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 overwork to compensate for the lack of strength down below.
Lower Body Weaknesses Beneath the Surface
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 …
The Upside Down Pyramid Body
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. And over time it built up quite a bit of tension in my spine, restricted my breathing and many other physiological functions. I was so focused on looking good, that I forgot about feeling good!
Avoiding the Sinking of Weight into the Lower Body
As my lower body didn’t feel very stable and supportive – during every movement I was performing, I did my best to avoid sinking weight into them.
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 upright primarily, 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.
Build Your Roots
The way I see it …
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;
- it’s not just being able to contract and rigidly resist weight,
- it’s about being able to flow and move with a quality of springiness (balance of strength and relaxation),
- it’s about being able to move freely in diverse planes of motion (high stances, low stances and everything in between)
Here’s an example from Tai Chi:
How Tai Chi & Standing Meditation Amplified my Leg Strength & Mobility
It wasn’t until I slowed myself down and began practicing Tai Chi, standing meditation and internal martial arts consistently, that I realised that 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 you have residing inside your 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.
Discover what I learned from Tai Chi about deepening leg strength, in the video below:
Keys to Fluid Lower Body Movement
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, which features a range of fundamental Shaolin inspired practices – is 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 upon which 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.
Get Strong and Flexible in a More Balanced Way
With Embodied Flexibility, you’ll build essential strength, flexibility and dynamic movement, through progressive practice – for martial arts, sports, yoga and living adventurously.