EXPANDED: What is so special about the circular movements in Essentrics?

*My previous post has led to an an invitation by fellow Essentrics instructor Amanda Sterczyk in Ottawa to write a guest blog. I decided to expand the last post and added a few videos to further elucidate the point.  Hope you find it helpful and I also invite you to visit Amanda's website at www.essentricswithAmanda.com!

Most workouts focus on muscles and (loosing) fat, some also pay attention to bones, but few consider our joints. Programs such as weight lifting, stair climbing or yoga require bearing weights, which can stress and strengthen our bones. Yet these don’t necessarily condition our joints. If you Google “joint health” you’ll see mostly websites and literature about supplements and remedy for arthritis or pain relief. Joint health seems to be an afterthought until the damage is done.

In Essentrics we sculpt the muscles and stress the bones but also condition the joints. One distinctive feature about Essentrics is the large, continuous circular movements throughout the routine. They have roots in tai chi, ballet and physiotherapy. We feel natural, pleasant and incredibly good doing them because they work our joints the way they should work.

Our bones are connected through movable and immovable joints. Those joints in our skull, for example, are rigid and not movable. In Essentrics we are concerned with movable, synovial joints, joints filled with fluid to reduce friction, much likeoiled engine parts defined for specific motions. A typical example is the ball and socket joint. It is the most important and powerful type of joint because of its range of motion. Try making a fist with one hand and cup it with the other. The fisted hand can rotate with a great degree of mobility.

The arm bone (humerus) connects to the shoulder blade (scapula) through a ball & socket joint.

The arm bone (humerus) connects to the shoulder blade (scapula) through a ball & socket joint.

Our arms and legs connect to the skeleton through this type of joint and therefore enjoy a great range of motion. The top end of the arm bone or humerus, for example, is a ball shape that inserts into the cavity in the scapular, or shoulder blade (see picture). We can swing our arms and legs in circles. If we don’t use these ball and socket joints to their full capability, if we don’t rotate them sufficiently, deposits will build up and the joints will become rigid. The muscles around the joints work together to make those large, circular motions and will also become stiff from fascia build up. Fascia is the film-like connective tissue that can harden from lack of movements. Joints and mobility are a classic case of “use it or lose it.”

This explains why those circular movements in Essentrics feel so natural and pleasant. We are moving those joints and the surrounding muscles the way they can and should move. In one of our popular trademark movements “Caribbean Spine,” we rotate the arms and the entire shoulder joint. When we lift our elbows to shoulder height and pull forward we are also stretching and lengthening the upper back muscles such as the trapezius and the rhomboids. When we open and rotate the shoulder backwards we work the pectorals. The motion therefore not only conditions the joints but also improve our posture by increasing flexibility in the upper back and chest. This is the beauty of Essentrics’ economy and efficiency.

The ESSENTRICS Spinal Sequence stretches & strengthens the entire spine, improves posture, and relieves back pain. It works your entire upper body. See illustration by Amanda Sterczyk!

When we do the “Clock Kicks” with our legs, we keep the body steady, then isolate, kick and travel one leg around from front to back and vice versa. This is also a simple, powerful, and effective move. Many people find this circular motion challenging because they can’t isolate and lift their legs at all angles. While most have no trouble lifting the leg forward and up, for example, doing so on the side and to the back can cause many to wobble and lose balance. The motion reveals the weakest muscles in the hip and leg areas as well as rebalances them. When we unclog this ball and socket joint connecting the legs we are also improving mobility, enhancing our balance.

This is why static stretches or holding poses do relatively little to condition our joints, which need movements. Traditional weight lifting involving rigid, mechanical motion stresses bones but don’t work the ball and socket joints to their full range. Pushups and tricep dips can build and tone muscles quickly but can overload the wrists. Similarly, holding poses such as the down dog position in yoga can stretch the latissimus dorsi in the lower back as well as the hamstrings in the legs, but can put too much pressure on the compressed wrists.

Then there is the question of impact. Certain sports such as tennis and volley ball involve full rotation of the arm (one, but not both). Yet the movements also involve hitting a target which impacts the joint. 

This is not to say there is no value in doing these sports and exercises, but we simply need to be aware of their impact and balance it accordingly. In Essentrics not only do we rotate the ball and socket joints fully but we also lengthen them in the process. This allows more synovial fluid to circulate, reducing joint friction.

Full rotational motions don’t have to be challenging. In Essentrics some of our warm up movements are very simple and easy. See an illustration of the “Single Arm Figure 8” for the arms and the “Hip Cleaner” for the legs. These are “feel good” movements you can do anywhere, anytime!