Movement isn’t generated by muscles.
This is the central theoretical point made by Dr. Nicholas Romanov, founder of The Pose Method, when teaching movement. He points out that the similarities between all the different human movements—swimming, walking, pitching, kicking—run deep, while the differences (which we naïvely believe are the larger part of the equation) are actually astonishingly superficial.
Dr. Romanov makes a critical distinction between movement—the displacement of our body in space (or of another object, such as a ball)—and repositioning (moving arms, hands, legs or shifting our torso around while remaining in the same spot).
Muscles allow us to reposition, sometimes at great speed. But in order to transform repositioning into movement, we need to add another critically important (and almost universally overlooked) component to the recipe: gravity.
Similar to how animal physiology evolved with the assumption that oxygen is a constant, the movement mechanics of all animals evolved with another assumption: that gravity is another constant, which we harness for movement as we harness oxygen for life.
Leonardo Da Vinci wrote: “Motion is created by the destruction of balance.”
What happens when we destroy balance—when we lean juust enough in some direction (say, forwards)? Gravity accelerates us quickly enough that we reflexively throw our foot down to catch ourselves in an attempt to find balance anew. And what if instead of stopping, we let ourselves continue falling? We’ll find that we need to throw down another foot, and another, and another. At that point, we’re running.
All movement begins with the destruction of balance, but there are an innumerable amount of movements that the body can make. The difference between each and every one of them is which position we initiate from.
But how about in throwing? Isn’t it quite clear that we “generate power” from the hips? Let’s see.
We all know the throwing stance: ball in hand at the level of the ear, elbow at ninety degrees and square with the shoulder, back foot pointing to the side and front foot pointed forward. But there’s more. We rotate our shoulders so that they are aligned in the direction of the throw.
Our upper body is essentially twisted into a spring, ready to snap back around as soon as we release the potential energy we’ve created.
But in order for this to become a throw, there is one exceptionally important component missing—an action called unweighing. If there’s any shared movement between all sports, this is it. Unweighing is essentially an explosive shoulder shrug—the idea behind it being that initially it’s much easier to reposition a structure like the shoulders (which aren’t weighed down by something on top of them), and then follow in sequence with torso, hips, legs, and feet (which are).
Unweighing happens in a big way in this video of Drew Storen’s pitching mechanics, as well as in just about any video of Usain Bolt.
Once you’ve unweighed, your shoulders are flying. For all intents and purposes, they’re suspended in air. The abdomen isn’t supporting the shoulders anymore. The spine is free to extend, and accelerate the abdomen into the air. Your hips, knees, ankles, and feet are free to move.
Unweighing is the necessary first step to any human movement. While movement is still possible without active unweighing, performance suffers.
But remember, unweighing isn’t the only component: throwing involves a forward step—a momentary loss of balance. With it, gravity gets the perfect opportunity to accelerate our body. The bigger the step, the bigger the acceleration.
“The object which moves most rapidly is farthest from its balance.”
—Leonardo Da Vinci
Movement is in no way “accidental” or “passive” just because gravity is involved: A bigger “fall” in running or throwing means that the appropriate muscles have to contract more quickly in order to negotiate the greater acceleration and help the body travel to another balanced position—a second Pose.
When that foot lands, our leg stops moving abruptly. Milliseconds later, our hips, shoulders, elbow and wrist each come to a stop—and all that kinetic energy gets transferred into the ball, which continues to travel at great speed.
In throwing as in running (as in jumping, punching, and even swimming), every athletic movement is instigated by a loss of balance.
Let’s explicitly state the counterintuitive elegance of Dr. Romanov’s Pose theory: the variety of athletic movements isn’t due to a different “action” or “effort,” but rather that the initial position—the Pose that we lose balance from—and the ending position—the Pose that we travel to in order to regain it—are different.
For any movement, exactly two things happen between Poses: acceleration in some direction due to the force of gravity, and our single voluntary contribution—our only action: an explosive “unweighing” that allows the body to quickly (and reflexively) reposition its parts in its quest to return to balance.
Implicit in Pose theory is this notion: the best way to teach movement isn’t by teaching movement. The way to teach movement is by teaching the initial and ending Pose, teaching how to unweigh, and finally by teaching the conscious mind to let the body do its thing—to get the hell out of its way.
As Bruce Lee once said: “. . .and when there is an opportunity, I don’t hit. It hits, all by itself.”