There long has been discussion on the best posture for runners and athletes to assume when recovering from high-intensity exercise: Hands on Head (HH) or Hands on Knees (HK). A recent study conducted by Michaelson et al (1) studied the optimal recovery position for athletes and runners after high intensity exercise.
Runners and athletes of all skill levels and ages continually seek out the best strategy to decrease recovery time and boost their performance. The respiratory system’s recovery mechanisms are complex and highly integrated and involve the buffering of metabolic by-products to maintain homeostasis which in turn helps to regulate the excitation-contraction process in localized muscle tissue. Failure to maintain this homeostasis affects athletic performance and often develops when the respiratory system lacks its ability to maintain this homeostasis and exercise-induced diaphragmatic fatigue sets in. The diaphragm is a large muscle that sits at the base of the lungs. Your abdominal muscles help the diaphragm move in a way that gives you power to empty your lungs.
New research suggests that an athlete can accelerate their immediate recovery from exercise by maximizing the surface area of the diaphragmatic zone of apposition (ZOA). The ZOA is maximized when the spine is in a position of flexion (as in when bending over at the waist) as opposed to spinal extension (as occurs when arching your back which occurs when you position your hands on your head). Thus, if the work of the diaphragm is maximized in a posture of flexion, it would appear that the Hands on Knees (HK) posture is the preferred posture of recovery.
This specific study looked at the effects of these recovery postures in female soccer players after performing repeated sprint intervals. Research results revealed that the soccer players that assumed the hands on knees posture demonstrated marked improvement in recovery measures than those who assumed the hands on head posture.
The hands on knees posture causes spinal flexion and internal rotation which maximizes the work of the diaphragm. The Hands on head posture places the diaphragm in a suboptimal position, decreasing its efficiency, thus affecting the recovery of the athlete.
The ability to recover efficiently and quickly is a critical component of optimizing performance and preventing recovery. At our clinic, we incorporate the hands on knees posture with the athletes we work with in the rehabilitation of their injuries and to improve their performance.
The next time you or your athlete needs assistance in recovery from high intensity exercise, try the Hands on Knees posture. I think you will be pleased with the results.
- Michaelson J, Brilla L, Supra D, McLaughlin W, Dahlquist D. “Effects of Two Different Recovery Postures during High-Intensity Interval Training” Transitional Journal of the ACSM 2019: Vol 4 (4): 23-27