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Shock Absorption

The second primary action of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains is shock absorption. Shock absorption is the kinetic energy as it waves through the body. This concept has several contextual layers, let’s further explore shock absorption.

Kinetic energy refers to mass in motion. The earth we live on is a spinning ecosystem that comprises of many elements. Gravity is one of those elements (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity)

When we walk, run, or jump, our musculoskeletal system puts into motion the mass or weight of our structure. The product of the interaction between musculoskeletal activation, gravity, and ground engagement produces a wave of energy, a kinetic wave. Energy is a wave form, as it has a measurable amplitude and modulation. The amplitude is the height of the wave, or intensity, and modulation is the length of the wave, or duration.

When we are standing still, gravity is pressing our structure into the earth. In order to counter gravity, or to balance the force of gravity, we push into the earth creating a rebound. As the popular yoga saying explains, one must “root to rise, or stand tall like a mountain.” Without this action to counter gravity, we would collapse under its compressive force.

When we add momentum, our kinetic energy increases, and more energy is required to counter-act the compressive forces. Let’s explore this experientially. Take a few normal steps and notice how the impact of the strike phase of the gait is reverberating up your structure. Now increase the kinetic energy and transition from a walk to a trot. Notice how your body requires more of your structure to dissipate the energy.

Let’s increase the energy wave another notch. Try jumping up with both legs. See how much vertical height you can clear. Feel the leg drive from pushing into the earth and the absorption of kinetic energy as you reengage with the ground as you land. Now do the same thing, but drive and land with one leg only. Notice that that single leg absorption is asymmetrical. Take inventory of how this energy moves up the body, joint by joint. This is ground force reaction and is a key principal action in movement.

What happens when a joint or multiple joints are unable to participate in the distribution of kinetic energy throughout the body during the shock absorption phase of a movement? The structure must come up with a solution to dissipate the kinetic energy, this is called a compensation pattern. This is a maladaptive learned behavior that then is reinforced with each cycle of shock absorption.

Shock absorption is an essential element in structural assessment for integrated movement. The kinetic chain chart in the Deep Longitudinal anatomy poster gives great insight into how the energy of shock absorption waves through the body.

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The First Breath

My partner and I were swimming in Barton Springs Pool in Austin, TX the other day. She asked me if I would give her swim lessons. She prefaced the request with, “anyone that has given me swim lessons has left me in tears.”

I thought about her reaction for a moment, and immediately zoned in that the very first thing to learn about swimming is to just be comfortable in the water. This is very similar to the first instruction in meditation, to take a comfortable seat. In meditation, the second instruction is to observe the breath. Following the sensation of the breath anchors the mind to awareness. This helps the mind from being hijacked by cognitive thinking.

Being comfortable in the water also requires finding ease in breathing. Often, people are in a fear response when while swimming. In order to not activate the central nervous system’s sympathetic response, one needs to learn specific movement skills so that breathing is not stressful.

One might think that water is a natural element, as we float in our mother’s belly before being born, and people should be at ease in that element. However, almost everyone experiences their first fear response at the moment of transition from the lungs full of amniotic fluid to the pressurization of the air from taking their first breath.

A component of the fear response is called the startle reflex. The action of the startle reflex is a sharp inhalation, flexion and internal rotation. This is in opposition to the integration of the breathing apparatus, as optimal inhalation is extension with external rotation.

Correcting the disconnect between fear based breathing to a well-integrated breathing apparatus is a must for finding ease in the water – and frankly in life!

Here is the progression I use to teach people to find their ease in water and is quite simple. You can do it on your own or have someone assist you:

Floating on your back ~
Feel the buoyancy created by expanding the ribcage and lungs.

Floating on your side body ~ Prerequisite for side stroke, side body is also the end position for breathing in the basic crawl, or freestyle.

Using fins and snorkel as props ~
This builds more confidence in the water.

Floating on your belly with a snorkel ~
Find ease face down in the water.

Building blocks of stroke technique ~
There are many levels of techniques to build a strong foundation.

Once the foundation is in place, start to remove the props ~ Development of shoulder timing to neck rotation so that one can arrive at side body also allows for a restorative breath.

Understanding the breathing apparatus is integral in any mind body activity. The charts in the Intrinsic Anatomy Poster outline all the players participating in respiration.

