Are you Gravity Fit?
I bet you have heard of cardiovascular fitness. Sure, your aware of muscular fitness. I even bet you know about flexibility, but have you heard of Gravitational Fitness or Gravity Fit? Probably not. Gravity Fit is your body’s ability to hold itself up against gravity. There are different degrees to this skill. Most of us can stand up, but when we do so:
- Do you stand tall or slouch?
- Are you engaging the deep postural muscles?
- Are your movement muscles over firing (or over working)?
Most of us have certain inadequacies in the way we resist gravity. Certain activities such as hiking, walking barefoot, yoga, tai chi, and gymnastics encourage our gravitational systems. On the other hand, even these can fall short with so many of us sitting and slouching for most of the day.
So how do you know what constitutes a good gravitational system? Researchers study Gravitational Fitness focused on two groups: astronauts coming back from outer space and people on bed rest. They studied the muscular girth of the muscles in these populations compared to those of a typical population. They found that in the special populations: some muscles became smaller, while others stayed the same or became larger.
So rest made some muscles larger?
That’s right. Certain muscles, called movement muscles actually became larger. These muscles are mostly the muscles that flex the body or move it forwards: hip flexors, biceps brachii, etc. Even in studies where astronauts or people on bed rest exercised these muscles, the other muscles: postural or gravitational muscles (sometimes called anti-gravity muscles), decreased. This is because fast, ballistic movements can inhibit the gravitational system. This tells us that aerobic or strength training exercises will not help and can actually inhibit gravitational fitness.
Why is Gravitational Fitness (Gravity Fit) important?
Researchers found one other population that had decreased size of the gravitational muscles: people with low back pain. Researchers have also found that gravitational fitness was the number one indicator about whether or not back pain would return in populations with reversed low back pain. This goes to the heart of gravitational fitness: it prevents pain and injury. One other important benefit of gravitational fitness: osteoporosis prevention. The joints that are stimulated during gravitational fitness training also increase bone density.
But I do yoga, and I still have back pain.
While activities such as yoga, Pilates, and walking do help strengthen and increase the width of gravitational muscles. Many people need an individualized assessment to determine which specific muscles are weak, which muscles are inhibiting other muscles, and what positions they don’t turn on well in. I also assess the individual muscles at each vertebra to make sure they all fire appropriately. Muscles called intervertebra
l muscles attach along the spine between individual segments. Often times, a muscle between two vertebrae cannot activate while the muscles at other vertebrae can. This puts these vertebrae at risk for injury. By assessing the muscles individually and applying techniques to get them firing again, we reduce risk of back and neck pain.
Beyond Core Stability
Core stability is a huge buzz word nowadays. While core stability has benefits, gravitational fitness addresses not just the core but the whole body. Gravitational fitness looks at whether your gravitational muscles activate at your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, forearms, and wrists. This whole body approach uses functional, full body movements. It also has enough specificity to address areas of weakness.
Do I need an expert?
If you are experiencing pain, you should definitely see a physical therapist trained in gravitational fitness. Sit in a desk all day? You likely have some gravitational weakness. Athlete people who either lift weights frequently or do a lot of aerobic activity probably use mostly movement muscles. These muscles actually inhibit the postural muscles. With all the movement and activity that you do, your at high risk for injury. You would benefit from seeing an expert.
What can I do on my own?
Build gravitational fitness must slowly. Overworking the muscles can prevent them from working properly.
To build these muscles, slowly start incorporating in: slow paced yoga or tai chi, hiking outside, walking barefoot, and closed chain movements. Close chained movement means pushing against the ground or a solid surface for resistance. For example, a squat is a closed chain movement. A leg curl is not. A push up is closed chain, but a bicep curl is not. Closed chain movement provide compression to the joint. This compression inhibits movement muscles and activates gravitational muscles. Incorporate the activities in slowly and safely.
If you feel uncomfortable with the form or technique, please consult a physical therapist or personal trainer to ensure you do not injure yourself.
Finally, have fun and enjoy the benefits of gravitational fitness. You will find that adding these activities into your routine and improving your posture will improve your mood and energy levels too!!