What Creates Strength?
One of the most important things I’ve learned from the Feldenkrais Method is that strength has more to do with how you use yourself than with the size or strength of your muscles.
How you organize and align your skeleton makes a huge difference in how much you can lift, carry, push or pull. Ounce for ounce, bone is stronger than steel and 40 times more stress resistant than concrete. So if you aren’t using your bones, you’re only accessing a fraction of your potential strength.
For example, imagine holding a heavy weight extended far in front of you. No matter how buff your arms are, you won’t be able hold the weight for long (not to mention the strain on your back!). But if you bring the weight close to your chest, it becomes easy. It’s obvious your muscles didn’t suddenly get stronger, you just changed how you were organized to work with, instead of against, gravity.
People sometimes think they can’t do particular movements because they have “weak muscles”. But the same factors in my example are at play in everything we do. This is good news—you can often improve your strength as instantaneously as bringing that heavy object close to your chest.
Are You Sabotaging Your Strength?
Here are some examples of how we diminish our strength in small ways every day. Over time, these little strains add up, leading to pain or injury.
- Poor Ergonomics at Computer: Typing and mousing on a computer with your arms extended or too high (instead of lower and closer to your torso).
- Having Your Weight Too Far Back: Lifting a full cup of coffee while sitting rolled back on your pelvis (instead of sitting upright on your sit bones).
- Not Using Your Center: Trying to push a heavy door open using just your arms (instead of using the weight and power from your center).
- Not Using Your Hip Joints: Rounding your back and bending from the waist to pick something off the floor (instead of bending your knees and hips). Young children provide excellent role models for how to do this!
- Working at a Difficult Surface Height: Stirring, chopping, kneading and doing other cooking tasks on a high counter where your arms and shoulders have to do all the work (instead of on a lower surface that allows your torso and whole self to participate).
How to Instantly Boost Your Strength
Use these tips to help you maximize your strength and avoid injury:
1. Stay Soft
Let yourself be soft rather than stiffening in anticipation of the effort of lifting or pushing. Muscles at resting length can contract with greater strength, so you can generate more power when you actually need it.
Remember to breathe! When you hold your breath, it’s impossible not to also hold elsewhere. When muscles and joints are held, they’re not available to move or engage fully to support your actions.
3. Lower Your Center
Have your pelvis at the same (or a lower) height than the object you want to push, pull or lift. To do this, bend your knees and lower your center of gravity. Allow your pelvis to move backward as it lowers to counterbalance your head and arms.
4. Use Your Hip Joints
Hinge at your hip joints when leaning, bending or reaching (rather than just using your back from the waist up).
5. Sit Forward on Your “Sit” Bones
Roll the weight forward on your pelvis so that you sit upright on your ischial tuberosities (aka your “sit” bones) instead of in a slouched or rolled back position. This is easier to do when sitting at the front of your chair. This gives you the skeletal support to make reaching, lifting or typing more comfortable. And don’t forget to let your pelvis continue to move and participate in whatever you’re doing.
Give It a Try!
I invite you to pick an action or activity that’s challenging for you—or for which you think your muscles are “too weak”. Apply one or more of the ideas from this article to a smaller, simplified version of your action, so that you stay in your comfort zone. Let yourself play with a few ways of doing the movement, including at least one fun or silly one.
I’d love to hear how your exploration goes and any changes that happen. Please leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com