Sitting Pretty

By Volker Nolte

There’s little disagreement about the link between proper posture and performance, but what does correct body positioning look like? The most common description of good posture, which has the athlete maintaining a “stick-like” straight back, first appeared in literature more than a century ago when the sport was still heavily influenced by fixed-seat rowing. Legendary coach Steve Fairbairn was the first to introduce a more modern technique featuring curved backs, around 1930. Today’s research confirms Fairbairn’s notion, but for further evidence just look at a photo of any high-caliber rower. None row with a straight back, which is understandable since the human spine naturally presents a so-called “double-s” shape. These curvatures are nature’s very smart way to diminish the load on the spine. Leading scientists now define good posture in rowers mainly on two indicators. First, the athlete needs to row with a neutral or a natural “C-shaped” spine. The nature of the curvature differs by individual and presents the position where the least muscle tension is used to stabilize the spine’s shape. Secondly, the athlete needs to maintain their C-shape during the stroke, which is achieved through well-developed and strong trunk muscles. Knowing your neutral spine shape and holding this position strongly and steadily improves technique and prevents injury.