PT on the Net Research

Postural Profile


As a personal trainer, your ongoing quest for the "perfect program" never ends. In this article, we will discuss how to build a foundation for your program design. Before we can discuss what acute variables your client should start with (sets, reps, tempo and rest periods), we must first have an understanding of what condition our client is in. Since the "typical" client of today is much different from the "typical" client of 30 to 40 years ago, program design must be altered to fit this new environment.

To start our program design process, we must first start with a postural profile. The first question to ask is "what is posture?" Posture refers to the way we hold our bodies. It is the structural alignment of all joints and muscles at any particular moment. Posture can be divided into two categories:

Optimum posture is present when all body parts are balanced and in alignment with each other. The following picture of the "block model" represents a static model of body parts by comparing the segments of the body with a series of blocks. This model represents how the human framework, when correctly aligned, creates a state of maximal efficiency, which in turn places less stress on passive structures. Proper posture (static and dynamic) ensures that the muscles of the body are optimally aligned in proper length/tension relationships for efficient functioning. This allows for effective absorption and distribution of forces throughout the kinetic chain as well as optimum neuromuscular efficiency.

Figure 1

When one block (body segment) moves out of alignment (see Figure 1), a neighboring block moves in the opposite direction to maintain the line of gravity within the base of support. Because postural alignment reflects changes in muscle length, a postural profile should be the primary assessment used by the trainer to determine muscle imbalances. This quick technique can provide general information regarding the state of muscles and joints.

Postural screening utilizes a snapshot overview that involves a general assessment of a client’s natural appearance. The trainer will be observing gross deviations quickly and simply.

The following pictures represent an ideal skeletal alignment that places a minimal amount of stress and strain on the kinetic chain and is conducive to maximum structural efficiency. It is recommended that the trainer use the standard-posture guideline a tool to assess the symmetrical balance between all muscle groups. The more the client deviates from ideal skeletal alignment, the greater the imbalance.

Figure 2a (left) and 2b (right)

Figure 2a shows a standard posture side view. Head is in a neutral position, not tilted forward or backward. Cervical spine is normal curve, slightly converted anteriorly. Scapula is flat against upper back. Thoracic spine is normal curve, slightly converted posteriorly. Lumbar spine has a normal curve, slightly converted anteriorly. Pelvis is in neutral position, anterior superior spine in same vertical plane as symphysis pubis. Hip joint is in neutral position, neither flexed nor extended. Ankle joints in neutral position, leg vertical at right angle to sole of foot. Notes: An imaginary line should run slightly behind the lateral malleolus, through the middle of the femur, center of the shoulder and middle of the ear.

Figure 2b shows a standard posture back view. Head is in neutral position, neither tilted nor rotated. Shoulders are level, not elevated or depressed. Scapula is in neutral position, medial borders essentially parallel and approximately three to four inches apart. Thoracic and lumbar spines are straight. Pelvis is level with both posterior superior iliac spines in the same transverse plane. Hip joints are in neutral position, neither adducted nor abducted. Lower extremities are straight, and feet are parallel. Notes: An imaginary line should begin midway between the heels, extending upward between the lower extremities, through the midline of the pelvis and through the spine and skull.

For those of you that have never performed a static postural profile with your client aware that their posture was being analyzed, you probably noticed that you did not get an accurate reading of their typical day-to-day posture. This is why you should always be working "undercover" to get the most accurate postural profile possible. This just means, try to notice your clients movement patterns at all times, when they are exercising, as they are talking to their friends in the gym, as they are sitting at a table and filling out their physical activity readiness questionnaire. This will allow you to get the most accurate results from your postural profile.

Please Note: This posture profile process is only one of the many profiles that can be used when creating an individualized program. Check the PTN Content Library for other articles covering integrated kinetic chain profiles.

Suggested Reading:

  1. Clark MA, Corn RJ, Parracino LA, Integrated Program Design for the Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine, 2000.
  2. Clark, Micheal, Integrated Training for the New Millennium, National Academy of Sports Medicine, 2000.