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The Master Template

The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are the master template for not only the walking gait as I’ve explored in my anatomy art, but for all locomotion and movement. Different movements have different relationships to gravity and the environment, and they use different muscular activations. (These activations are referred as kinetic chains, force transmission systems and sling systems.)
For example, swimming doesn’t have ground engagement like the strike phase of the gait. Instead, the spear phase (reaching through the water) is analogous to the deep longitudinal system. The kinetic sequence runs from the hand and through the anterior body to the opposite leg. The arm lines are doing the work in swimming that the leg lines are doing in walking.
Let’s dissect The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains as movement concepts:
1) Intrinsic:
The intrinsic system is the nervous system’s relationship to breathing. Our breathing apparatus, the mechanism of pressurization systems, has a direct effect on the autonomic nervous system. “You can’t own your movement until you own your breath.” This is about our breath mastery in relationship to our movement.
2) Deep Longitudinal:
The deep longitudinal system is about shock absorption. Shock absorption is the ability for kinetic energy to wave through the body joint by joint. If the wave is unable to move freely through the fascial system, that energy has to be absorbed in some way (such as a compensation). Imagine ocean waves breaking on the beach. The forces flow rhythmically absorbed by the sand. Now put a rocky buttress in front of the same wave and there is a tumultuous energy exchange of the crashing into the buttress.
3) Lateral:
The lateral system is the midline stability of the structure. The axis of the spine (axial skeleton) needs dynamic stability so that the appendicular skeleton has a platform by which to generate energy. Without the stability of the axis, the arms and legs will be impaired to generate power or work production.
4) Posterior Spiral:
The posterior spiral is the generation of stored elastic energy. The fascial matrix is a potential energy system. Efficient movement uses muscular activation to act on the fascial system. The fascial system spreads the load over as much area as possible which increases efficiency. As the energy winds up in the tissues, the potential release of that energy assists work production in the complementary movement.
5) Anterior Spiral:
The anterior spiral is the release of elastic energy into the complementary movement. Elastic energy can be released in different ways across the structure. When you are watching graceful athletes moving in profound ways, you are seeing elastic energy being stored and released in an efficient way. The energy is spread across the entire fascial fabric and the result is seemingly effortless movement.
These concepts are always present in integrated movement:
Breath~Shock Absorption~Axial Stability~Stored Elastic Energy~Translation of Elastic Energy
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Synergistic Dominance

The charts in the Five Primary Kinetic Chains Anatomy Poster Series outline a primary physiological principle in movement: bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and fascia do not work in isolation. They work synergistically to create movement.

When movement is balanced and efficient, the players are all cooperating with each other. If movement is out of balance and inefficient, the result is compensation in the structure. This maladaptive compensation follows some specific physiological principles.

The first of these principles, synergistic dominance, is when one synergistic component of the structure is compensating for another synergistic component. More specifically, one component is overworked or up-regulated in relationship with another synergist that is underworked or down-regulated.

Synergistic dominance can show up over a spectrum of compensatory strategies. It can show up locally or globally. A local example would be the relationship of a muscle to itself. The distal end of a muscle can be up-regulated for a down-regulated proximal end of the same muscle. Synergist dominance will also show up when multiple muscles are working together. For example, hip flexion has several muscles that work synergistically. The iliacus, psoas, tensor fasciae latea, rectus femoris, adductor longus, and sartorious are the major contributors to hip flexion. If one of these muscles is up-regulated, that can functionally down-regulate the others.

Synergistic dominance also shows up globally. Kinetic chains, the manner in which the musculoskeletal system organizes itself, is not merely a local occurrence. Kinetic chains organize across the entire fascial fabric. The lateral kinetic chain provides a good example of global synergistic dominance. Throughout the dynamic platform of the stance phase of the gait, the ankle, pelvis, torso, and neck all need to play well together. If they are unable to do so, then one player will take over doing the job of the player unable to engage. Single leg stance is a great global assessment protocol to discern synergistic dominance of the lateral kinetic chain.

Synergistic dominance can also show up in kinetic chains that work in unison. For example, during the gait cycle, the posterior spiral kinetic chain is paired with the opposite deep longitudinal kinetic chain. Likewise, the lateral kinetic chain is paired with the opposite anterior spiral kinetic chain. These pairings of kinetic chains have an interdependent relationship. One relies on the other in the efficiency of storing and releasing elastic energy. If one chain has a dysfunctional component, it is going to have an effect on the other, they are in a synergistic relationship.

The other side of the synergist coin is the functional opposite. Muscles that work in opposition to one another rely on a principal called reciprocal inhibition. Reciprocal inhibition defines that the agonist, contracts or shortens, as the opposite, the antagonist, must lengthen. Simply, if one muscle is shortening then the other must be lengthening. If the muscle that should be lengthening is unable to do so, the effect is that the muscle that needs to shorten becomes down-regulated. It is unable to overcome the up-regulated muscle, as it can’t compete.

