As a teaching tool, Pete Egoscue used to show a film from the early 1960’s of athletes in the woods performing a mix of exercises, including jumping over logs, squatting under low branches, and bear-crawling up a hillside. His goal was to have viewers guess what sport this team was training for. Judging by their activity, it could have been anything from rugby to wrestling to soccer. However, the one sport that never came to mind was the actual winner: weightlifting.
All those men in that grainy, vintage footage mimicking playground-like maneuvers among the trees were members of the Polish National Weightlifting Team. Though their “workout” might not have looked like much other than fun, they were building strength, according to Egoscue.
To understand how Egoscue defines strength, first a quick anatomy lesson. The body has four pairs of load-bearing joints—the shoulders, the hips, the knees, the ankles. When the body is in alignment, those joints vertically line up. In other words, if you were to draw a line straight up from your right ankle, it would intersect with your right knee, right hip and right shoulder.
When a body is in alignment, it is balanced horizontally, too, which means that one’s shoulders, hips and knees would be precisely parallel. Feet should also never pronate (rest on the inside of the foot) or supinate (rest on the outside). While everyone is born with perfect alignment, we all get out of whack over time, and it’s not the result of anything specific we did. In fact, it’s likely something we didn’t do or didn’t do enough: Be active. A sedentary lifestyle causes joints to slowly move out of proper positioning, which can lead to pain, affecting the back, neck, head, and other areas.
Another issue that arises from misalignment is weakness. Even the fittest athletes are weak when they are misaligned. A guy who can bench press 400 pounds, for example, might not be able to side squat under a low branch. Think of it like a game of Jenga. When the blocks stack up seamlessly, you can build a pretty high and sturdy structure. However, when a few blocks are slightly out of place (picture some edges sticking out), stability is compromised, which means it won’t be long before that tower comes crashing down.
The same rules apply to your body. When you’re aligned, your joints can operate more freely, communicating with each other and working together as a unit to lift or support more weight. You have a full range of motion with your load-bearing joints, regardless whether you’re upright or in another position. Which brings us back to how Egoscue defines strength: The ability for ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders to talk to each other in a balanced way, regardless of the position.
If you want to get your body back into alignment, Egoscue’s Patch Fitness can help. The core eight principles behind its exercises recruit muscles to move joints back to their intended position for optimal function. Depending on your posture, it can take days, weeks, months and, in rare cases, years to realign the body through Patch Fitness. But, little by little, if done regularly, these key movements can help shift your joints back into place where they have full range of motion again.
Much of modern weight training has abandoned the concept of full range of motion. It focuses on isolated muscles—which is a misnomer because no single part of the body can be divorced from the rest—in an attempt to promote a specific strength that is measurable. But that strength is incomplete as it tends to measure a specialized type of strength, such as how much you can bench press.
This myopic approach to fitness isn’t limited to just weightlifting. Running, for instance, is a great form of exercise, but if all you’re doing is logging miles, you’re promoting a tightness in the hips that will eventually affect the knees and lower back. Cycling is also great, but if you’re only pedaling, you’re reducing the range of motion in your shoulders and hips, which may eventually stiffen your spine, causing neck pain, headaches, elbow and wrist pain—all the result of the body no longer being allowed to work as a unit. Of course, some athletic trainers have learned this, and are still learning it, which is why there is more and more cross-training among our athletes. But many people in the fitness world still fail to comprehend the importance of the body as a single unit that needs to be aligned.
Changing load positions—compelling the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles to move across every plane of possibility—encourages full function of our bodies, which, in turn, enables for greater strength in every position. The fact that our training has gotten away from this basic truth has made people weaker, even the strongest among us.
By Erik Simon