There is one postural position/stance that is common to all multidirectional sports and it’s called athletic stance. Regardless to the surface (ice, grass, clay, hardwood) or type of sport (individual or team sport), athletic stance is position that can be repeated many times during one point or action, or during the entire match. This position can be the starting position before acceleration, or stopping position after deceleration. It can also be intermediate position during transition between two different moves and, finally, it can be “active waiting” position from which a player must react to another player or ball.
There is no universal definition of AS as it can vary between different sports (tennis or soccer), positions in the team or players’ position (defender or attacker). Generally speaking, athletic stance is a standing position that allows you to maximize your strength, power or speed in any direction. Changes in the angles of the ankles, knees and torso depend on the direction where we want to produce strength, power or speed. For example, there are differences in stance with regard to the pure vertical power vs. lateral speed. Because all of that, when we train athletes, AS is something we should address during the training process and develop properly in order to enhance other qualities that are categorized under power, speed and agility skills. Like with every other skill, first we have to learn some basics of proper positioning.
When I’m coaching athletes for proper AS positioning there are 4 most important rules:
- Position of feet should be wider than shoulders with firm tripod contact
You need to have a wide stance because in this way you will be able to start moving in any direction you want – left, right, forward or backward. If you stay in narrow position, it is impossible to have rapid start in any of these directions because you don’t have the proper angle to push off. How wide is ideal? There is no perfect answer. If you are guard and play defense in basketball, you will want to have wider position than, for example, if you are returning serve in tennis. But if you like numbers, many researches are talking about 50° angle between your belly button and your heels.
Serve return position in tennis
Feet can be parallel or up to 15° out of the toes. This mostly depends on how much dorsiflexion we have in the ankles. Good tripod contact with the surface (first, fifth metatarsal and calcaneus bone) is essential for efficient pushing of the ground in the direction we want to go and for executing proper triple extension of the ankle, the knee and the hip.
- The position of knees should be inside the feet
In this way we can create a better push off angle in order to push our body in direction we want to move. For example, if we want to move to the right we need to push with our left leg. Start of the movement will be more efficient if we have left hip internally rotated with the knee positioned inside our left foot. If our knees are in line with the feet or even outside it will be much harder to start the movement and we will lose precious milliseconds to react.
- Chest should be positioned over feet, back neutral not hyperextended
When chest is positioned in front of the feet we have weight on the front two-thirds of the foot. Why? Simply because if the weight is distributed mainly on the heels, the reaction time drops quickly. Try to execute any movement whilst “sitting” on your heels and you will feel like it takes forever to accelerate in any direction.
- Back neutral not hyperextended position
Lower back should be as flat as close to the neutral position in order to create stiffness through the midsection. Everyone should know that proximal stability leads to distal mobility, so that with the proper positioning of the core, an athlete can create adequate stiffness to move his distal segments in more efficient way.