Tuesday, April 16, 2013



This might be a bit of a disjointed post but I wanted to pull together a few ideas that I’ve been thinking about recently, prompted by a few things that I’ve read some of which I’ve mentioned here.    It is just a case of getting some ideas out of my head, so please do not be too hard on me for a long rambling post.

Over the life of this blog I have looked a few times at posture and neuroplasticity – the idea of how the brain itself can change and modify itself in response to what you do with it and with your body.  I’ve also often pointed to the reports of the dangers of a sedentary life.  Without necessarily spinning some grand theory I wanted to highlight a few ideas and maybe begin to plot some connections.


This is an idea that I think I first came across from Mark Reifkind, then Paul Check and then Dan John.  I think Chek got it from Janda.  They talk of tonic and phasic muscles.   Certain muscles tend to get tighter with age, injury, under-use or over-use.  These need to be stretched.  Others tend to get weaker and they need to be strengthened.

Which ones are which?


Stretch them
Strengthen them
Upper Trapezius
Pectoralis Major (Chest)
Pectoralis Minor (deep chest muscle)
Psoas (hip flexors)
Calf Muscles
Gluteus Maximus
Deep Abs
External Obliques

A simple way to picture all this is of flexors and extensors.  The flexors – the muscles that bend, that pull bones together – get tighter.  All of those muscles in the left hand column: when they get tight, flexed, you end up in a tight ball.  Legs bent, toes pointed, knees to chest, arms bent, shoulders hunched up and chest collapsed.  You go foetal.  The extensors are the opposite.  These are the muscles take you from the foetal to the upright.  When these are tight you are erect, arms and legs straight, shoulders back.

When we think of an old person, we picture then with the flexors tight – they are bent over, stooped, arms and legs bent.  The youthful person is different – they are erect, the extensors are working well. 

We have a battle between flexion and extension.  Between the foetal position, which becomes the posture of old age, and the erect posture of the child and the athlete.

Incidentally, notice also how the foetal position is the position we adopt in fear, in response to a threat.  The brave, resistant fearless position is the opposite.

It is also interesting that the muscles we need to strengthen are often those that we ignore or find boring.  We need to be rowing, pressing, hingeing and squatting rather than curling and bench pressing.


What makes this battle?  Gravity. 

This is where I come back to the ideas of Philip Beech and his erectorise exercises.  It is also connected to the writings of Dr. Joan Vernikos, who notes that sitting and the sedentary life is actually a life in which people minimise the effect of gravity.  She compares the impact of weightlessness on astronauts and each of the negative health impacts that are observed in them are evident to a lesser scale in those who spend a lot of time seated.

We tend to forget about gravity.  It is always there!  Forget about exercises, liftin weights or even lifting your bodyweight.  Our bodies are under a constant pressure from gravity.  Gravity is always trying to bend us over, push us down and return us to the foetal position from which we started.  It never stops.  To stand up, erect with legs straight, shoulders back and head up requires work, effort against gravity.  It requires the extensors to work……all the time.  Unless you keep working these muscles  BY SIMPLY STANDING AND BEING ERECT they will get weaker, they will get looser.  Gravity wins! 

The other muscles?  As you stop fighting gravity and you collapse – ultimately into a ball….or a chair – those flexors settle at a shorter length.  If you never stand up straight into extension, your hip flexors will never be lengthened.  Your hips will always be bent.  You will collapse in on your self.  You become old, flexed. Weak.


As a child develops from back, to roll, to crawl, to sit, to stand, to walk, gravity is slowly battled and mastered.  The force that held the baby down is finally overcome until he is able to stand, the muscles keeping the body erect.  

We become what we were meant to be – a biped.  Upright and erect in command of our bodies.  And as such with healthy brains, plastic brains that develop the connections and the maps to govern that movement.  As we stand and move all of us gets healthy, even our brains.

But as we abandon the physicality of life, sit down and succumb to gravity that is lost.  All sorts of systems in the body suffer including the brain.


We live in a world of gravity, but we don’t notice it.  Apart from all exercise and training, concerns about exercise form or protocol, first of all respect the basic truth that we live in a world of gravity.  This force is trying to pull you down – literally and metaphorically.  Health and simply being human depends on mastering gravity.  Stand up for yourself!  Stand against the world.  Think of all the phrases that signify strength and robustness – the things that you stand for, the things that you stand against.  Sitting down, sitting it out – you collapse, gravity wins.  Standing up – you assert yourself.

