Not just Movements - Technique-based Movements
Many Essentrics newbies ask the same question: what movements should we do for ___ (toned arms, hip mobility, flexible legs,less shoulder pain, etc)? They are often disappointed that there is no simple answer or “prescription,” because regardless of our objectives, we need to engage the full body from head to toe. As all our muscles and fascia are connected, to address one issue means rebalancing the whole. Yet there is another reason why there is no simple answer, and that concerns how we execute Essentrics movements.
While Essentrics is about movements rather than poses, more precisely it is a technique-based program. This means that we can do the very same motion in different ways to:
enhance mobility and relieve pain
Let’s use the “Figure 8” movement to illustrate. In this case we’ll look at the Single Arm Figure 8, using one arm to draw the number in order to engage the chest and back muscles. Note that the movement in all the videos using different techniques may look similar. That is why for the uninitiated, it is a puzzle why Essentrics can be both easy and challenging. Only when one tries it by following specific techniques and instructions that she/he feels and gets it!
If we do the Figure 8 as a warm up, we focus on using relaxation and momentum to loosen the body and boost our circulation. This isn’t just about getting the blood circulate faster in the arteries, but to help it flow deeper to our arterioles and capillaries, preparing our muscles for the workout. Note that because we use momentum to loosen the body, we move a bit faster than during the rest of a routine, when we emphasize engaging muscles rather than just going through the motions.
Flexibility and Mobility
Using Figure 8 to increase muscle flexibility (for our back and chest), one way is to incorporate a neuromuscular technique called PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitator). It is a technique commonly used in physiotherapy. We start by contracting our muscles as we lift one arm. We then release the tension, relax, and round our spine into a “C” shape (or “Neutral C”). Finally, we stretch our arm across and up and over.
Note that by rounding and tucking into a C shape or “Neutral C,” we are using a positioning technique to stretch our musculature. This also loosens our spine and improves its mobility.
If we use Figure 8 to strengthen the back and chest muscles, one possible technique is applying imagery to create resistance. For example, we can imagine swimming the arm against water, or even mud. This resistance challenges and therefore tones our muscles. Since we are strengthening as we stretch, we are effectively using the eccentric contraction technique. This requires 10% more effort than concentric technique, which shortens to strengthen (think pulling a dumbbell towards your torso). As a result, we acquire more strength at a faster rate.
To create more resistance, we can lengthen our arm instead of bending it. In doing so we create a “long lever.” In physics, the longer the lever, the heavier the load. So we effectively lift more weight with this technique.
We can also apply the long lever technique to the legs to tone and sculpt the quadriceps as we work the upper body. We turn out our feet into 2nd plie (with legs wide apart), extending our leg one after the other as we draw a figure 8. This volleys our torso from one leg to another, using our body weight to build strength.
If we wish to dial up the strengthening and flexibility even further, this is one unusual but possible set of techniques - by incorporating multi-directional stretch. See or feel if you can understand why this is more challenging than all the other versions!
Many Tools in the Box
There are many other techniques involved in the above examples, and there are also different ways to combine these and other techniques not mentioned. Therefore, asking what Essentrics movements to do isn’t adequate. We need to know how to do them. Essentrics techniques go beyond the typical alignment guidelines for most workouts. It incorporates Positioning Techniques, Joint Movement Techniques, and Neuromuscular Techniques. A teacher can lead us through the same workout but create very different results by switching her tools!