By Alex Schenker, MovNat Master Trainer
Gravity is essentially free latent energy. The way you interact with it determines how much you can make use of that energy. It also determines how much of your own energy you have to spend to resist it. Do you feel your body constantly resisting against gravity or are you harnessing this source of energy to make life easier for you?
Understanding the principles in this article, you’ll have a better understanding of why posture is so important to our relationship with gravity. You will be guided through a few simple stationary exercises to start experiencing first hand the subtleties of your center of gravity and how you are connected to the earth. Understanding these ideas with your mind is one thing, experiencing them for yourself is the only way to truly embody these principles.
In this article we are going to explore our relationship with gravity within the realm of static movements, i.e. movements where your points of support remain fixed to the ground. In this context, we can explore some concepts of bodyweight shifting and perception of your center of gravity without the complexities that come with locomotion.
In order just to stand up, your body needs to resist the gravitational force of the planet. Don’t worry, nature has shaped your body to be able to do that effortlessly. Ideally, when your spine, pelvic girdle and thoracic girdle are in alignment, gravitational force passes through the stacked structure, requiring little muscle activation to balance and stand upright.
When we have issues of misalignment anywhere along that chain, we must rely on muscular compensation to resist the force of gravity, lest we lose balance. It is highly inefficient to rely on excessive muscular tension to compensate for not taking full advantage of our natural alignment. This is what it means to move naturally. Living in an increasingly sedentary society requires special attention to prevent falling into unnatural postural and movement habits.
Habitual sub-optimal movement patterns lead to a state of energy waste, lower physical performance, and greater likelihood of injury. Ideally, we want to use the integrity of our naturally designed alignment as much as possible to make movement a better experience.
Learning to interact with gravity more efficiently is a one way ticket to better posture, less aches and pains, better movement and athletic performance, more potential power generation, and less wear and tear during physical activities and daily life, in general.
After breaking down a few terms and concepts of MovNat’s movement efficiency principles, we’ll delve into some ideas about the practical application of these concepts for better movement and alignment in daily life and physical activities. I would like to encourage you to pause and try the movements as you read along to help actualize your understanding of them as a personal experience. Information is nothing more than a clue, practice is what makes it yours. Let’s get started!
Points of Support & Base of Support
Points of support include all the parts of the body that are in contact with the ground or other surface that your body is in contact with. When we stand, the points of support are the feet; when we hang, they are the hands; when we do a foot-hand crawl, they are the balls of the feet and the hands; etc… It is mainly (but not only) through our points of support that we can feel our body weight and perceive gravity.
The space between and under your points of support is your base of support. If you stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, you will have a wider base of support and more stability. Stand with your feet together, and you have a narrow base of support and less stability. You can have many points of support but only one base of support.
If you determine your points of support and draw a tight circle around the outer edges connect-the-dots style, that would fairly accurately depict your base of support. I also find it helpful to imagine the base of support as a shadow on the ground under you, between your points of support.
If you stand with both feet on the ground, you can shift your body-weight from one point of support to another at varying degrees. For example, a balancing walk involves shifting the body-weight from the back foot to the front foot before taking the next step. Standing (without leaning on one leg) involves evenly distributing your body-weight between both points of support. How you shift and transfer your body-weight plays a big role in the management of the alignment of your center of gravity and base of support.
Center of Gravity & Line of Gravity
Your center of gravity is the point in the middle of where your body-weight is being held. The precise location of your center of gravity is determined by how your body-weight is distributed among your body parts in relation to one another. It is not a fixed location in the body, but in humans is generally located in the center of the body a few inches below the belly button.
The line of gravity can be imagined as the axis of your center of gravity. The line of gravity, the center of gravity, and the center of the earth are always in alignment. Think about that for a minute: through the perception of your line of gravity, you can feel the center-point of the earth. Personally, this thought just blows my mind!
Though your line and center of gravity are always in alignment, your line of gravity and your center of gravity can be out of alignment with your base of support, which can cause excess tension to compensate for imbalances. However, if you want to move your points of support, as in transitioning from standing to walking, shifting the line and center of gravity out of alignment with your base of support is what will initiate this.
Think of your line of gravity as a laser pointer that’s projecting out of the top and bottom of your center of gravity. You cannot change the alignment of your center of gravity, line of gravity, or where your line of gravity is pointing, but you can change the alignment of your center/line of gravity in relation to your base of support.
Getting confusing yet? Just come back to this section when you need to better understand these terms. These explanations will speak to you differently once you’ve moved and experienced them through the movements later in this article. So, don’t worry if any of this goes over your head the first time through.
In order to stay balanced in any static position such as standing, the center of gravity and line of gravity must be vertically aligned over the center-point of the base of support. Movements between static positions means shifting without lifting any of your points of support.
If we shift the center of gravity out of alignment from the base of support, muscular tension is required to compensate for the imbalance. If we counterbalance optimally as we shift, we can maintain balance through movement between static positions. For example, if you are standing and need to reach for a glass in front of you, your choice of how you counter-balance (ie, shifting your body from the lower body vs. adding more tension in the upper body) will determine your overall levels of tension.