I don’t know where I’ve got with all this!


Anyway if nothing else….start to think of standing as an heroic battle against gravity.  Keep up the fight as long and as effectively as you can.  Sitting, slouching, poor posture is giving up that fight.  Going foetal reeks of fear.  Getting erect speaks of character, fight and bravery.  (I've also noted on the blog before how posture affects attitude - if you want to be confident then take a confident posture)


Todd Hargrove said...

Hi Chris,

Nice post! And thanks for the shout out.

FeelGoodEating said...


Do me a favor, DO THIS MORE OFTEN! I for one would like to read much more of your "long ramblings".
Good post!

although this line....
"Getting erect speaks of character, fight and bravery."
made me loose my focus. hahahahaha

In all seriousness, I couldnt agree more.
If you look around,carefully, you can see women and men that exude it.

It is I believe a KEY component to our well being.


Anonymous said...

I know you don't want to hear anything about paleo, but hear me out. If the whole concept is that we we didn't evolve to sit around in chairs, okay, then WE DID evolve to squat.

Our ancestors did not build standing desks to slice up and skin sabertooth tigers that they just killed. They did the third-world squat (like chimps) while they relaxed and worked with their hands. They didn't stand at standing desks or walk on treadmills while working with their hands.

But just like no carbs, I'm not going to start working at a squatting desk. WORKING is the problem, not sitting. I need to figure out how to not work so much. If I could work 2 days a week and snowboard and climb 5, then I wouldn't have to worry about sitting, low-carb, oly-lifts and cross-fit-rxing-yoga-lattes, HIIT, none of that shit. Again, WORKING is the problem, not sitting.

That's all for now-- back to my Phish food and sitting desk and pile of work.

James Marshall said...

I saw Ed Thomas present last year on the 3 uncommon postures and how we should train in those positions.
Posture is the foundation of movement as I explain on all my coaching courses: we start from there and then move on.
Children of Clay article here:http://www.energycenter.com/grav_f/inver_clay.html

Chris said...

A quote from Dan John.

The “muscles of youth” seem to make you taller. A tight butt, those external obliques, the deep abs, the deltoids, rhomboids, and triceps give off the appearance of youth. There is a great “Sex and the City,” the show not those dreadful movies, where we see the issue of “saggy butt.” So, do your presses, your one arm presses, your hills sprints, your swings and get younger.

At the same time, stretch out those muscles that are stiff. Doing bench and curls all the time leads to “the old man look.” Keep vigorous by stretching these daily.

Geoff Neupert said...

Hey Chris - Appreciate the shout out. Those are some very big names to be mentioned alongside! Here's a thought: What if all we are doing with stretching this and strengthening that is addressing symptoms of a bigger issue? What if it's simpler than that?

Chris said...

Todd, Marc


Chris said...


Thanks for the comment. I've been followign you for years hrough all of yoru injury problems and work with Z Health.

I hope you will stop teasing us soon and just tell us the secret you have come across. Is it all down to Becoming Bulletproof style rolling, crawling etc?

Chris said...


thansk for that - fascinating article

Geoff Neupert said...

Hi Chris,

Yes, it does. We've updated BB with Original Strength. But yes, it really is THAT simple. The strength gains I've made and reclaimed in the last 3 years are all a result of these simple resets (and a few regressions we teach in our workshops). I wish I could say it was more complicated than this but it's not. If people would just take the time and practice these resets on a consistent daily basis they'd be as amazed as I am. Tim's progress is even more mind-blowing.

Tom Boyd said...

Thanks for a thoughtful article.

I think your distinction between muscles that get tighter and muscles that get weaker is very helpful.

SteveRN said...

I recently got a daily e-mail from John Wood, of bodyweightbasics.com. It is usually a little sales pitch for an old time strongman book or some cool equipment, but sometimes it's training tips, routines,etc. This days was about the get-up. Not the Turkish get up, just the get up. Lay on the floor, front or back, and stand up. Do this 50 times. Try to make each one a little different. Alternate laying on your back and front. He uses it as a finisher on his workouts. I am terribly out of shape, and I tried it.It did give me a workout. Given what you have noted the importance of being able simply rise from the floor can mean, especially in old age, I am not sure I can think of a more simple, basic and safe exercise that may provide more benefit. Just thought I might share, and who knows, if you revise Hillfitt again, maybe add it to your list of exercises.

Chris said...

Thanks Steve