I CALL ON YOU TO FIGHT GRAVITY
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.
MUSCLES THAT TIGHTEN, MUSCLES THAT GET LOOSE
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?
MUSCLES THAT GET TIGHTER WITH AGE
MUSCLES THAT GET WEAKER WITH
Pectoralis Major (Chest)
Pectoralis Minor (deep chest muscle)
Psoas (hip flexors)
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.
GRAVITY AND THE BATTLE
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.
WE ARE IN A FIGHT WITH GRAVITY
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.
RECOGNISE THE FIGHT
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!
For more on these ideas, check out Geoff Neupert’s recent posts, or Dan John’s Lifetime Warrior Workout, or Paul Chek on the tonic /phasic concept. Read stuff by Todd Hargrove and Tim Anderson
TAKE A STAND
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)