How Your Posture Affects Performance In and Out of the Ring
This article was written as advice and is not a replacement for professional help. If you are in pain, please seek a doctor for advice.
It’s news to very few that a lot of martial artists have terrible posture. The fighting stance fosters some bad habits such as internally rolled shoulders, tight pec muscles, weak hamstrings and back muscles, and bad neck placement. Because we spend so much time in fighting stance while training, it’s easy to receive injuries based off of bad posture, especially since assuming the fighting stance is unavoidable for fighters!
Your body loves symmetry and any amount of time out of symmetry will start to negatively affect how efficiently your body moves. Add to the equation poor posture while you’re using your phone or doing deskwork, and you most likely feel pain somewhere! Luckily, with some strength exercises and stretches, we can “fix” these muscular imbalances caused by being in fighting stance.
Because every fighting stance is inherently designed to protect fighters, a lot of the muscles that expose the front of the body are “closed off” and are therefore either overworked or tight. Many of these following exercises work the muscles of the back of the body to pull and “open up” the front of the body.
Perform three sets of 10 for the strengthening exercises and two sets of 30-seconds for the stretches.
The pecs are tight on almost every fighter. Stretching the pecs will alleviate pressure on your shoulders if they’re even slightly rolled forward (tips of your shoulders should be pointing out to your sides, like your ears).
An easy and convenient way to stretch your pecs is by use of a doorway frame. When you do this, keep your chest forward but not puffed up. Lean your entire body forward gently to keep your core aligned and hold when you feel that glorious stretching sensation.
Believe it or not, many people don’t know how to do a correct pull-up. Most often, people keep their shoulders up with their ears. This only fosters poorer shoulder health. When doing pull-ups or lat pull-downs on a machine, keep your shoulder locked into its pocket! You can do this by rolling your shoulders up, back, then down.
Do you feel your shoulders locked into their place? Keep them there as you do your shoulder exercises. It’s also the best way to keep your shoulders in proper posture. Also, remember to keep the back of your neck long (think of someone pulling a string coming from the top of your head) and your chin slightly tucked
“Y” and “T” over stability ball
These exercises work the stability muscles for your scapula and are essential to healthy shoulders. Do them over a stability ball or at the edge of a bed. The same rules apply: keep your shoulders locked down and the back of your neck long. Start with no weights, then start to use light dumbbells (1-3 lbs.) as your stability muscles get stronger.
Bent over row
This can be done with either a barbell or dumbbells.
Start light and work your way up. Perfect form matters over everything else.
Stand hip-width apart with your core engaged. As you press the weight up, make sure your back does not sway forward to help you push the weight.
If you have to do that, the weight is too heavy for you. Scale down to a lighter weight and perform with proper technique.
This machine is a great way to strengthen your hamstrings if you have trouble with good form on the deadlift (see next entry).
Start light. You should be able to do 10 reps in one set without having to compensate with other unrelated muscles, such as your back.
One of the best compound exercises for general strength, you’ll reap great benefits when you do deadlifts. Many fighters have a pelvis that is a bit anteriorly rotated. Working the hamstring gets the pelvis closer to neutral.
Key points in deadlift form: start with the bar close to your shin and with your shoulders a bit more forward in relation to the position of the bar. Keep your hips back, shoulders locked down, and your neck long. Look where your gaze naturally hits (do not look up as this puts strain on your neck). As you stand up, keep the bar close to your body. Your arms should not be doing any work besides holding onto the bar itself and keeping your shoulders back.
Continuing with moving the pelvis into a more and more neutral position, this exercise works the glutes and hamstrings. Keep your core tight as you do this exercise.
Shoulder external rotation
This exercise can be done with a resistance band or cable column. Keep your shoulders square and level. Keep your elbow in with your ribs. Don’t move the rest of your body as you pull the band out.
Scalene and trap stretch
If your shoulders are hunched up a lot of the time, chances are your scalenes and traps are tight and sore. Do this exercise gently as your neck is a delicate area with lots of bones and nerves.
Next to doing corrective exercises, everyone should be conscious of their posture no matter what they’re doing. Whether walking, sitting, standing or even sleeping, posture plays a very important role in how efficiently your body performs certain actions. A proper posture ensures you don’t overdevelop/underdevelop muscles so as to not to upset the way your muscles work in your body.
How good is your posture? Stand in front of a mirror and see.
- Are your ankles under their respective hips?
- Are your toes pointing forward?
- Are your hips in a straight line with your shoulders?
- Are your ribs flaring out?
- Is your lower back especially curved?
- Are your shoulders slumped forward?
- Do you push your hips forward when you stand still?
- Is your head tilted back as if it’s too heavy?
Continuously working on good posture is one of the best ways to avoid injury and little aches. It helps your muscles work more efficiently, delaying fatigue. It also changes the way you present yourself – good posture = confidence.
Edited by Scott Blacklock
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.