[Don’t] Assume the Athletic Position

(Don’t) Assume the Athletic Position
Joe Kenn

Stance – noun – The attitude or position of a standing person or animal, especially the position assumed by an athlete preparatory to action.
Posture – noun – The position of the limbs or the carriage of the body as a whole.


In all sports the rudimentary beginnings of movement starts with a specific stance or posture.  Whether it is a defensive stance on the basketball court, a three point stance for an offensive lineman, a batter preparing to hit a baseball or a weightlifter preparing for his final clean and jerk, there is a proper starting position.  All of these athletes must be taught the fundamentals of a proper stance to place them in a position to be successful.  Everything successful in sports starts with a proper starting position.  The simple foundation of all sports, the stance, is often times overlooked because of the ever increasing natural athleticism of athletes of this era.


In an athletic era where natural gifts supersede technique, many coaches and athletes have forgotten to focus on this piece of the puzzle that can help garner continued success and possibly reduce the chance of injury occurrence.  By placing the athlete in a proper starting position, the athlete has the ability to move more efficiently with less effort allowing him to accomplish a successful bout of exercise.


Developing a sound athletic position is no different.  We must teach and direct our athletes to be able to start in a basic position that all athletic movements can derive from.  It is important to note that although there is a developmental progression to establishing the athletic position each individual athlete will look slightly different because of limb and torso difference.  It is our goal for each athlete to understand the basic postural mechanics of the athletic position so that there will be an efficient transfer to strength training, running exercises, movement mechanics, and sport specific position drills.


By establishing the athletic position we can then begin to teach, instruct, and educate the athlete on the numerous movements and the techniques associated with all aspects of training.  Each individual coach will have a slightly different version of what “their” athletic position technique will look like but I assure you that we will all be very similar.  When speaking of technique many ask the question of what protocols should we use when teaching our athletes.  There are numerous ways to answer this.  Some may say “good technique is a form of movement that does not violate biological and mechanical laws” (Nytro).  Others may use the old cookbook philosophy of what is written in a textbook, scientific data, bullet point or checklist methods etc.  I prefer to use a holistic approach of all the above plus my own abilities as a former athlete as well as others who are professionals in specific fields of athleticism.  Therefore I can create my norms and know how to differentiate for the laws of individual differences and still stay within my protocols of success.


Before an athlete can begin to perfect his sports’ starting stance, it must be determined if he can properly align his body into the basic Athletic Position.
As a coach whose main objective is to enhance the general physical preparedness of the athlete, it is my focus to help the athlete understand body positioning and awareness.  If I can perform my duties well, the athlete will have the general athletic consciousness to apply the specific skills and body alignments needed to succeed in his individual sport of choice.


From the Anatomical to Athletic Position
Our first step is to put the athlete in our basic Anatomical position.
Anatomical Position defined – [1] that of the body standing erect with palms turned forward, used as a position of reference in designating the site or direction of structures of the body. [2] The erect position of the body with the face directed forward, the arms at the side, and the palms of the hands facing forward, used as a reference in describing the relation of body parts to another.


[Side Bar]
Many of us who have a general background in exercise science are familiar with the anatomical position of the body. This position is the basis of our ability to determine the movement planes and actions the body can perform.  An extremely critical function when determining the way will choose certain exercises to enhance overall athletic performance.
Planes of Movement – Gross Movement Patterns


Saggital Plane – divides the body vertically in to right and left parts.  Main motions are flexion and extension. Major example is walking.

Frontal Plane – divides the body vertically into anterior/front and posterior/back parts.  Main motions are abduction/adduction, side flexion, and inversion and eversion.  Major example is a jumping jack.

Transverse Plane – divides the body horizontally into superior/upper and inferior/lower parts.  Main motions are internal and external rotation, horizontal flexion and extension, supination and pronation.  Major example is throwing.
Note – All functional movement is tri-planar motion, meaning there is simultaneous movement of all three planes in one motion, making all functional movements three dimensional.


