Five Unchanging Elements

The functional movements that we practice and perform share five unchanging elements that we can not sacrifice under any circumstances. These elemental components are what allow us to perform functional movements safely and are also what bolster high performance. Because of this, it’s worth jumping into each of the five briefly.

Midline stability – The first and arguably the most essential of the elements is the ability to lock your lumbar spine into a neutral position by engaging your abdominals, obliques, and erectors, whilst utilizing air pressure and musculature of the upper back to stabilize your torso. This can be applied to 99.99% of the movements we perform.  It creates a stabile platform on which we can apply force and efficiently transfer energy.

Posterior chain engagement – This is exercise physiology terminology for recruiting the largest muscles in the body, specifically the glutes and the hamstrings. We have become over reliant on the anterior chain of lower body muscles, specifically the hip flexors and quadriceps. Is it wrong to use the anterior muscles?  Not at all – rather, we’re seeking a balance in lower body muscles as well as safer positioning for the knee joint.

Core to extremity – The muscles that have the ability to produce the most force are the abdominals and erectors (core). The next strongest muscles are the hip flexors and hip extensors, followed by the muscles surrounding the shoulder girdle. As you move distally from the core to the extremities, muscles are successively able to produce more velocity than they can force. When we perform movements, the wave of contractions begins with the high force, low velocity muscles of the core and radiates outwardly to the low force producing, high velocity muscles of the extremities.

Active shoulders – Often mistaken as meaning to actively press your shoulders up, active shoulders requires a little background information. Make a fist and wrap your hand around it… this is your shoulder joint.  What secures the head of humerus in the glenohumeral cavity (the hand that’s covering the fist) are ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Because of the huge range of motion that the shoulder joint is capable of, it makes it mechanically unstable. To stabilize the joint, retraction of the scapula is required no matter what the direction of force is.

Range of motion – The development of muscle tissue is essential to your well being, especially at the end range of motion about a joint. By performing movements with a full range of motion that the joint is capable of you are ensuring strength in any position.  This can be misunderstood though, the muscles must be engaged while performing the movements.  In other words, taking a joint to end-range without isometrically contracting muscle tissue doesn’t stabilize the joints up or downstream of that joint, causing a loss of positioning and power. For example, reach the bottom of a squat and relax… what happens as you desist contracting your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps?  You lose positioning and therefore power from the knee and hip joints.