One of my favourite modalities/styles of training is ground based. For those that know me, I am very much into Animal Flow, created by Mike Fitch, founder of the Global Bodyweight Movement.
In fact, I incorporate Animal Flow not into only my training, but aspects of my clients.
Using your body as a resistance and having both your hands, feet in contact with the ground in varying combination and tempos has extraordinary benefits for your body.
It is not like utilising ground-based training is this new technique or modality that has never been explored but what needs to be realised is the specific context in which we are applying our ground-based training.
All aspects of ground based training will complement all other aspects of your training regime(s).
So what makes it so good??
Safe Place to Start
One of the biggest factors that is often overlooked when taking your movement or training to the ground is the safety and stability of being on the ground. Let’s face it, in comparison to standing upright, whether you are lying down or on all fours, your Nervous System is not competing against gravity in the same fashion! If we think about daily activities like walking, running, sitting, or squatting, our body is constantly calculating what is the most efficient way to keep us upright and ready to react; it is an evolutionary adaptation that every individual is constantly battling throughout their day. What often goes unnoticed as well is if our nervous system feels unsafe (maybe because your ankle isn’t able to move through its full potential) in completing foundation movement patterns like a squat, or lunge, then the body will compensate its movement patterns which eventually leads to a higher chance of injury or setbacks.
So being able to utilise the ground provides us with more stability, therefore giving our body more security in our movement patterns. When our body feels more security in our movements patterns, then our nervous system will grant us more movement potential! For example, I often see clients having difficulty completing a hinge or deadlift movement pattern. Regardless if the individual has weight that they are trying to lift or not, many clients have issues coordinating their joints and full body to move through a hinge in an optimal pattern.
Rather than screaming at my clients to continue to hinge until they learn the movement pattern, I realise that their nervous system feels unsafe in completing a movement pattern, so how can I provide them with more stability, and ultimately more safety? In this case, I will often get people onto all fours on the ground (quadruped), and have them move into and a position that can imitate the same movement pattern on the ground, which is generally safer and will also allow the nervous system to function smoother. The movement pattern mimics the movement to be achieved, but it is on a different plane.
As mentioned above, the ground provides much more stability to our body due to more points of contact on the ground. What provides us with more stability is our sensory receptors receiving stimuli from the ground, in combination with sensory information from our joints to understand where they are in relation to space and our spine. This sensory information is then sent to our spine, which is then sent up to the main governor, our BRAIN! Our brain receives this information, draws a clear picture for our body to understand where our body is resting and when we decide to move our body, we have a clear understanding of where we need to get more stable or more mobile.
Here is the best part about having all this sensory information accessible to our brains! When we receive more information to the brain about how our body is orienting itself in space, we then allow our body with a greater potential to have more efficient movement patterns! Awareness seems to always be the foundation of success; in order for us to make positive changes, we must first become aware of how our joints are fixing themselves, to then exemplify more efficient movement patterns. People tend to grade their success in the movement realm dependent upon how “fast” they were able to move, or if they completed the 1 rep during their 1-Rep Max lift that day and if we are able to influence that movement pattern in a positive way by simply taking our warm-up or mobility to the ground, why not?!
Gravity and Breath
As mentioned earlier in this article, we are constantly fighting the same resistance throughout our day; gravity! Usually, when standing, sitting, or at a desk, gravity is pressing down vertically upon our spine. It is this compression, compounded with poor “active-posture” that leads to that weird low back pain or shoulder issues! Of course, a way to help combat the sedentary aspect of a sedentary lifestyle is to take an occasion walk but gravity is still taking its course upon the compression of your spine. A simple way to help navigate this issue is to take yourself to ground, whether it be on your back or stomach or all fours, and allow your spine to decompress from gravity’s constant weight.
If we take our self back to the standing example, many of us have a lack of awareness of how our joints and body orients itself. This lack of awareness has implications towards our resting or active posture; this posture plays a significant role into the health and function of our daily movements but also our breath during rest and physical activity. Research has shown that orienting your spine in an anterior flexed dominant position (picture below) diminishes the function of your breathing muscles, termed your diaphragm. When your diaphragm (which is made to move like a muscle) isn’t able to move, then people dispose themselves to more chest and thoracic dominant breathing. This type of breathing has shown to increase the amount of Cortisol which is a stress hormone, and if we are releasing a constant dump of Cortisol into our system while we are sitting, walking, or any other low-level activity, this will eventually lead to negative adaptations like overtraining, or overstimulation of your fight or flight system, called the Sympathetic Nervous System. No bueno!
The ground is one of the most humbling areas to train and move. Although the ground might not be as sexy as kettlebell or barbell training, it has its place in your daily routine and training schedule. This doesn’t mean that you should drop your current training program and only train on the ground, but maybe a simple addition of ground based mobility in the morning or before your workout will really feed into the rest of your day and your gym endeavours.