Some movement choices are simply more efficient than others! If you counter-balance correctly while shifting your weight distribution from one point of support to another, the line of gravity will remain aligned with the base of support and excessive tension will be minimized.
This is the linear organization of your joints in vertical alignment to resist the downward force of gravity. If you are making use of joint centration, you are allowing the force of gravity to travel through the center of your stacked joints and into your points of contact with minimal stabilization required by the skeletal system.
When you want to initiate locomotion, as in walking, or anytime you move your points of support, you must shift your line of gravity outside of your base of support. If you don’t do this optimally you will either create more momentum than you can manage, or conversely, use excessive tension to drive the movement.
Graceful movement requires dynamic balance; without this, movement appears clumsy and awkward. By shifting to move the line of gravity outside of vertical alignment of the base of support, you can use the force of gravity to drive your movement, coordinating this displacement with any amount of muscular force can generate power in a way that rides the force of gravity, rather than trying to push through it. This is especially exemplified when transitioning from a standing position to running. By simply leaning forward and allowing yourself to experience momentary “free fall,” gravity can be leveraged to do most of the work required for forward locomotion.
Note: get started on the path to effortless running here: MovNat Guide to Running.
Point of Balance
Balance is not a static state, it is a constant adjustment. Your vestibular system helps your body subconsciously make adjustments to keep you stable and upright. You are never in a static state of balance unless you are laying flat on the ground. The illusive “point of balance” is something you can teeter back and forth around at best, but it’s always temporary, as we are living beings, and always moving in one way or another.
Remember when I suggested that you stop to try things out throughout the article? Well, here’s a chance! Try standing upright with your feet together. Close your eyes and tune in. Try standing perfectly still without any sense of swaying or adjustment. Do you notice that you are never standing still? There are constant subtle adjustments being made just to stay upright. The point of balance is something you can only orbit around, but never quite reach.
Bringing It All To Life
That sums up the prerequisite concepts. Understanding the above terminology (not just in your head, but in practice) provides a language to help communicate with gravity more fluently. Your relationship with gravity is vital to your survival on this planet, and ultimately, plays a primary role in determining your quality of life in many ways.
What we are talking about here is one of the most tangible expressions of our relationship with the earth. Are you effortlessly riding gravity like a wave, or do you feel like it’s holding you down like an anchor?
How you use your body determines whether you have a competitive or cooperative relationship with the earth. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and you’re never going to win against gravity. So, read on to learn how to develop your partnership with it.
The Subtleties of Shifting Weight
Now that we have laid some of the concepts out, we can get into how to apply what you have learned to how you move. In the rest of this article we will be focusing on the principles of balance and shifting in movements that do not involve locomotion. These principles have broad implications in how we move when we are sitting, standing, and lying down, while not displacing our points of support.
Let’s look at four main ways that the segments of our body can move: frontal flexion, lateral flexion, rotation, and extension. We will use flexion of the torso from a standing position as an example to understand these movements. The key here is to shift the body-weight in a way that keeps your center of gravity in line with your base of support. If your center of gravity starts tipping out of the center of your base of support, you’ll first feel the weight distribution in your points of support shift, then you’ll start to feel tension as you brace against the imbalance.
Summary of Concepts
In short, forward and backward flexion, as well as bilateral flexion (side bending) while maintaining alignment of your center of gravity over the base of support, involves leaning to the opposite direction to which you are bending. Rotation and extension movement involves shifting the weight in the same direction that you are bending. Let’s explain the rationale behind this:
Frontal flexion involves bending forward or bending backward. When bending forward, shifting your body-weight back will keep your center of gravity in line with your base of support. If you don’t shift the weight back to counterbalance, you’ll probably start to feel your body-weight shift toward your toes instead of the whole base of your feet. If you don’t lose balance, you’ll probably feel your toes gripping the ground like talons, and maybe a lot of tension in the back of your body.
If you bend backward, shifting your hips forward will keep your center of gravity aligned with your base of support. Without shifting the hips forward to counter-balance while bending back from a standing position, you’ll probably feel your weight shift toward your heels and maybe muscles in the front of your body, like your quadriceps, will increase in tension before they give in and you have to take a step back or fall.
Lateral flexion of the torso involves bending to the left or right side. Again, if you try to do this without shifting your weight in the opposite direction to counterbalance, you will bring your center of gravity out of alignment with your base of support.
To maintain balance when bending to the right without undue tension, you must shift your weight toward the left. If you do not shift to the left, you will feel your body-weight shift toward the right foot (in the direction to which you are bending), and your weight distribution will be off. If you keep going, your left foot will eventually come off of the ground, and your weight will shift to the outside edge of your right foot until you either tip over and fall, or take a step to the right with the left foot. But if you shift proportionally to the left as you bend to the right (and vice versa) you can maintain your weight distribution between the two feet, and keep your center of gravity in alignment.
Your line of gravity, where it meets your base of support, is the axis for rotational movements. If you are standing with your feet hip-width apart and maintaining a 50/50 weight distribution between your two feet while you rotate in one direction or the other, your axis will be in between your points of support. In the standing example, when you rotate and your line of gravity is not in line with one of your points of support, there is excessive tension in your knees, especially your trailing leg.