ATHLETIC POSITION defined – The position of the body in a flexed [bent] hip and knee position.  The foot position is based on the athlete’s natural landing position.  The head is set in a neutral/natural spine position [looking through the eyebrows]. The shoulders are retracted back and the chest is expanded [proud position].  The shoulders will be slightly over the toes.  The arms are flexed at the elbow and the hands are at the hip, palms are neutral [facing hip] with thumbs up.   The lower back is isometrically contracted as is the abdominal region.  The majority of the athlete’s weight is distributed on the mid foot to heels.  This position is used as a general starting point for most athletic endeavors.



Most of us have assumed all of our athletes can drop their hips and knees and correctly put themselves in a position of athletic success.  DON’T!!!!!!!  With the aid of assessment protocols such as the functional movement screen and establishing an orientation program for newcomers you will find many of your athletes cannot perform this simple act to your satisfaction when they enter your program.  This article is not made to go into all the reasons why, it is written to give you practical in the gym information from 20 years of experience.


Assessing the Athlete’s Natural Starting Position
We determine the athlete’s natural athletic position with a simple reaction test.  Have the athlete[s] stand on a line in a relaxed manner.  When the athlete[s] hears a whistle, they must immediately react to the verbal cue and set their athletic position and hold. The only instruction given is; at the sound of the whistle set yourself in a basic athletic position.  Generally we see variations of these three positions:
A – Knee bender [knees pushed forward, heels off the ground, hips still in full extension],
B – Waist bender [bent over at the waist, chest down, knees extended],
C – Hip and knee bender [athlete naturally can assume a basic quarter squat position].
Obviously “C” is the goal for each athlete.
Any of these three positions has the ability to expose the athlete’s deficiencies in ankle, knee, hip, shoulder mobility and flexibility as well core strength and stability.
Teaching Progression

• Start Position – Anatomical Position – [see above]
• Feet – the foot position is set first.  You will instruct the athlete to do a very low intensity vertical jump.  The natural landing position of the feet will be the starting point for the general athletic position.
• Head – the head will be set in a natural or neutral position.  As the athlete progresses to the bent knee and hip position the head will continue to be in a neutral position in which the top of the head is in alignment with the spine. The eyes will be focused straight forward in the upright position and then looking through the brow and forehead in the bent knee and hip position
• Shoulders/Chest – the shoulders will be retracted back and down which will allow the chest to be expanded in what is called the “proud” position.
• Arms and Hands – arms will begin extended with palms facing away from the midline of the body.  The athlete will then flex the elbow until the hands are at the hip and rotate the hand so the palms are facing the hip with the thumbs up.
• Low Back and Abdominal Region – the low back is arched and isometrically contracted.  The abdominal region is also contracted in a natural state.  We will not emphasize belly button drawn in or stomach expanded in the athletic position protocol.
• Hips – the athlete will break at the hips first to begin the lower body descent.  The athlete will push the hips back until the shoulders cover the toes.
• Knees – the will break after the hips and will continue to flex until the shoulders cover the toes
• Weight distribution – will be from the mid-foot to heel to heel to begin.  At this point the athlete will be asked to push the feet through the floor to learn how to apply force into the ground.
• Completion – when the athlete is in the athletic position, he is required to hold that position for a prescribed number of seconds in an isometrically contracted manner.  This will give him his first experience in body awareness, coordination, and balance.

This investment cannot be overlooked.  With the amount of pre existing back injuries and lack of mobility [to name a few] increasing each year in our incoming athletes, there is extreme merit in placing this important aspect of sport into your incoming freshman or beginner program.

Anatomical position. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Retrieved October 21, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: https://dictionary.reference.com/browse/anatomical position

Anatomical Position Image – www.answers.com/topic/flexion

Kenn, J  (2009).  How to Prepare Your Athletes for Collegiate and NFL Weight Programs.  American Football Monthly. 15(9).

Nytro, Arne (1987). What is Correct Technique.  “The Throws – Official Report of the European Athletic Coaches Association Congress”.

Planes of Movement Image – www.zaggla.com

Position. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved October 21, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: https://dictionary.reference.com/browse/position

Posture. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 05, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: https://dictionary.reference.com/browse/posture

Stance. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved September 05, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: https://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stance

Throughout this article the masculine shall be deemed to include the feminine and vice versa.