Winning the Battle Against Gravity

A few weeks ago I had a light bulb moment.  You know the type.  When you look at something, do a facepalm, and say "why didn't I think of that before!?"  

I'll start by mentioning why it was so important.  Over the past few years I've been struggling to voice a common theme to all my clients. Breathing drills, different cues during exercises, and why we perform those exercises all have a logical explanation.  But I struggled with condensing very complicated explanations down to a simple sentence.  Last week, I found what I was looking for when I was coaching someone on a deadlift. (<----no surprise there, AMIRITE??) 

Here's the light bulb: the biggest lesson I hope to give people is to help them understand and master their center of gravity.  Why?  Because most people - including myself - are losing this battle. 

**And before we move on, I'd like to point out how hard it's been for my inner musical theater nerd to suppress any references to "Wicked."  And no, this doesn't count! 

When I mention losing to gravity, I don't mean it in a buckling, newborn fawn sort of way.  But winning the battle against gravity is going to help us move better and be more athletic.  And if the long-term goal is weight loss or getting stronger, winning this battle is critical.

 This guy has the lost the battle..

This guy has the lost the battle..

How can you tell if someone is losing to gravity?  Sometimes they'll have a large pelvic tilt and big curve in their lower back (scientific term: dat bootay).  Other times it's less obvious - falling forward on a squat or deadlift; unable to sit back on a deadlift without almost falling over; some cases of lower back pain; and all cases of super tight quads.

Sound like you?  Don't worry, it sounds like the old me too.  This battle is winnable but first we need to get out of extension.

"Extension" is our body's path of least resistance to the forces of gravity.  And it's exactly how it sounds - standing super upright, big curve in our lower back, a military-looking posture.  But even if we don't stand in that posture, it still means that certain muscles (quads, hip flexors, lats, spinal erectors) are constantly on when they shouldn't be.  And, it means that our abs and glutes are usually shut off.

When the quads, hip flexors and erectors are turned "on," it predisposes us to falling forward on exercises and unable to master our center of gravity.  For example, someone may be unable to sit back on a deadlift or kettlebell swing because they physically can't - not because they're just careless.

How to fix it?  The first step is quite simple: exhale.  Here's a great video on how to do that from Greg Robins and EricCressey.com:

These breathing drills will shut off the muscles making it hard for us to control our center of gravity (hip flexors, quads, erectors, lats).  And, they help improve the good stiffness we want through our abs.  

Carrying it forward into our training may be easier said than done, but it helps explain a few of the big themes we want in any exercise: proper joint alignment to keep our body safe against gravity; keeping our "ribs down" on exercises; squeezing our glutes; keeping weights (kettlebells, barbells, etc.) in line with our mid-foot arch.

Mastering our center of gravity helps explain why the simplest exercises - dead bugs, pushups, squats, deadlifts - are what we need the most.  And if nothing else, now you know why I find any excuse I can to go breathe in a corner.