Shifting In and Out of Patterns: A Discussion on Extension, Neutrality and Performance

I’m a conventional deadlifter, but I’m a short guy. I’d probably be better off pulling with a sumo style. I’ve tried sumo a couple of times, but they were pretty frustrating experiences. I definitely couldn’t pull as much sumo as I could from a conventional approach the first time. I guess I probably just need to work on it. I certainly wouldn’t enter a meet and try to use sumo for the first time ever under those conditions. Something bad might happen. Every year during spring training you hear about pitchers trying out new pitches to add to their repertoire. These pitchers don’t just decide to add a new pitch in the middle of the season, because they know they have to practice it and work out the bugs before trying to mix it in during games that count. In the world of Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) practitioners there is often times discussion regarding whether it is a good idea to pull athlete’s out of their pattern because this might make them run slower, throw with less velocity, or not be able to jump as high. My personal thought on this matter is that perhaps these quantifiable drop offs are the result of the athlete not having practice performing this skill from the new position that they are performing them from. Perhaps with more practice and the acquisition of training volume in this new position, the athlete would be able to reach the same quantifiable expressions of the sport movement, but do so with a biomechanical approach that would be better for longevity related matters.

Extension Patterns

Stress, behaviors, exercise, and specific sports movements are associated with driving people into extension/inhalation oriented positions. Extension strategies are used to power up for strength and power movements in competition and training. If movements are practiced in an extension oriented position, then that position becomes the dominant response strategy that you go with when you need to perform that exercise under competitive or high stakes conditions. Extension strategies, which are associated with anterior pelvic tilt, lordosis, and elevation and external rotation of ribs may limit a number of joint movement capabilities, such as humeral and femoral rotation because of bony positions, or result in compensatory strategies to achieve required necessary motion for sports movements.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with extension positions, problems may begin to occur when people exist in extension during times of rest, and when they are unable to get out of an extension oriented position in general. Excessive extension seems to be related to unnecessary levels of muscle tone, which may increase internal resistance to joint movements. Discussing all of the pitfalls of excessive extension and resting extension positions is beyond the scope of this document. The overall concept that this document is aimed at addressing is the idea that extension is a part of sports, and a strategy that many athletes may over utilize. Chronic pain syndromes may become a part of an athlete’s life if they are unable to prevent excessive extension during the performance of their sports movements, and if they exist in that position during rest/utilize this strategy during activities of daily living.

Extension and Performance

Regardless of the downside of utilization and reliance on excessive extension, tremendous displays of strength, power, and athleticism through extension is a common occurrence in sports. Exercise adaptations that take place with repeated sports movement performance in extension will result in hypertrophy and force production of the tissues used to power those movements. These adaptations will make these extension driven sports movements even more powerful. These adaptations are very specific to the tissues used in an extension position, and adaptations will not present themselves to the muscles that would be utilized in a more flexed position. Therefore, the musculature that would be recruited and utilized in a more flexed position would essentially be untrained.

Perhaps the reason why sprinters run slightly slower following an intervention that makes them neutral is because they haven’t trained the tissues that they’re recruiting to power that movement under those circumstances. Claiming that making sprinters neutral is a bad idea for their sport may be a short sighted statement. Perhaps an individual with impressive quantifiable expressions of force production who witnesses acute reductions in those expressions after achieving neutrality simply needs to train that movement under the conditions of neutrality. New muscles will have an opportunity to power joint actions if someone achieves neutrality after not being able to reach that position previously. These muscles need to be strengthened and then integrated into more complex athletic movements. If proper joint actions can be utilized for sporting movements with the appropriate prime mover and stabilization strategies of muscles and then optimal quantifiable expressions can be reached, this would appear to be the best practice approach to training and competition. Coaches simply should not expect equal quantifiable expression of new positional and muscular strategies to that of older strategies to be instantaneous.

The quantifiable comparison of an extension strategy to a neutral strategy is not necessarily a fair one if neutrality has been recently achieved. If we as a community want to evaluate whether neutrality is a detriment to the quantifiable expression of an athletic movement, we need to properly train the musculature that would be recruited under neutral conditions in the performance of a sport movement for an appropriate amount of time to allow it to experience the positive effects of training adaptations. Appreciating the differences between acute and chronic physiological expressions is an important consideration on this topic, and one that needs further evaluation before any definitive statement can be made.

Fitting the Mold

In the world of sports performance, it seems that there are criteria levels of fitness that must be met as a requisite to be successful at high level sports. Football receivers will be unable to play in the NFL if they run a 4.9 in their 40 regardless of their sport specific skill. In regards to movement capabilities, there is also likely a similar phenomenon. It is highly likely that each sport, and each position inside each sport possesses a specific range of motion profile that would be a requisite for the ability to execute sport specific biomechanics associated with optimal performance of sporting actions. Once the athlete possesses the appropriate levels of joint movement variability, there is probably little additional benefit from going greatly above and beyond that level.

If the athlete is capable of quantifiably reaching a movement range of motion standard and is able to recruit the appropriate muscles in the right sequence, the athlete will likely be able to realize best case mechanics and will be doing everything in their power from a biomechanics standpoint to prolong their playing career. All this being said, the stress of training and competing, as well as the aging process will likely alter the gross range of motion capabilities or alter the sequencing and/or synchrony of muscular action utilized in the active performance of dynamic tasks over the course of the athlete’s playing career.

If the athlete has been trained with an understanding of proximal neutrality, and what sorts of positions and muscular strategies are associated with being able to stay within a criteria motion standard and synchronization pattern that allows for the expression of proper biomechanics, the athlete will potentially extend their playing career and be able to realize more great performances per playing season.

about the author


pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head