Weakness and limitation is exciting
It happened like this.
I was at a class about body nerd stuff (Reconciling Biomechanics with Pain Science, by Greg Lehman. Super cool.) and to make a point he was talking about limitation in flexion, abduction and internal rotation of the hip and asked us all to try a movement.
(If you want to try the movement sit on the edge of a chair with your back tall and upright. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Bring your knees together. Now lean forward, hinging from the hips. What’s “normal”? I couldn’t say for sure, but maybe something like a 45 degree angle with your knees touching.)
I couldn’t do it, and to the extent I could do it, it was really uncomfortable.
I knew there was something funny about that hip, but I never connected it to my lacking a motion that other people could do.
In general I’m not a big fan of comparison with others. We’re all uniquely made and our unique makeup contributes to our unique expression. Diversity is good for living systems.
But in this case I would never have known that such a motion is possible if I hadn’t gotten to look at others. So looking at others gave me some insight into myself. I suppose it’s like how travelling gives us the best insight into our own country. I became aware of something I hadn’t seen before.
Once we’re aware of something we can change it.
Or at least we can start a series of experiments to see if we can change it. But if we’re going along, unaware, then there is nothing we can do. We can just wonder why some things in our body are the way they are, and maybe look for solutions in the wrong places.
My body has been working around this limitation for years, and I didn’t know it. That means that developing strength and control in this specific area will lead to significant changes in how I do many of my activities. There will be pathways for movement that I didn’t know I was missing.
That’s what’s so exciting about finding a new weakness and limitation! Because now I can pit it against all that I’ve learned and am learning about physical progression, and specific adaptation to imposed demand. My money’s on adaptation. I don’t think the limitation stands a chance.
So, on my next movement day (some people refer to them as “work outs”) I experimented with load bearing variations of flexion abduction and internal rotation.
Important note: While I was working with an inability to move into the motion, load bearing forms of the movement would be helpful even for those who don’t have trouble with the range of motion, because making the motion under load means you’re controlling the motion, which is not the case in a passive stretch. In other words, being able to get your body into the position is not the same as being able to control your body once it’s there.
The exercise I settled on to start the adaptation process is a lateral lunge with reach to the ground. If I lunge to the right, I focus on reaching to the right with my left hand. I started with bodyweight and then added a couple of dumbbells.
I was gratified to find some surprisingly extreme weakness with this motion. Bingo.
I say surprisingly extreme because I’ve been practicing with variations of the single leg squat for a year and have developed strength in the front to back plane of motion. So an almost complete inability to make the side to side motion feels disproportionate.
The muscle soreness I felt the next day further cued me in that I was getting work into a new area. Muscle soreness is not a necessary or useful part of adaptation, but when it shows up it can help us know where the work is landing.
I’m super excited to see what happens.
Now that I’ve pinpointed a particular movement pattern of weakness and limitation I have the power to progressively challenge my body until that weakness is replaced by strength, and the limitation and discomfort is replaced by mobility and ease.
I would probably feel this way about any weakness I manage to unearth, but this one is special.
This particular weakness and restriction shows up a lot in my activities, because I’m a gardener and spend a lot of time bent over. I’d like it to be more comfortable for me to do all my bending squatting activities, but, even with all the attention I’ve given to watching my movement patterns over the years there are still activities that trouble me, and that I seem to tire at and get more achy from than seems altogether necessary.
If the body, my body in this case, doesn’t have the ability to make a motion (or refuses to make a motion because it can’t control it) then it will find a different pathway to the desired result. If I can’t flex my hip with my knee close to my midline then the rest of my body will work around that limitation. The low back has been trying to do the flexing and rotating that the hip can’t do.
When we have lots of different pathways for movement the body can shift between them with ease. We won’t even know about it. But when some of those pathways get blocked we’re left with only a few, to use over and over and over again.
As I unblock this pathway, my body will no longer have to find ways to travel around it.
I’m excited to see what living that way feels like.