The Art of Intercepting Gravity

Posted: February 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

In this entry last month about our body’s battle with gravity, I stated that I would follow up with an in depth djangoexplanation of exactly how we’re supposed to approach this so called battle.  In all honesty, I made that statement thinking the Mayans were going to let me off the hook.  Needless to say, nothing happened.  At least, I think nothing happened.  But after the release of “Django”, the world might actually be set on fire, I’m not totally sure.  Anyway, the lesson as always, never trust an ancient civilization that used human heads to play a game that Dr. James Naismith may or may not have been influenced by.  All told, I suppose I owe you guys yet another follow up post.

When it comes to gravity, one of the first things people tend to overlook is that it is a constant force.  While we may understand that gravity keeps us glued to this planet’s surface, we may not be completely aware of the effect this has on our bodies.  One glance around a crowded gym can clue us into the individuals that successfully fight gravity.

It all starts with a person’s posture.  I mentioned in this post that one of the most common postural defects is “forward head posture.”  If you don’t look like an Egyptian hieroglyph carrying a vase on your head, chances are you suffer from this to some degree.  While postural deficiencies may not always result in chronic pain or massive injury, you must understand that the chances of something bad happening are increased.  However, this doesn’t mean that having good posture will make you indestructable either.  It’s all about giving yourself a better chance to consistently and effectively ward off gravity.

Without going into too much detail, poor posture will cause your body to become unbalanced.  To prevent your face from eventually dragging on the ground while you walk, your body will activate certain muscles to keep that from happening.  This can manifest into situations like tight shoulders, backs, hamstrings and calves.  So stretching your tight hamstrings may only be a temporary fix.  Getting them to turn off when not needed (ie. to offset the fact that your head is 3 inches off center) may be more of a long term solution.

Ok, so I get why we should have good posture, but what does battling gravity have to do with, well… everything else?

Like I said a few paragraphs ago, gravity is a constant force.  And while having great standing posture is the first step, gravity will act on us no matter what we’re doing.  For instance, what happens to our body when we land after grabbing a rebound?  Gravity wants to collapse us into the earth’s surface in accordion like fashion.  Having the right muscles and structures performing the proper tasks keeps this from happening.

The challenge here is to get our body to align itself so that it can remain rigid enough to keep itself from collapsing under the weight of the landing (or the bar if you’re in the weightroom).  When we can maintain that proper alignment, our bodies act as a conductor of sorts.  Much like a lightning rod will absorb a bolt of lightning, a properly segmented body will absorb the forces created when we land from a jump or keeping a weighted bar from flattening us like The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in a ridiculous cameo.

That last part is important to the equation.  No.  I’m not telling you to jump off a roof into non-existent bushes.  I’m talking about keeping a weighted bar from smashing us into the ground.  Or any other type of exercise that deals with applying force into the ground.  Remember from the physics classes you slept through that when we apply force into an object, it applies an equal and opposite force into us.  That force that is applied into us is the same force we feel when landing from a jump and is the lightning bolt that we have to absorb properly in order to avoid excess wear and tear on our bodies.

The core of this process starts, well, at our “core.”  Now, I’m sure you’ve all seen this term thrown around enough, so let me just break down how I choose to view it.  The core of our bodies is the column that involves our hips, ribcage, and shoulder blades.  It also involves our spine, but I tend to use those three components to ensure that the spine is in it’s proper position.  Think about trying to pull your ribcage up as far away from your hips as possible.  You should simultaneously feel you shoulder blades drop down towards your hips.  By separating our ribcage from our hips, then actively flexing our the lats (which attaches to our shoulder blades and the highest point of our hips) and abs at the same time, we create a stable column through the middle of our bodies.

It should be noted that this is an effect you want to achieve primarily during exercise.  When at rest, excess tension may lead to over compensations.  It’s best to just make sure you get some elevation in the ribcage and separation from your hips (think long through your midsection) to achieve resting good posture.

Now, the last part of this process is making sure we channel all the forces acting on our body through this column.  This can be practiced in the gym by making sure we base our movements around the components of the column.

What. The hell. Does that. Mean…. ?

Lets say you’re squatting with a bar on your back.  Assuming you listened to me and have braced your core in the above fashion, the first point of movement should be from something that’s part of this column.  Since the shoulders and rib cage need to be stable in order for the bar to stay stable, that leaves your hips.  If you move your hips first in a squat, everything will line up through your core and your squat will be efficient.  It’s true that this also depends on your foot placement and how your knees track in relation to your toes.  But if you don’t move through your hips first all that won’t matter anyway.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, but they mostly apply to olympic lifters that use shoes with elevated heels.  This allows them to break from the knees first and keeps their torsos vertical in order to catch a heavy bar  in front of them more effectively.  But for the most part, if you’re using the gym to prepare yourself for physical activity that’s not olympic lifting, breaking at your hips first is going to be ideal.

The same goes for upper body movements.  We need treat our arms and shoulders like our legs and hips.  It’s important to make sure that our shoulder blades and rib cage move first or are stable in the context of core bracing before our elbows bend to perform movements like rows or presses.

I’ve mentioned before how movement in the gym and movement outside the gym are two different things.  Most movements in the gym should be geared around the practice channeling everything through our core.  Yes,  Mr. Iverson, I’m talkin ‘bout practice.  The key is to practice this as much as you can in the gym so that allen-iverson-practiceyou don’t have to think about it on the field or trail or wherever.  It should also suffice to say that in the world of bodybuilding and stepping on stage smeared with a rub on tan, these rules may change a bit.  In this case, the focus is on the aesthetics of the body and individual muscles and not the body’s overall ability to perform.

So, there you have it.  The art of intercepting gravity explained in a bit more detail.  Hopefully that was enough to satisfy your appetites for now.  As always, please email me or leave comments with any questions you might have if this is not the case.  Thanks for reading and I’ll be back sooner rather than later.


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