Rethinking Posture: Postural Calibration to Decrease Pain and Accelerate Sport Performance, a guest post from Annette Verpillot & Blake Bender

Your mother was right; standing up tall, not slouching in your chair, and retracting your shoulders are all things we should be doing daily. However, previous thinking has led us to believe that posture is a result of the mechanical, and it is something to be trained muscularly.

Additionally, it has been long believed that the only way to increase strength is to build the muscles over time through strength training programs. Most practitioners, personal trainers, and athletic instructors are not aware of how posture can affect strength gains. In fact, we have found that by improving our posture, we can actually elicit drastic strength gains by 5-15%.

In the twenty-first century, professionals are taught to assess pain and a range of motion with a biomechanical model.  While understanding the anatomy and physiology of the body, these models provide limited results as they bypass the most important controlling system of all movement: the brain.

Strength, in simple terms, is a neurological output. It is electrical, and a state that is dependent on the connectivity between the executors (brain and central nervous system) and the effectors (muscles).

Posture has a direct impact on movement and reaction time. Your nervous system is continually monitoring where you are, what you are doing, and how fast you are doing it via small nerve endings distributed throughout the body. The intricate work of this system is termed proprioception. When you move in such a way that your nervous system detects abnormal tension in one joint in comparison to another, uneven signals are sent to the spinal cord and brain. As a result, your brain projects on areas of your brain that will modulate the tension of the muscle unevenly.

If the information going into your brain is uneven,it will engender in the central computer a postural adaptation reflex that will trigger a new, pathological postural adjustment which the body will consider normal. The brain as a whole will continue to function with a pathological program and self-adapt. This is often displayed outwardly in a negative posture. Some common examples include rounded shoulders, kyphotic posture, or misaligned hips.

Postural imbalances create mechanical dysfunctions that in turn affect sport performance.

Postural Recalibration is a method developed by Posturepro based on the studies of posture going back to the 19thcentury. It is a technique that specializes in improving sensory input to the brain. It starts with the feet and eyes, two of the most important sensory receptors that influence human movement and muscle tension. Instead of traditionally training the musculature associated with a postural deficiency, the aim is to rewire the brain by retraining the sensory input to the feet and eyes.

Below we will outline simple protocols to be included in strength and conditioning, rehab, or other athletic platforms. By focusing and re-sensitizing our feet and eyes, we aim to reduce the predisposition for injury. Moreover, it is not uncommon to also see great gains in strength output.

The Feet 

Foot posture is influenced by habits that we have acquired in the early stages of life. Over time these habits can influence our level of mobility. The shoes that we wear can also influence our foot mechanics in a negative way. When you put your foot in a cushioned shoe, it’s the same as putting your butt in a cushioned sofa; what you’re doing is allowing everything to relax, soften, and deactivate.

Experiments show that when you inhibit sensory information from the feet, people have problems maintaining stability and maintaining balance.  There is a powerful sensory connection between the feet and brain. Our brain characterizes and “sees” movement through our feet and their interaction with the physical world. Thus, one secret to improving speed, is to improve foot proprioception.

The foot represents a sensory entry on two levels:

-Exteroceptive (information from the outside world)

-Proprioceptive (information form muscles and joints)

Both these forms of sensory feedback have a role to play in the body’s aim to maintain its center of gravity, within the base of support. Once a compensatory foot pattern has been present for more than a year, the foot and associated tissues (plantar fascia) of the lower extremity have adapted and are now compromised. Some common postural dysfunctions of the feet are fallen arches and flat feet, misaligned toes, and knee or hip issues further up the chain.

A very simple test can be performed to identify any imbalances between the left foot and the right foot:

  1. Stand upright and look straight ahead.
  2. Without shifting your gaze, slightly lift one leg off the floor
  3. Pay attention to what the weight bearing foot does – it will either pronate (flatten inwards) or supinate (move outwards).
  4. Repeat with the other foot.

To eliminate any foot discrepancies or dysfunctions, we have outlined a few simple exercises that can be included in any athletic or rehabilitation program:

  1. Stimulate Your Skin

The skin of the foot is embedded with sensory receptors that send information to your brain. Your brain then processes this information and sends an efferent signal to the muscular system.

To improve proprioception, use a lacrosse or spike ball on the bottom arch of your foot. Rub it forward and back for 60 seconds with moderate pressure. Another great tool for this is the proprioceptive stimulator.Additionally, draw small circles with the bottom of your foot, starting close to the heel and circling toward your toes. Do 30 seconds clockwise, and 30 seconds counter-clockwise.

  • Recreate Your Arch

Similar to the exercise above, we will use a lacrosse or other round ball to further stimulate the arch of the foot (a spikey ball may be used but it may be very uncomfortable).

Start with the ball where the soft part of the underfoot meets the calcaneus (heel bone). Apply significant pressure as if you are trying to smash the ball. Slowly move your foot over the ball, keeping the same pressure as in the beginning. Move the ball from your heel to your toes, finishing on your tippy-toes. Make sure your foot is foot is not inverting. Perform 10 slow reps.

One of the indicators that you have a weak arch is that your foot muscles begin to cramp. If they do so, perform as many reps as possible and while still being comfortable. Work toward achieving 10 reps in a row.

  1. Strengthen Foot and Ankle Muscles

These exercises are often used in ankle sprain rehabs. However, it is our belief that incorporating these as a preventative measure will help reduce the risk of ankle and lower limb injuries.

