One of the most frequent questions that I’ve asked myself throughout my training life is:
How can I improve my martial arts performance?
I’m quite confident that you’ve probably asked yourself that too.
The default answer?
However, I now actually believe there’s something more important that comes BEFORE repetition.
Yep – you heard that right!
What I’m talking about is reviewing our posture and alignment.
Why is posture and alignment important?
We go back to the issue of repetition…which is actually a problem in this situation.
The more that we deviate from a neutral straight position and not having an even weight distribution on both sides of our body, the more we train our body to adopt a different way of holding itself when stationary and when moving. And so, the longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes stop because the body is making slow adaptations to the alterations that are taking place.
Have you ever seen people down the street with an arched back?
That’s the result of adaptations as the person has repeated habits day after day.
Over time, bad posture and alignment leads to more aches and pains in our daily lives. It also makes our motions incomplete, increase our risk of injury and can affect our balance due to a shift in weight distribution.
The good news is that with this awareness, we can take action to improve our posture and alignment.
Doing a posture and alignment check
Looking at yourself in the mirror is a good way to check your posture and alignment. Present yourself as you naturally are to get a better picture of how you carry your body (i.e. don’t try to change anything). It helps to start from the top of your body and slowly work your way down.
For example, starting with your head, does the chin naturally rest straight or does it tilt up, down or jut forward? Are the shoulders rounding forward, one higher than the other or are they neutral? Are the hips in alignment? What about the knees? How do your feet naturally position?
Especially related to our lower body alignment, consider paying attention to your movement and feet position. Do they deviate from toes pointing straight ahead? Another good way to check is by looking at the wear on your shoes. If one side of the heel wears out quicker than the other, it can indicate that the body weight isn’t being evenly distributed and you may want to address that.
Thinking about your habits
Sometimes posture and alignment deviations result from injury and what we do (or don’t do) during the recovery period. Existing or developing conditions may also be responsible for posture and alignment deviations. In both cases, seeking advice from a relevant and qualified professional is highly recommended.
At other times, our daily habits are often the culprit.
Here’s a few questions to ask yourself:
Do you feel a side of the body is particularly tighter than the other?
Are you aware of any tendency to lean on one side more than the other when sat down or standing?
Do you have a favourite shoulder to carry a bag or do you evenly distribute the weight?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, it’s a good idea to work on corrections to evenly distribute your body weight. Remember, it’s the little things over a long period of time that leads to adaptations – in order words, repetition!
Of course, these questions aren’t exhaustive, but are here as a prompt to think about your posture and alignment.
Bringing it all together: posture, alignment and martial arts performance
Improving one’s posture and alignment through greater awareness and corrective actions and exercises can help to sustain the body’s condition for the longer term. I feel what makes this harder to do in reality is that we don’t often think about this as we get on with our daily activities. However, some small changes can definitely be made and with repetition, new habits will form.
As a martial artist, my position is that it’s important to not only demonstrate the techniques but to also condition the body in a holistic way. The basis for this conditioning is to have a strong foundation through first checking posture and alignment. A neutral position, or as close to neutral as we can, will assist our training to deliver stronger and faster techniques, stances and transitioning because our aim is to achieve a flow in movement that is natural.