Why Athletes Put Their Hands On Their Knees To Catch Their Breath

If you’ve ever gone to amateur sporting events, chances are you've heard a coach instruct the team to put their hands on their hips or on top of their head. The reasoning was that (1) standing tall would allow the team to open their lungs and taken in more oxygen and (2) bending over is a sign of weakness to be avoided at all cost. A recent study found that bending over with your hands on your knees is the superior recovery posture compared to the classic “hands on head” pose. How could this possibly be? After all, doesn't having your hands on your head open up your lungs, while bending over closes them off? Actually, no. The problem with the hands on the head posture is that it flares your rib cage upwards, extends your back, and closes off your posterior rib cage so it can't effectively expand during inhalation. The posterior rib cage actually contains a large volume of your lung tissue, so closing it off is far from ideal. This inhibits the diaphragm, the primary muscle of inhalation, from working effectively. To overcome this, many of your back and neck muscles will try to make up for the lack of diaphragm function during inhalation. A more optimal position would be to place your hands on your knees and look slightly upward. With your hands on your knees, your lungs are allowed to fill with a greater volume of air. This in turn supplies more oxygen to the working tissue so you can more quickly clear the oxygen debt you've accumulated through exercise. Your oxygen debt is essentially the specific amount of oxygen you need to recover when fatigued post-activity.