Using a plastic TheraBand, wrap it around your foot at the base of the toes. Make sure there is enough tension on the band to create a challenge for the reps. With your heel locked and a strong foot, rotate your big toe toward the ground for internal rotation. Perform 20 reps. With the same foot position, take your pinky toe toward the floor for external rotation. Perform 20 reps.

We also advise maintaining plantar flexion (gastrocnemius and soleus) work, along with anterior tibialis exercises to train the entirety of the lower limb.

Foot Hygiene Routine Summary:

A1: Lacrosse Ball Rollouts                         1×60 s back and forth

A2: Lacrosse Ball Circles                           1×30 s clockwise, 1×30 s c. clockwise

B1: Banded Inversion                                  1×20 ea.

B2: Banded Eversion                                  1×20 ea.

C: Lacrosse Ball Arch Rolls                       1×10 ea. (slow)

In the case of our basketball team, we perform this routine in conjunction with our athletes getting their ankles taped before practices and games. Thus, we are training the foot and ankle 5-6 times a week.

Additionally, I have observed great benefits in including some of these exercises in weight room warm-ups. For a lower-body dominant session, I will often have athletes start the training session barefoot, sensitizing their plantarfascia and feet. as the first part of our training session.

The Eyes

The eye is the organ that situates us in relation to the horizon. When muscles that move the eyes are out of balance, our perception of the environment changes, and the entire body attempts to compensate for that phenomenon. In doing so, shifts and rotations of the shoulders and pelvis occur and postural alignment suffers.

The muscles of the eyes also share a direct relationship with the muscles of the neck. It is not uncommon to see forward head posture and weak neck extensor muscles. In terms of sport performance, weak neck extensors are often associated with increased concussion risk in contact sports.

Neck tension is also common, and causes further tension down the thoracic spine. This, in turn, can cause mobility restrictions in the upper body.

An integral part in addressing posture is to teach the practitioner eye testing as well as the associated corrections to fix the problem. Vision training actually has little to do with improving eyesight.It is not about having impeccable eyesight; it’s about improving the motor system, eye-hand, foot and body coordination and decision making.

The techniques used with Postural recalibration are a form of perceptual learning intended to improve the ability to process what is seen.

The idea is that if visual sensory neurons are repeatedly activated, they increase their ability to send electrical signals from one cell to another across connecting synapses. If neurons are not used, over time these transmissions are weakened.

Vision training involves simple strategies to improve convergence (inward turning of the eye to maintain binocular vision) and the ability to focus near and far.

Often with elite players, we find that they’re physically in good shape. But when their visual system gets tired, they lose concentration and make mistakes, and they start to misjudge. The visual system is giving them information either too slowly or inaccurately. For instance, in basketball, this can be seen as missing shots due to fatigue of the visual system and depth perception. In other sports, such as baseball, or football, a fatigued visual system can greatly inhibit successful plays.

A great way to identify who can get their hands on the ball is convergence testing. If an athlete cannot focus on a target at close range with both eyes simultaneously, they will have a harder time on the field or court.

Here is a simple exercise to correct your weaker eye:

  1. Draw a line on your dominant hand’s index finger.
  2. While focusing on the line, draw clockwise circles for 30-45 seconds, following the line with both eyes.
  3. Repeat 3 times daily.

I will typically have athletes do this upon waking, before their weight-training or practice session and then repeated once before bed. Thus, when athletes walk into the weight room, they often are barefoot, and perform their eye and foot exercises, before moving into the traditional lifting program and warm-up.

The eyes and the feet can be trained like any other system.  They can also be abused like any other system. As with any injury, deficiencies in the eyes and feet can have negative consequences. Thus, it is imperative that recalibrating the eyes and feet become a staple in an injury prevention program.

Speed, strength, mental fortitude are the key components to sporting greatness. By working on the brain, we can separate the great from the good and make the difference between winning and losing.

Who is Annette Verpillot?

Annette Verpillot is the founder of Posturepro, a health company specialized in restoring the brain-body connection. She is a Canadian entrepreneur, therapist, public speaker and internationally esteemed Posturologist.

Annette has developed some of the world’s most advanced rehabilitation and injury prevention techniques, and she teaches a method called Postural Recalibration to professionals in various fields. Her unique postural evaluation system has gained great distinction and is recognized throughout the world for addressing chronic pain, increasing strength, and increasing sports proficiency.

Today, she is regarded as one of the most experienced Posturologists in North America and has had numerous opportunities to present and teach her method to professionals in various fields (medicine, chiropractic, dentistry, naturopathy, sports therapy, and ophthalmology).

Annette has presented her methods at TEDx Montreal Women, on Breakfast Television, ICI Television, Collectively Beautiful, and has worked with renowned strength coaches, elite athletes and team coaches from professional and college-level leagues. Her recent research collaboration with McGill University’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy was showcased at Harvard Medical School’s at the Movementis conference. She also hosts various podcasts and holds a semi-regular spot on a local radio station.

Through her teaching, speaking, and research, Annette continues to tackle global health issues and train professionals to have a lasting impact on clients and patients.

Who is Blake Bender?

Blake Bender is in his second year as the Director of Sports Performance for the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball program. Before Charlotte, Bender spent one year as the strength and conditioning coach for the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s and women’s basketball programs. Prior to FGCU, he was the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Florida Gators men’s basketball team, as well as a graduate intern at the University of Texas. Bender received his Master’s in Sport Management from the University of Florida in 2017, and his Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and Health Education from the University of Texas in 2015. He holds certifications as a strength and conditioning specialist through NSCA, a sports performance coach through USA Weightlifting, as well as a certified applied functional scientist through the Gray Institute.

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