like pedaling?). When the glute is weak and shortened it won’t function well to stabilize the hip resulting in the musculature of the lower back having to work harder to stabilize the hip. A weak and shortened medial glute is also a common cause of IT band pain.
Foot position is just one aspect of posture and you can see how big of an impact it can have on your power output and position on the bike. Think if you fix that anterior tilted pelvis, forward head position, and kyphotic thoracic spine…