AKA Let the Bodies Hit the Floor
You hear the one about the three holes in the ground filled with water? No?
Well, well, well….
If you were to walk into the gym any time in the first half of one of my workouts, you would always see the same thing: Benjamin on the ground. Call me floor-friendly, but I find the earth’s flat surface helps lay the foundations of a pain free workout far better than even the most common of misplaced pain-relieving pills. Or as I like to say…
tile’n’all > tylenol
And as a guy who has endured more than my fair share of movement maladies (refer to “The List”), not to mention the long list of qualifications and experience, I prefer to think that I know a thing or two about making body things work nice. So…the ground. Whether rubber, turf, carpet, or tile, you should get real friendly with that big ol’ flat surface way down there. Let me tell you why:
Let me ask you a real simple question, and then a complicated one. First, when is the last time your head was upside down…or even 50% of the way there for that matter? If you’re like the majority of adults who are too busy adulting, you probably don’t even remember what it’s like to see the world that way. If you decided, right now, to do a hand stand, or even simply get on your hands and knees and peer backward, putting the top of your head on the floor, you would be behaving like a rare breed of human…unless you’re a crossfitter, in which case, carry on.
Second question: How many semicircular canals are in your inner ear? For the non-medical persons in the room, let me give you the answer: it’s 3. Now, regardless of whether or not you think we were intelligently designed or evolved to be oh-so-biologically-special, the fact of the matter is this: most of your anatomy is useful. Since most of the sensory feedback that we get from our semicircular canals arises from gravitational movement of little rocks (called otoliths) around these canals in our ears, one must assume that the semicircular canal which is oriented like an anarchists mohawk was put there for a reason. In my opinion, the reason is this: we are designed to be able to sense our own head position in an upside down situation. For some reason, all of us in the health world like to preach the “if you don’t use it, you lose it” mantra…and yet selectively apply it to the things that are cool, easy to understand, or soap-box-able.
So now you tell me, who is going to be better off after a car accident, a concussion, a severely dehydrating sickness, meningitis, a carnival ride, or even reading in the car — The person who received years of high-fidelity information from the full anatomical gamut of their inner ear, or the person who stayed upright for all their waking hours? I think you know the answer now. Even without any messy incidents in your life, your inner ear will still thank you.
Neuromodulation of the Dermal Persuasion
Have you ever noticed how even the most basic of back rubs can feel good? Heck, even just someone rubbing your forearms with a little force can be strangely pain reducing. There’s a reason for that, outside of our desire to be touched as human beings: Our skin is a nerve-rich multi-organ complex which is constantly feeding our brains with high fidelity information about the state of our environment. In its most basic form, our skin is a feedback organ. When we get on the ground, unless you’re holding an ever difficult positions on tippy toes and hands alone, we’re creating much more feedback to our central nervous system than we typically get in any other scenario. Laying flat on your back gives more mechanical input to the nervous system that most any other input that doesn’t require risk through load or another human being. This type of input is sooooo soothing to the nervous system.
If you really want to see what kind of feeling you can get from a strong push/pull of the skin on your back, simply try laying flat on your back, take all four of your limbs off the ground and try to move around the room. Heck, see how fast you make it 10 yards. The combo of multi-planar spinal movement in an unloaded state with a strong shear and compression on the skin, causing a modulation of the sensations arising from our nervous system, will leave your body and back feeling quite different than they currently do.
There is a general misconception that the most skilled athletes/movers on the planet have the greatest capacity to reproduce a very narrow skill set with great repetitive precision. Wow, that sentence was too much. Let’s try again. Most people think that the pros do things identically every time, on demand, and that’s what makes them the pro. Practice, practice, practice. Every fastball looks identical. Every tailwhip looks the same. Every triple cork looks the same.
