I used to think I had pretty strong legs … I could do pistol squats with ease, and deadlift a fair bit of iron – I’m not saying this to brag or impress.
I’m saying this because I was wrong, when I thought my legs were strong.
Why? Because I wasn’t actually using my lower body to it’s fullest potential.
Every time my legs felt resistance, my lower body structure would collapse a little, causing my lower back and neck to tense up and over-work to compensate for the lack of strength down below.
For many years I trained hard, fast and with high intensity. I spent most of my time strengthening my body with weights, clubs, kettlebells and other ‘functional’ type equipment.
My focus at the time was peak performance, and if I’m honest with myself – looking good with my shirt off.
And I achieved this intention fairly well.
I could move fairly well, mainly in linear planes of motion (up – down, forward – back, side – side). I could run pretty fast, and jump pretty high.
I was pretty chuffed with myself, so I didn’t really focus too much on the weaknesses that were lingering in my lower body.
However, I was avoiding truly and deeply listening to what my body needed, and it later came back to bite me …
Even though I was pretty comfortable when moving in my comfort zone – my hips and ankles felt tense and tighter than a fishes a$*, every time I found myself moving outside of linear planes.
After years of close observation, I noticed that my weight wasn’t fully sinking into my legs, which was causing my upper body to tense up to support my lack of lower body structural integrity.
I had developed what I now call the Upside Down Pyramid Body.
The upside down pyramid body is when you feel stronger on the top, but out of balance on the bottom.
Over time it built up quite a bit of tension in my spine, and restricted my breathing and many other physiological functions. I was so focused on looking good, that I forgot about feeling good!
Because my lower body didn’t feel very stable and supportive, I did my best to avoid sinking weight into them during every movement I was performing.
Here’s an example: Two squats, two very different long term outcomes.
Above I’m showing the midpoint of two squats – each illustrating a different intention.
They may look similar on the surface, but the top image is promoting restriction, and the bottom image is promoting freedom for fluids and energy to circulate in the body.
In the top image: I’m focusing on my spine being primarily upright, without consideration for using my whole body in the movement. This is a common mistake I frequently observe that can restrict your movement progress.
In the bottom image: I’m allowing the weight to sink into my legs and my torso to relax. This improves your ability to create deep levels of leg strength.
As you learn to do this over time you go beyond just strengthening your leg muscles. You have the opportunity to more deeply stretch & strengthen your fascia system and tendons.
The purpose of illustrating this is not to say that one way is good and the other bad. It’s about bringing awareness to the possibility of allowing your body to strengthen in a relaxed, more integrated way – rather than an isolated manner.
The way I see it …
Your lower body is your roots to support a relaxed mind and body.
These roots are supposed to provide a foundation for your upper body to be in a more relaxed state, which is important to sustainably release back tension and pain (and so much more).
To develop strong lower body roots;
Here’s an example from Tai Chi:
It wasn’t until I slowed myself down and began practicing Tai Chi, standing meditation and internal martial arts consistently, that I realised my approach to strengthening my lower body was all backwards.
And after supporting many people, from those suffering injuries, pain and habitual tension, to Crossfitters, Martial Artists, Yogi’s and more, to create more freedom and power within their bodies, I realised …
I wasn’t the only one making this mistake.
Over the years I’ve discovered some important principles, that have allowed me and many Movement Monk students to access the full power we have residing inside our legs.
I’ve found this not only improves your strength levels – but also mobility around the feet, ankles, knees & hips, which can make you much more resilient to injury.
To improve the way your lower body moves and feels, you don’t need to add heaps of extra exercises to your ever-growing exercise list that some internet guru told you to do. You also don’t need to target every individual muscle.
Having strong & mobile legs is not just about your muscles. You’ve got to go a bit deeper and learn how to improve the function of your fascia, tendons and ligaments.
But you can’t just rush into this! Deep internal physical development has to be built through incremental progressions that directly address your areas of weakness.
Our Embodied Flexibility program (included in Physical Freedom Academy) features a range of fundamental Shaolin inspired practices designed to support you to progressively build deep levels of strength and flexibility around your whole body.
Through that process, you’ll build a foundation that will support you to move with less restriction for a wide range of activities.
If you’re looking to increase your overall level of strength and flexibility, without needing weights or a gym, Embodied Flexibility is a good place to start.
Whether you're looking to improve your strength, flexibility and dynamic movement for martial arts, sports, yoga or living adventurously, the first step we recommend is to assess your mind-body connection and identify your highest areas of need to focus on.
This helps to ensure that you're honouring where your body is at.
Get effective principles and practices to assess your mind-body connection in our Physical Freedom Challenge.