Something I've noticed more and more with training/treating is some seriously poor jaw positioning in clients. Whether it's just resting posture or the middle of a big lift, people go thru some weird jaw movements: flaring it wide open, biting down hard and grinding, protracting the jaw forward, or just being slack-jawed. Besides weirding people out, it indicates that we are lacking a strategy for maintaining a stable, centered jaw position over the upper cervical spine which is critical for movement integrity, neural output, and resolving neck or jaw pain including headaches. Essentially, the system is looking for stability and finding it in dysfunctional positions.
We know that head position can actually influence pelvic tilt such that a forward head or looking up during a lift promotes an anterior pelvic tilt and an overextended lumbar spine - which is why we should NOT cue athletes to "look up" during squats or deadlifts. I previously wrote that mouth breathing can destabilize the cervical spine and certainly it affects jaw position. Developmentally, motor control is learned from proximal to distal and from head to toe (i.e., we learn to move the jaw before the lips and tongue; control the head before the arms). The ability to keep the head in midline is a prime example of developmental progress. So by accessing a developmental or primitive pattern and setting the jaw (including the tongue) into a stable position, we can better access the nervous system and promote adaptation and improve output.
So what is the stable position of the jaw?
The mandible attaches to the temporal bone like a boat to a dock - it's floating around in there rather than anchored like the hip, for example. What this means is it's a joint that requires loads of stability and motor control for optimal function.
Ultimately, the jaw is not optimally stabilized if we do not have full cervical range in all planes while maintaining the lips sealed, jaw slightly open, and the tongue at the roof of the mouth. Having that tongue position really optimizes and integrates the whole system.
Check out the video below for a few ideas on improving upper cervical spine mobility and jaw positioning. These are also clutch for tension-type headaches.
Not having the basics of jaw positioning (including the tongue) just won't cut it and will lead to alterations in the nervous system, spinal control, and power generation.
The first post here at SethOberst.com went up on July 10, 2013 to zero fanfare (including from me). Fortunately, this site has grown tremendously in the year since so I wanted to reflect on where it stands and where it's going.
Since the first post, First Post + Primer for Looking at Athletic Movements we have:
Here are the Top 5 most-viewed posts from this year:
In this next year plan on a continued focus on improving adaptability and efficiency, often by tapping in to the neuromuscular system. The goal is to bridge disparate fields and think about movement and performance the way it should be - as a system of systems. Anything looked upon in total isolation without regard for the system is unlikely to have meaningful nor lasting benefit. Even the highest-level movement and performance systems should be scalable to everyday life because that's where it really matters, even for the best athletes.
Better information yields more informed decisions because gone are the days where it is okay to be a passive observer in your own life.
Thanks to all the readers of, and contributors to, SethOberst.com over the course of this first year, certainly never thought that more than like 3 people would be interested in what I had to say!
Look forward to more guest writers and maybe even an e-book this year. And keep up the feedback: the more feedback, comments, or insults I get the better this site becomes. Show me a better way and I'm all in.