Although one of the more foundational components of athletic movement, proper athletic positioning is often misunderstood and inefficiently implemented in training and in sport. As such, it is something we value and emphasize heavily within our training starting day 1.
Simply defined, an athletic position is a fundamental position or stance that optimizes the potential for explosive movements in any direction:
Most sports require 360 degrees of motion and require athleticism through any combination of the aforementioned movements.
While teaching our athletes good athletic positioning we emphasize the following (typically in this order):
Abs tight! Core Integrity/Posture
Feet Shoulder Width Apart: Base of Support
Balls of Feet! Dorsiflexion and Ground Contact Time
Load! Hip Hinge vs Knee Hinge
To further elaborate on each of these emphases:
Core engagement is like the ignition switch to athleticism. When we initially ask our athletes to define core, we often hear “abs” or “6-pack”. Core is much more than a 6 pack. In fact, we define core as all muscle groups attached to the axial skeleton within our definition of “core”, including the primary muscle groups controlling the hips and scapulae. Within this expanded framework, true core is 360 degrees of stabilization that ideally initiates every motion. We will often refer to this core stability as the “pillar” or “seatbelt” for strength and athleticism. The ability to engage true core not only provides stability, but also allows us to dynamically use strength over a full range of motion sets up an efficient kinetic chain to both increase power production while at the same time, greatly decreasing the risk for potential injury.
Base of Support (BOS)
There are benefits to utilizing various stances and bases of support depending on the task at hand. A wider BOS is beneficial when performing heavy lower extremity strength exercises (ie: Back Squat), or when trying to hold your ground against an opposing force (ie. Posting up defensively in basketball). Typically a wider base (outside of shoulder width but within reason) optimizes strength and stability, but limits power. Conversely, the entire purpose of an athletic position is power. We can optimize explosiveness with a BOS between hip and shoulder widths allowing us to maximize control into and thus out of the ground through Ground Reaction Force (more on GRF in a very near blog).
Dorsiflexion and Ground Contact Time
Ground contact plays a major role in all aspects of movement on the field or court, from acceleration to change of direction to vertical jump. Good ground contact occurs on the ball of the foot and is always under our hips. Dorsiflexion of the ankle joint promotes proper positioning and stretch reflex of the achilles tendon to maximize ground strike, ultimately reflecting the kinetic energy from a previous movement into the next one. On the other hand, slow ground contact is a result of absorptive movement patterns (toe or heel strike), each of which acts as a breaking force to slow us down and creates “heaviness” and inefficiencies. The precedence to quickness is to reduce ground contact time or to get our feet on and off the ground as quickly as possible.
Hip Hinge vs Knee Hinge
To optimize strength and power, we want to load our athletic motions with the largest muscles available AND THEN recruit every other muscle group surrounding to contribute. Thus, we need to first load or hinge through our hips Unfortunately, many athletes are initially front side or hip flexor/quad dominant and exhibit a knee hinge. Not only does this limit the opportunity for power and explosiveness within the first step, it additionally adds unnecessary stress across the knee joint. To combat this tendency, we stress the importance of hinging through the hips as opposed to the knees. A proper hip hinge loads the posterior chain (gluts and hamstrings) in addition to the knee extensors (quads). We thus position to create more muscle group contribution AND utilize the posterior chain muscle groups that are primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers. When performed correctly, the hip hinge utilizes stretch reflex and optimizes length-tension relationships.