If you are standing and turn toward the right, first shifting the body-weight toward the right leg places your line of gravity over your most prominent point of support. From there, rotating to the outside of the supporting leg, it is easy to maintain joint centration.
It is very difficult to keep the direction of the knee and toes in alignment when shifting the weight to the left foot while turning to the right, which breaks joint centration, and causes distortions and unnatural forces that can damage the joints over time. The key here is to shift your body-weight toward the point(s) of support that lie on the side to which you are rotating.
Extension happens when we are reaching for something. Think of it as elongating your body, like reaching up to a shelf that is just beyond your reach. This one is common sense: if we are reaching forward and up, we shift our weight in that direction. In the high-shelf-reaching example, we extend our spine and arms up, and rise up on the balls of our feet to make our bodies as long as possible. To extend, we need to relax the muscles supporting the joints. When there is excessive habitual tension constantly compressing the joints, it can restrict our ability to relax and extend. When this happens, range of motion in the frontal, lateral, and rotational planes are restricted.
Application in Whole Body Movement
If you have been trying these movements out as you read along, you might notice that when we think of shifting the body-weight and counterbalancing, these movements all involve a coordinated change in every part of the body. These static balance drills help to understand all movements as whole-body movements, as even the smallest movement warrants a subtle shift of body-weight. If not, the result is (perhaps imperceptible) abnormal tension. The more you can think of all movement as a whole-body activities, and the less you think of movement as isolated muscle actions, the closer you get to the reality of Natural Movement.
Applications In Daily Life
If you can, throughout the day, recall these principles of shifting weight during flexion, rotation, and extension; when you are sitting at your desk, standing at the bus stop, getting out of your car, picking something up off the ground, playing sports, practicing MovNat, and so on, you can identify and correct habitual patterns that may be leading to overtime, or already causing abnormal pain, excess tension, and misalignment in the body. If you are sitting on a chair and turning around to reach for something, be mindful which side of your hip you shift toward and observe your habits. This is the first step to changing the way you move, not just the way you exercise.
Natural Movement Changes Your Perspective
We don’t typically get so deep into detail about static balance and moving outside of the context of locomotion in MovNat, but I have spent quite some time focusing on this, and wanted to share my thoughts on the subject.
These principles of shifting weight are concepts that I have been exploring well-before I had been introduced to MovNat, coming mainly from my background as a manual therapist. However, the way that the MovNat system explains the center of gravity, base and points of support, shifting weight, and so on, has deepened my understanding and practical experience of these concepts.
My practice and study of Natural Movement has brought these ideas to life and led me to understand them from a more personal and practical perspective. I think anyone with an existing knowledge and competency of movement will feel a paradigm shift in how they experience and understand what they already know, if they approach MovNat with an open mind and adopt the perspective of practical physicality.
Everyone knows MovNat as the system that teaches practical Natural Movement skills, but the science, philosophy, and structure of the system is one of the aspects that I feel offers the most potential to deepening your knowledge of the body. What makes MovNat unique in this regard, is that these principles are not removed from the practice. Applying these principles in a context that can be experienced first-hand is extremely valuable, and a facet that is largely untapped by other systems.
If you feel that this speaks to you, and you want to explore these concepts more deeply, I highly recommend reading “The Practice of Natural Movement” book, in which Erwan Le Corre explains the principles and practice of Natural Movement in depth. If you are looking to delve even deeper, you might want to consider taking a MovNat certification course yourself, and/or enrolling in one of the MovNat e-courses, or perhaps MovNat online coaching, especially if there are no local training opportunities in your area. I hope you found this article helpful. Thank you for reading.
About the Author
Alex Schenker is a MovNat Master Trainer, MNOC Coach, Martial Arts Instructor, Movement Therapist, and the creator of Natural Mobility. His approach emphasizes restoring and maintaining the natural state of our human bodies, reconnecting with the evolutionary movement aptitudes of our species, as well as stimulating our own natural healing capabilities through corrective exercise. Alex coaches people privately, and teaches regular weekly MovNat & Combatives classes in Toronto, Canada. Follow him on Instagram: @naturalmobility.
Get Started With Natural Movement Fitness – TODAY!
The MovNat Level 1 Certification is your entry point into the world’s official Natural Movement Fitness program. It equips you with the knowledge, skills, and methods you need to transform your movement & fitness and build real world capability from the ground up.
Over the last ten years, MovNat has helped thousands of people from all walks of life restore their natural abilities and lay a foundation for a deeper, lifelong movement practice. We are the original, official, and only Natural Movement Fitness certification, with thousands of certified professionals and dozens of MovNat Licensed Facilities all around the world.
Whether you’re completely new to Natural Movement Fitness, or a seasoned veteran looking to expand your skillset, the MovNat Level 1 Certification is your launchpad to a deep understanding of natural human movement, how to integrate it into your training and lifestyle, and help others do the same.
Want to get started at home? Start today with our MovNat Level 1 Fundamentals E-Course.