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The Gravity Factor

Looking at gravity and its effect on the human body from a different angle.

"BIG GUNS AND small buns" used to be the motivation behind starting a fitness program. Over the years, the focus has shifted from cosmetic to functional, which has changed the way people work out. One of the most important aspects that came from the "functional fitness" movement is the notion of optimal biomechanics. However, this is not a new concept. This age-old wisdom unites the body's form and function. In exercise, form precedes function, and both are affected by gravity.

The pressure of gravity

Gravity was once considered the enemy in the struggle toward fitness and looking younger, but the recent emphasis on body mechanics has helped fuel a re-examination of gravity's role in the functional fitness quest. Today's discussions examine gravity's constant molding pressure and how it can be employed to the benefit of exercisers.

Gravity, however, will only benefit if we live according to its rules. The evidence against gravity is compelling, because it exacerbates even the slightest postural imbalance, and the entire kinetic chain can be malformed over time by its relentless burden. Gravity can compress the spine and push internal organs downward, and bodily functions will suffer the consequences as the entire organism, inside and out, yields to nature's ever-present and unidirectional molding force.

Posture makes perfect

Life and motion are constituted through an infinite number of postures. Posture refers to "any position in which the body resides," and can be divided into three common categories: flexed (sitting), upright (standing) and horizontal (lying down). There are also three uncommon postures: extension (leaning backward), brachiation (hanging from the limbs) and inversion (upside down). In the past, extension was considered contraindicated, but it is now widely accepted and practiced. Brachiation has always been welcome in gymnastics, but only recently found mainstream refuge on climbing walls and other emerging off-the-ground equipment innovations, and inversion has found a home in yoga classes across the globe.

Uncommon postures allow gravity to lessen the damage caused by constantly living in the three common postures. In other words, the flexed, upright and horizontal postures that dominate our lives may lend themselves toward faulty movement patterns, including poor posture, altered body mechanics and even overuse injuries.

A new take on gravity

Dr. Robert M. Martin writes eloquently in gravity's defense. He invented inversion boots and employed a variety of gravity-based innovations in the 1970s and 1980s. "We are living clay, and gravity is like the potter's hands," says Martin. "This is nature's unchanging relationship, so we must move ourselves in ways that allow us to benefit from it."

For the first time in decades, Martin's ideas are heading for the mainstream. This knowledge can contribute to assessment and program design in the fitness setting. This knowledge will further assist fitness professionals as they shape the future of fitness. Truly, our cultural reconciliation with gravity promises to turn physical fitness upside-down.

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