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Standing Tall for Success

Written by Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP
Member of ACSM

In all likelihood, you were at some point during your childhood commanded by your parents to “stand up straight” and “not slouch.”  You probably obliged, though you may never have understood the reasoning behind their demand. Well, there may be something to it…

According to new research, “posture expansiveness,” or positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space, activates a sense of power that produces behavioral changes in a person independent of their actual rank or hierarchical role in an organization or team.  In other words, adopting an open body posture – shoulders back, standing tall, chest out, chin up – plays an important role in determining if people act as though they are in charge, regardless of whether they actually are!

To test this theory, various experiments, such as a verbal recall task, word completion exercise and blackjack game, were conducted with participants in a 2011 study from Northwestern University. Those with open body posture thought about more power-related words and generally took more action than those with closed body postures in each experiment. Strong, powerful posture, it was concluded, had a strong effect in making a person think and act in a more powerful way. 

Significant findings, undoubtedly. Think about the transferability of this for you as an athlete. 

First, envision your typical response to such experiences as physical fatigue, on-field mistakes, performance distractions, even altercations with family and friends. Does your reaction to these challenges – specifically, the manner in which you carry yourself – help or hurt your subsequent performance?

For a football player preparing for the Combine or his Pro Day, standing tall and assuming powerful body language on the field and in the weight room will help in a number of areas. There are, for instance, anatomical benefits. Open posture assists in reducing stress and strain on your spine and improving muscle tone, especially the core, back and neck. It also opens the diaphragm, allowing increased oxygen into the system and better breathing techniques which improve circulation.

Then there’s the confidence boost – stemming from more powerful thoughts and more decisiveness – that comes with a strong, open posture. Not only that, but your strengthened posture may change others’ perceptions of you as well. Teammates may be positively influenced (and opponents negatively so) as a result of your projection of confidence.

A professional hockey player with whom I recently worked was lamenting over the fact that his demeanor would, without his initially realizing it, immediately turn negative and ‘drooping’ in the face of a foolish penalty or a weak shift. He identified that his weakened posture affected his between-shift attitude, which set him up for another poor shift, or another foolish penalty.

While a certain posture won’t guarantee success, the “right” posture will yield physical benefits as well as more dominant thoughts and behaviors, thereby putting you in a great position for success. So why wouldn’t we “stand up straight” and “not slouch” all the time??

Think about specific instances in your life in which you easily get “off track” or off your game. The solution may start with your posture.

The original version of this post was published on the Professional Sport Psychology Symposium blog on March 5, 2012.

What do you think? Join the conversation on our Facebook Page and on Twitter.

Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP Member of ACSM: Greg Chertok is currently a Sport Psychology Counselor and Fitness Trainer at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center. He received his B.A. in Psychology at Tufts University and M.Ed. in Counseling specializing in Sport & Exercise Psychology at Boston University in 2007. 

Note: The views expressed in ACSM  Hot Topics are those of the contributors only, and should not be construed as official statements of the American College of Sports Medicine. 

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