Myth: Recover with the Hands Over the Head

breathing running tips Jun 17, 2022

Myth-Busting Alert:

Recovering with the Hands on the Head is Suboptimal⁣



The Diaphragm muscle contracts and moves downward. This is called excursion, and it increases the space in the chest cavity so the lungs can expand. ⁣



Diaphragmatic Excursion (measured with a functional MRI) is greater when the ribcage position is neutral and matches the position of the pelvis.

⁣This relationship between ribcage and pelvis has been termed the Zone of Apposition by the experts at the postural restoration institute.⁣

In order to recover from a hard bout of effort, we want to get oxygen back in the blood quickly. ⁣

Hands on the head position

  • Shown to be less effective in improving tidal volume, oxygenation, and HR recovery. ⁣

⁣Hands on the knees

  • Is the research supported position to improve tidal volume, decrease CO2, and improve HR recovery

In cardiac rehab, the recommendation has long been to recover seated, hands on knees, or leaning over a chair in order to allow the diaphragm to move. ⁣


Psychology is a very important piece to consider especially for athletes. You may want to weigh the pros and cons of a recovery position based on knowing an athlete's mindset, the time frame within a season, or time frame within a specific training session.  

· If an athlete is recovering before their next race in 15 minutes, maybe the physiological benefit is greater.

· Conversely, if an athlete is recovering between plays in a basketball game, maybe the psychological benefit outweighs it.  

Potentially due to the psychology and the appearance of “looking tired”, recovering with your hands on your knees has not been recommended by sports coaches.

 Another consideration is the health and condition of the athlete's spine. Some people with an extension sensitivity from a history of disc issues or other impairments feel better slouched than standing in extension. These are important aspects to understand and consider.

 The fact is, however, that hands above the head is a suboptimal position for recovery.

If the goal is to maximize recovery:⁣

Ideal: Dynamic recovery with HR at ~65% max ⁣

Less Ideal: Standing with hands on knees⁣

Least Ideal: Standing with hands above head⁣



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