Functional opposites happen across kinetic chains just as synergists do. The foundation of understanding synergistic dominance builds the prerequisite for investigating functional opposites. As movement evolves, essentially there are two things happening:  some tissues are shortening while others are lengthening.

The charts included in The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains posters provide a map for synergistic relationships. By mapping the synergists, one can then decode functional opposites. This is a very useful learning tool as well as a visual reference for your clients and patients.

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The Mighty Psoas

Let me introduce to you a key muscle that is highly noteworthy and receives a lot of well-deserved attention called the psoas. This muscle supports the musculoskeletal system through several important functions.

The psoas is a multisegment muscle, as it crosses multiple joints from the thoracic lumbar junction through each lumbar vertebrae. The psoas connects the axis of the spine to the appendicular function of the hip. In other words, the psoas attaches the trunk to the thigh.

The attachment on the thigh, the lessor trochanter, gives the psoas mechanical advantage in external rotation of the hip. The psoas is a lumbar stabilizer, a hip flexor, and is also a synergist in the breathing apparatus.

The psoas is central to movement stability.

Muscles that cross single joints, and are short by design, are hardworking dependable muscles. The nervous system can count on these muscles in recruitment and compensation patterns. However, muscles that cross multiple joints don’t have as much mechanical leverage (longer lever equates to more load on the fibers). What they are good at is providing dynamic stability while the shorter, hardworking muscles provide the power.

In the case of hip flexion, the function of the psoas is stabilization of the lumbar while its synergist, the iliacus, is the power generator.

The psoas is a multi-planer stabilizer that works in a three-dimensional context.

The psoas likes to work with its favorite partner in lumbar stabilization, the quadrates lumborum,(QL). The QL has a fascial compartment just posterior of the psoas. The compartments need to have the capacity to glide across one another so discreet function can happen in the sagittal, coronal and transverse planes. In sagittal plane movement the psoas and QL work in ipsilateral pairs on the same side. This is also true for the coronal plane. Though in the coronal plane, while one side is shortening, the opposite side is lengthening. This is called lateral flexion. The function of the psoas in the transverse plane is related to the walking gait. The transverse plane pairing is contralateral. One side of the psoas is working with the opposite side QL to stabilize the lumbar as the pelvis is moving around the axis of the spine.

The psoas is a primary compartment of the greater lumbodorsal fascia. This fascial sheath connects the torso to the pelvis so that the action of the appendicular skeleton and axial skeleton wind-up and release elastic energy throughout the cycle of the walking gait.

One really can’t talk about the psoas without mentioning its relationship to the breathing apparatus. The psoas is a key player in the spinal wave: the action that assists the cerebrospinal fluid pump. Further, the psoas shares connective tissue with the thoracic diaphragm. This is significant because when the psoas doesn’t play well with the breathing apparatus, the autonomic nervous system’s sympathetic arousal stays up-regulated. This cascade of chemistry from the sympathetic response hijacks the nervous system’s ability to cope. Said another way it results in stress. (Click here to see the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JqFWUjxI1Q&app=desktop)

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Adaptation Creates Compensation

All movement leads to adaptation creating compensation.

The law of adaptation: The organism adapts to its environment regardless of outcome. The nervous system does not differentiate whether an adaptation is beneficial or not.

I have seen several clients over the years, seasoned yoga practitioners, that had a similar root problem with different outcomes. The problem was a recruitment pattern with the toes. The instruction to “floint” the foot is to flex the toes while pointing the forefoot. This is also known as “Barbie Feet.”

Compensation in the toes creates global compensation patterns. These patterns occur along front and back kinetic chains. Kinetic chains can be understood as muscles that link together to create integration. When one muscle becomes inhibited, the chain is broken. This results in some muscles that are overworked, and others that are underworked. When the toe flexors become dominate, two different patterns can emerge.

Patterns of inhibition along the same kinetic chain as the toe flexors, along the front of the body are known as synergists.  One client had pain just below her hip joint in the front of her thigh. The hip flexors were inhibited by her toe flexors. Every step she took exasperated the problem. Another client had pain in the back of her thigh.  She had patterns of inhibition along the back of the body. This pattern is the functional opposite to the toe flexors.

There are other groups of people that have kinetic chain imbalances due to toe flexor dominance. People that wear high heels and/or flip flops are also high risk.

Whatever activity we regularly do, will unknowingly create undesirable movement patterns. Fortunately, undesirable patterns are learned behavior. Thus, they can be unlearned and replaced by a more desirable pattern.