Pain Free Athlete: Posture Alignment on Aerobic Machines

Pain Free Athlete

Posture Alignment on Aerobic Machines

When exercising on an aerobic machine (elliptical, treadmill, bike, stair stepper, etc.) our intent is to condition our cardiovascular system. We are concerned with our heart rate, breathing and fatigue. It is all about our heart and lungs. Seldom do we consider the biomechanics needed to reach our workout intensity. Consequently, people are hunching over the machines, leaning forward and getting hurt.

Six posture related injuries from aerobic machines:

1. Ligaments are permanently stretched
Common in the pelvic area when vertical alignment from the ear to the ankle is not maintained. Seen when using the elliptical or stair stepper with the feet too far back and the pelvis tucks under.

2. Cartilage damage due to abnormal friction
Knees are a prime target, when the hip and ankle are misaligned the soft tissues within the knee joint are worn down with every movement repetition.

3. Disc injuries from vertebrae misalignment
Rounding of the shoulders and upper back put additional stress on the spine causing discs to bulge or herniate in the neck and low back.

4. Nerve damage including worsening impingement and imbalances causing headaches, numbness and tingling
Often experienced in the neck due to overstretching of the muscles from a head forward position.

5. Arthritis development or progression in weight bearing joint
There is a kinetic chain of movement from the vertebrae of the spine to the shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. Each affects the other and imbalances in joint position will create wear and stress in the body leading to cumulative trauma and pain.

6. Muscle imbalances
Opposing muscle structures develop unevenly, some become short and weak while others become elongated and weak. Leaning forward while walking impairs gluteal muscle function, creating uneven development in the lower body. An aligned posture increases muscle activation and establishes balance between the upper and lower body.

Postural tips for aerobic machines:

Head/Neck Position
Your head should be centered between your shoulders, resting on the top of the spine without going forward. Left to right your ears are level, not tilting to one side. Look out on the horizon not down at the screen in front of you to maintain the cervical curve in your neck and reduce strain on these vertebrae.
Shoulder Position
Your shoulder blades should be drawn down and together towards the spine. This will open the chest allowing for better oxygen exchange and increased lung capacity. Shoulders should form a 90 degree angle with both shoulders level. Rounded shoulders increases the stress on upper neck muscles on the back and front of the body. This creates muscle disparities with the neck muscles in the back being lengthened and the muscles in the front being shortened. Shoulder rounding also internally rotates the humerus (top of the arm bone) causing the anterior, medial and posterior deltoid muscles of the shoulder to develop unevenly.
Foot Placement
When using the elliptical trainer or stair stepper, the foot should be placed directly under the hip to create vertical alignment from the hip to the ankle. For most people this will mean moving the foot to the front of the platform. This will reduce the knee angle which can cause knee pain if it becomes too great.
Hand Placement
The arms should hang naturally down a long side the body with the shoulder, elbow and wrist in alignment. When using handles for the treadmill, stair stepper or recumbent bike, grab the handle so that the arm is in this alignment. Also, on the stair stepper, do not press into the hand rails for additional support to aid the lower body, rather reduce the intensity of the exercise.

Jessica Kisiel is local wellness professional specializing in injury recovery and pain management through posture alignment using the Egoscue Method®. Stay connected and receive free posture exercises for your favorite sport by signing up for her newsletter,