One of the more fascinating concepts when studying athletic performance is what is called ‘reciprocal inhibition’.

guy wiresTo understand how reciprocal inhibition works, you must first understand that muscles attach to bones and pull on them like guy wires. When all muscles are at equal tension they create stability within the joint that bone connects to.

But if one muscle gets stronger than another that pulls in the opposite direction, it changes your resting posture because the stronger muscle is going to pull the bone a bit more in its direction.

This is where reciprocal inhibition comes in to play.

What it means is that when you have this condition where one muscle has more tension (gets stronger), the muscles on the opposite side lengthen and actually get weaker over time.

This slowly creates more and more instability in the joint.

It also leads to pain because things are out of place and rubbing on surfaces that weren’t designed to be in contact.

And it increases the chance for the lengthened and weakened muscle to get injured because they can no longer stand up to the forces commonly imposed upon them.

Your resting posture will show you where your ‘guy wires’ are pulling too much.

We won’t get into every situation where this happens, but here are the two big ones.

This is a fairly common situation, one that of course comes with consequences.

In this case it is the muscles on the outside of the back side of your leg that cause this pull.

The number one problem for athletes here is that it makes it very hard to activate the powerful glute muscles when running, jumping, and cutting if you have a toes out posture.

So from a performance perspective, a toes out posture saps your ability to play as fast and powerfully as you otherwise could have.

An equally big problem, one that affects both younger athletes and adults, is the pain or injury it can cause. The most likely side effects are:

  • Higher potential for ankle sprains
  • Higher potential for knee injuries
  • Greater chance of low back pain
  • Increased likelihood of shin splints when you run a lot

Not a good list for active people.

The good thing about it? It is a very correctable problem if you become aware and stay on top of it over the long run.

For starters, when standing or seated, is to turn your toes straight if you see them out in a rested posture.

Second, ditch the sneakers that have a lot of padding in them because they’re weakening your feet.Switch to a shoe with a more minimal padding, and spend some time walking around barefoot when it is socially acceptable.

Additionally you can foam roll tight areas and stretch as well, but if you don’t fix the resting posture you can do all the rolling and stretching in the world and your problem is just going to keep coming back.


OK, so just by looking at this we all know it is bad. But what problems can it lead to?

For starters:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Increased risk for rotator cuff injuries
  • Increased risk for labrum tears
  • Increased risk your trainer (or parents) will endlessly tell you to stand upright!

The last one is probably true, but not as relevant to this discussion as the first four.

Think again of the guy wire principle as it relates to throwers, and how they pull their arm forward with the muscles on the front side of their body over and over.

Think also of the athlete who bench presses all the time but does not balance it out with enough pulling drills.

Or just think of how you sit, especially when on your phone or on a computer, how the natural tendency is to slump forward where muscles on the front shorten and the ones in back lengthen.

All of this creates more tension in the front of the shoulder and due to reciprocal inhibition accelerates a weakness of the muscles behind it. This is why throwers always injure their rotator cuff or labrum but almost never tear a chest muscle.

The good news is the solution is just as easy as fixing the toes out!

Be vigilant and correct slumped posture, especially when sitting or using technology. Regularly add stretches for the front side of your upper body, and if you’re an athlete you definitely want to do strengthening for the back side more often….particularly if you’re a thrower.

Your takeaway here is that everything we do, even when resting, has an impact on our athleticism. You habits can enhance or undermine all the other work you do.

We can spend endless time training, stretching, and foam rolling to address pain and other issues but if our all-day-long posture is undermining it all, how much progress do you think you’ll see?

Being fit and being athletic is a 24/7 job, including how you are aligned as you’re reading this right now.

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