Recent News and Events

by Alison McGinnis, PT, DPT, FAFS

Posted in Blog.

August 5th, 2019

How You Stand During a Workout Affects Your Recovery Time

The ability to recover after physical activity is crucial in optimizing performance, especially after high-intensity exercise. Whether doing interval sprints on the track or playing a sport, the ability to bring down your heart rate and remove metabolic waste (carbon dioxide) after a bout of sprinting or hard work is key to being able to perform the next set with minimal fatigue and maximal performance. Research has proposed that lying supine is an ideal way to bring down your heart rate, but is usually not available while out on a run or on the field of play. So new research looked at the effect of two standing postures, hands-on head (HH) and hands-on knees (HK), and their effect on heart rate recovery (HRR) and carbon dioxide elimination. 


HH = hands-on head

HK = hands-on knees

HRR = heart rate recovery


The respiratory system (breathing) plays a key role in performance, fatigue, and recovery from exercise. It is important for maintaining homeostasis, and detrimental effects on performance occur once the system cannot increase ventilation any further and your diaphragm fatigues beyond its ability to recover. A faster HRR demonstrates increased aerobic capacity while a slower HRR indicates diaphragmatic fatigue, decreased performance, and a greater likelihood of overall fatigue. 


The main difference between the hands-on head (HH) and hands-on knees (HK) position is the position of the spine. In the HH position, a person is standing with their hands on top of their head, placing their spine in extension and their rib cage into external rotation. This places the diaphragm in a suboptimal position by decreasing its mechanical efficiency to contract since the abdominal muscles are over-lengthened passively and cannot adequately oppose the diaphragm, and breathing mechanics become more labored. It is harder to fully exhale in this stretched position. In the HK position, a person is standing bent over with their hands on their knees and elbows extended, and the trunk flexed (rounded). This brings the rib cage into internal rotation and shortens the abdominal muscles to allow for effective contraction of the diaphragm and opposition from the abdominal wall, and allows for increased exhalation volume (ability to get more air out). This is important to bring the heart rate down and allow for more air in on the next breath.


New research comparing these two positions found that the HK position significantly improved the HRR time (22 beats/min faster) and had greater carbon dioxide elimination in the same time period as compared to the HH position after a bout of high intensity sprinting. This response is believed to be due to the improved ability to engage abdominal muscles to exhale when bent over compared to standing upright, leading to better elimination of carbon dioxide and a rapid slowing of the heart rate, both of which greatly improve recovery time and reduce fatigue.


Next time you’re trying to catch your breath after a hard effort, bend over!







Michaelson J, Brilla L, Suprak D, McLaughlin W, Dahlquist D. Effects of Two Different Recovery Postures during High-Intensity Interval Training. Transl J Am Coll Sports Med. 2019;4(4);23-27.
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