≡ Menu

Form A Line, Feel Better

When we move, we expend energy. When we move inefficiently, we expend even more and it wears us down.

What are the three most common positions most of us find ourselves in, the majority of the time? In my case (and probably in yours) it is sitting, standing, and lying down. It is possible to waste energy even in these positions, if we situate ourselves in poor alignment.

Physics based movement

That’s a fancy way of saying the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When I walk forward, it certainly feels as if I’m walking in a straight line. After all, if I set my eyes on the corn dog stand over yonder and start moving my feet, I will reach it.

But movements are made of many other movements. When I begin to take a step, my right ankle buckles a bit. To compensate, I push up and out slightly with the ball of my foot to keep myself going in a straight line. That’s not straight. That’s up and out.

When a person walks and their shoulders rotate in front of them, that’s no longer a straight line. Call it swagger, call it verve, but don’t call it efficient.

A couple of questions that can be useful for those of us who walk: is any part of me moving that doesn’t need to be? Could a movement be made into a line?

Sitting and lying down come down to proper alignment and anatomical position. Lines.

The key is to run our own experiments, observe what could be better, and then make it better and more efficient. Simple scientific method, simple application to simple movements, but the potential results shouldn’t be underestimated.

It takes focus and awareness, two assets which are easy to lose during a hectic day, but if we wait for downtime to fix our problems, adaptation has already spent that much more time working against us.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alexa Ispas | Creating Legacy April 20, 2010, 4:13 am

    Thanks for this post, Josh! I guess this sounds very much like the way the Alexander Technique and Pilates were developed – through experimentation and constant self-observation. So I think you’re in good company 🙂 I’ve certainly found that my posture has improved since I’ve started becoming more aware of it. Still a long way to go though, but as you say – little victories make all the difference in the long run.

  • Todd April 20, 2010, 6:12 am

    The complexity of the act of walking is one of the things that have always fascinated me. Be careful about cutting too much out of the process in the name of efficiency. For instance, you could not swing your arms, but that’s just creepy.

    • david April 20, 2010, 11:51 am

      That’s not efficient. It takes more energy to NOT swing your arms.

  • John April 20, 2010, 6:48 am

    “if we wait for downtime to fix our problems, adaptation has already spent that much more time working against us”

    Clearly that line of thought applies to so much more in life than just the way we walk. That’s actually how I got on my own fitness kick about a year ago. I got tired of waiting for the right time to do it (which never comes), and made time to do it. Funny how that works.

    Thanks for the inspiration Josh!

  • Justin Matthews April 20, 2010, 10:37 am

    “adaptation has already spent that much more time working against us”

    Parallel to what is in all of Pavel’s books, “Under stress, we revert to training”. If we adapt, we are training out bodies to do one thing that may not be good. My mom had a bad knee and compensated for years, wearing out her other knee. She had both replaced, but still moves like they bother her. she has trained her body to move that way.

    Thanks for the ideas I am going to pay attention to myself today.

  • Randy Hauer April 20, 2010, 11:25 am

    It’s interesting you bring up walking…I recently finished reading Chi Walking and it is all about making walking effortless as possible. One tip: Keeping the shoulders square while “swiveling” the pelvis (initiated from T-12/L-1) makes the opening of the stride behind far more efficient. Since adopting this, my bad hip has stopped hurting quite a bit…sometimes adding movement (that may seem counter-intuitive) is the right thing to do.

    Certainly the vertical path in a barbell snatch is not straight line…it is a shallow S…the most efficient path isn’t always a straight one.

    If you haven’t read the “Path of Least Resistance” by Robert Fritz, you should. Efficiency (whether physical or informational) is always determined by the qualities of the underlying structures.

    • Boris Bachmann April 20, 2010, 2:00 pm

      Sounds like a good book Randy. Would you recommend Chi Running before Chi Walking?

      • Randy Hauer April 20, 2010, 2:05 pm

        I think they are very similar…The Chi Walking balance and gait instruction is a bit different. The Chi Running instructor cert requires Chi Walking instruction as a base.

