Whenever we take a step, we absorb and slow down/delay our body from collapsing into the ground, and as we push off, we are pushed into the ground to propel away from it. That is our primary means to fight gravity, but the laws of gravity don't just apply to your feet; it is happening all over the body. Our bodies can create compensations to accommodate gravity's effects, which can lead to restrictions.
common compensation with gravity is an increase in the curvature of the lower spine. This occurs due to the lack of ability to distribute forces into the ground from the limbs, along with where our head goes in space. As a result, we extend the spine to point the hips towards the ground as a means to push down, so we don't collapse. The new restriction starts in the hips and travels down the leg, causing a cascade of compensations at varying degrees. The same thing commonly happens in the upper body where people have rounded shoulders. This is actually an attempt to help push down in the ground as the sternum gets compressed and tips the torso forward to create a downward force. Just like with the hips.
These positions can be stretched all day long, but if you can't handle the pressures of gravity, then you will continue to use this strategy as a primary means to not collapse into the ground. Just look at someone that's hunched over in a nursing home. That's gravity winning all day long
I think gravity is winning here.
If we know gravity is a force that pulls down, then a logical solution would be to unweight our bodies to reduce the force of gravity. By reducing the downforce, we can give our body a chance to position itself through space and allow us to access various ranges of motions more freely. Not only does it allow for movement, but it allows us to gain control of movements when we start to increase the effects of gravity, preventing compensation/collapse.
One of the easiest ways to reduce gravity is to simply have a band or pulley with resistance that is pulling you up. It shouldn't be too much, but enough where you can still feel the feet on the ground. Another way would be to widen your stances or be in a split stance position. This increases the distribution of your weight to lighten limbs and make you less dense.
Here you can see how we use a split stance to start to unload us. It is further enhanced by elevating the front foot to unload the leg as well. Lastly, the band is unweighting the body to help us drop into the split squat for the desired position. This move is a great way to move through the hips and learn to achieve positions without compensation. The best way to know when you need to eliminate the gravity would be if you have pain or pinching with the movement or you see the knees start to push out laterally on the front or back leg.
If you want to increase your ability to unweight the body in a more explosive manner, then I suggest using a band-assisted jump to help you learn how to lift off the ground and land much easier.
One of the key things to do when applying these principles is to only change one variable at a time. Using the split squat example above, the first variable would be to elevate the front foot (the split stance is really the first one, but the setup of the exercise already puts us there). Next, you would add band assistance. Once you improve, remove the assistance from the band, and then the foot elevation will be removed after you can control it without the band's assistance.
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Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.