But the opposite is actually true. When you begin to learn skills you generally suck at them. There is indeed a pruning effect that begins immediately, hacking away excess motions in all planes, and learning how to control the movements by regressing to an optimal mean, so to speak. However, as we pass from amateurism to competency, the exact opposite happens. We develop a robustness of strategies with which we can accomplish the same task; our body creates more pathways and more options for the desired outcome. It’s why the true greats in many sports are constantly amazing us at their ability to score from weird positions, pull off impossible stunts, and pull out three white lights from a place of no return. If you’ve ever seen Ovechkin score from his back or Mighty Mouse sneak and armbar from mid air, you’ll know exactly the mind numbing things than can happen when up goes down. In the arenas in which most people get injured, there is no such thing as perfect practice.
Why does it matter? Because exploration of options is a part of the process. Nowhere do we have more options than on the floor. It is here that we begin to create the widest variety of movement options, by allowing our bodies to create options of movement from differing positions that we do not typically encounter. It is here that creativity is the easiest, as we are not solely limited to 2 points of contact and our typical base of support. Have you ever tried producing hip extension from a fully externally rotated hip? You don’t start that kind of exploration in standing. Get grounded, get creative, get robust.
Developmental and Neurological Grooviness
Have you ever been in a real dickhead mood, only to turn on your favourite song, belt out a few lines, and suddenly the world doesn’t seem so bad? Have you ever noticed how good it feels to play your sport for the first time in months, years or decades? It’s so good, it’s almost emotional sometimes. Or have you ever noticed that 75%+ of the activities that you perform in the run of the day are in cross-body (contralateral) patterns?
I’m going to let you in on a couple things. First, as you’ve noticed, your body likes to do what it has practiced a lot of. Your nervous system still holds certain patterns or “skills” of movement from years and decades ago. It especially holds the ones it liked and needed. Second, you should understand that, for the first few years of life, you actually spent more time unloaded than on your feet. Finally, at the very earliest of stages, you actually developed your single sided (ipsilateral) patterns far before you developed your contralateral patterns. The most intense neurological development happens in the first months of life, and that just so happens to follow a very specific sequence. You start on your back, on the ground, learning to move one limb at a time, search the room with your eyes, watching your base of support, and figuring out what all these forces are.
The ground is where I buy my accessories.
Here’s a fun thing to think about: all of your joints are meant to move in every direction. Obviously, some of those directions are significantly larger in each joint. Flexion at the knee, rotation in the upper cervical spine, etc.
But what you may not have thought about is the longevity and general healthfulness (robustness) of your joints. In order to have joints that really, truly love you as much as you love them, they need to be introduced to minor loads in every direction, even the ones they are not meant to use for force buttressing. This creates robustness and ease of movement through the full range to which you have access.
Let’s take the knee for example. We mostly treat it as a hinge, moving only one direction and back, in this case, knee flexion. But alas, there should be significantly more to it than that. We should have tibial internal and external rotation (the movement of the tibia under the femur, approximately 10 degrees and 30-40 degrees, respectively). We should also have shearing and sliding in the knee, as in the tibia should move front to back under the femur. Oh and we should have valgus movement capacity, as in the knee dropping in…and varus, the knee shoving out. Oh, wait, it keeps going. We also need knee extension past neutral, as in 5-10 degrees of hyperextension.
So, naturally, we should just load up a squat, hit ass-to-grass with 40 degrees of tibial external rotation (foot turned out) and mass amount of valgus stress (knee sagging in), and then make sure to hyperextend my knee at the top when I lock out. Right?
Oh so very, very wrong.
We get these motions fed into our knees first and foremost when we are at far submaximal loads and even in unloaded positions. Have you tried a 90/90 position on the floor? How about quadruped rocking? Seated toe touching or splits? You’ve done fantastic job of introducing tibial ER/IR, posterior/anterior glide shear, and hyperextension into your knees, respectively. When you’re old and still kicking, you’ll be literally capable of kicking people/things as a result.
There is no conclusion to this. I have another 10-20 reasons that the getting grounded sounds like a pleasure to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more next time. Got specific questions? You’re only allowed to ask if you’re typing from your back or belly, on the floor.