    • Gary Berenbroick April 20, 2010, 2:25 pm


      I’m a big fan of Chi Running. I got a lot out of it last year.

      From what Josh is stating above, the barbell snatch is inefficient. If the goal is to get the weight from the floor to overhead, the shortest distance is a straight line. Squatting down after you’ve already stood up is a waste of movement (energy).

      I was going to wait for you to say that you wouldn’t be able to lift as much weight but I’ll answer that now with a question.

      Are you sure you wouldn’t be able to? The people lifting those weights couldn’t always lift them yet they can now.

      • Randy Hauer April 21, 2010, 9:26 am

        I’m not sure I understand your question, but I’ll take a stab at what I think you are asking.

        Weightlifting is essentially launching the bar and catching it. In the snatch. one can only get the bar so high (lower sternum height) so in order to catch it, one has to lower the body under the bar as the bar rises on momentum. The fastest movement in all of sports is the elite level weightlifter lifter exploding under the rising bar to catch it in the snatch.

        High efficiency is pulling the bar to the minimum height with optimal momentum so that you can successfully get under it and fix it. Efforts to pull the bar higher, staying with the pull longer until the arms are bent for example, just wastes time that the lifter could have been going under the bar. And no, you can’t lift as much that way.

        • Randy Hauer April 21, 2010, 9:50 am

          Gary….Unfortunate sentence above.
          Should read,”The fastest movement in all of sports occurs during the snatch lift when the elite level weightlifter explodes under the rising bar to catch it at arms length.”

  • Fallen Monkey April 20, 2010, 1:22 pm

    I feel that much better that I finally got around to doing Pilates today…amazing how weaker muscles in my shoulders and back have been eroding at my posture lately. As for walking straight–am I screwed because I’m flat-footed? My ankles are always teetering with every step I feel like I slap on the pavement like a pancake 🙂

    • Piers McCarney April 20, 2010, 3:17 pm

      My two cents (as a fellow flat-footer) is that we’re no more screwed than anyone else. After experimenting with biofeedback relating to rolling a golf-ball under my foot, then reading into items relating to “freeing your feet”, I don’t think that flat-footed is any more a permanent state than being unable to squat 500lbs.
      We’ve just had adaptation kicking us that much harder in the arse in this area and more consistantly, but that makes it a battle worth fighting, I think.

      • Brad Johnson April 20, 2010, 5:49 pm

        Don’t worry about it, dude.

        If they work, they work. If not, fix them.

        Nobody worries about having flat hands, despite a homologous “arch” structure there. They just worry about if their hand work.

  • Brad Johnson April 20, 2010, 5:56 pm

    I like the thought-process, Josh.

    The simplicity especially appeals to me.

    It does seem a bit over-simplified to me, though. Perhaps you could take curvature into consideration as a positive attribute.

    I here refer not to hunch-back typing, but the the backwards, weight-supporting lumbar arch, which appears as a singularly human adaptation to allow upright posture.

    Or, in another example, the windlass mechanism in your foot – that design that pushes your ankle “up and out” – acts as a dynamically-tightening arch which supports your weight and propels you forward with mechanical efficiency.

    The regular curve, and especially the dynamic version of it, seems our greatest evolutionary adaptation to handling force, while the straight line appears mostly in human abstraction.

    Ironically, in my experience, I’ve noticed that THINKING in straight lines actually optimizes such load-bearing curves. Sitting up “straight,” for example, increases the curvature of the lumbar arch.

    (this has become quite long, but hopefully you can cull something useful from it.)

    -Brad Johnson

  • Tara Mohr April 22, 2010, 1:12 pm

    What if the extra movement gives me extra energy?

    • Josh Hanagarne April 22, 2010, 1:45 pm

      If something gives you extra energy, ignore anyone who tells you differently. Sometimes inefficiencies result from too many moving parts. Sometimes things aren’t moving that should be. These are all just guidelines. There is no one-sized fits all. Only you have the right to say what is best for you, and you learn that by running your own experiments. Anyone that says “always” or “never” to you about your own body should be avoided. Or at least their advice:)