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Biomechanics Simplified

What's up everybody? Today we are talking about biomechanics, in a simple, fun and easy to understand way so that you can wrap your mind around this complex concept and actually apply it to your own body and your own performance. Thanks for joing me!

Who’s this for?

While anyone can benefit from understanding biomechanics and how their body works, this particular blog may be of more interest to my fellow movement professionals out there, personal trainers, pilates instructors, as well as athletes or my outdoorsy performance driven weekend warriors. Plus anyone who likes to think about how things work!

You guys will definitely want to listen up and really anybody, anybody who wants to learn how their body works, get out of pain, understand why their imbalances are the way they are. I have a few different ways for you to think about this. And the first analogy is of a trampoline. 

The Trampoline Analogy - A Spectrum of Movement

So if you picture a trampoline, it's kind of bouncy and you go down and the whole thing goes down and then you bounce up, right? So we can think of biomechanics the same way, as a spectrum that goes from one place to another place. A trampoline is designed to exaggerate the spectrum of movement that is available between the direction of up and the direction of down. And it really is basically that simple. 

There's this spectrum of movement that goes all the way from the very bottom of the jump when the trampoline is kind of closest towards the ground, and then it goes all the way to the top of the jump where you're way high up in the air.  Now, it’s personal preference if you add in a flip, or you could do the splits, or pull your knees up or something like this. You could do any kind of different variation of how you jump on the trampoline.

Yet the essential biomechanics of what gives you the greatest potential for functional movement is really just this spectrum of movement that goes from one end to the opposite end. What I love about this analogy is that it teaches us how important it is to go both directions through that whole spectrum.

For example, you can't jump as high on the ground as you can on a trampoline, right? The trampoline makes it easier to jump higher. But why is that? The whole reason you can jump higher on a trampoline is because you can go down lower.  You increase the spectrum of movement in the opposite direction.  It functions like a catapult. 

So, here my friend is the practical application of this analogy. So often, in our desire to ‘jump higher’ or whatever your current physical goal may be, we often think it will require more effort, more work, more power to try to jump up higher.  It’s a very different way to think about movement if we instead try to figure out how we can get down lower.  How can  we improve our access to that full spectrum of movement?  It becomes more of a timing and coordination challenge instead of raw force. And the beauty in this is that it also opens up the potential for efficiency.  Achieving more with less effort, thereby conserving your energy and not only will you jump higher but you’ll be able to do that for longer as well.  

While it’s easy to understand this on a theoretical level, it’s quiet perplexing to translate this into what exercises one should do to reduce knee pain.  So, let’s break this down one step further.  For any injury, exercise, or movement modality you may find yourself within you could ask yourself these three questions: 

  1. Am I able to move through my full spectrum of movement?  

  1. Am I intentionally working to regain that range of motion, if it’s something that was lost due to injury? 

  1. Is the exercise progressively leading to a place where that spectrum of motion is rediscovered and then reinforced? 

Breathing as a Biomechanical Symphony

The next example I want to share with you guys is the beautifully simple art of breathing.  Okay, so we all breathe. And it's, again, this idea of a spectrum. All the way from the inhale, all the way to the exhale.

So let's say that you are a shallow breather, right? 

I know when I'm stressed that I tend to not breathe very deeply. It's easy to breathe up into my neck when I’m stressed, or it also happens when I spend too much time sitting.

If you are a shallow breather, whether it’s from stress, or long hours sitting, or any other reason then there’s a good chance you’ve been encouraged to breath more deeply.  There are many modalities and approaches to breathing that will encourage you to lengthen your breath, breathe in for a longer period of time, take in more breath. Now, if you're somebody that breathes into your neck and you try to take a big, long, deep breath in, there is a decent chance that it might simply increase the tension in your neck, and make you use your shoulders even more.  It might increase the very pattern we’re trying to change. 

So this is an example of how biomechanics works no matter what we're talking about, whether it’s breathing, muscles, bones, or… I don’t know, maybe your love life. LOL

We can either try harder and zero in deeper on the exact thing we want to have more of.  Or we can take a step back and try to reverse engineer the situation.  We can look for a catapult.  We can look for the more subtle coordination, timing, and flow involved in restoring a better pattern. 

In the breathing example, if we look at it, when does the beginning of the inhale start? The answer to that is gonna be at the very bottom of the exhale. So another way to be better at breathing in, is actually to get better at breathing out so that you extend the spectrum of movement and create a longer runway for the the inhale to happen.

It's not that complicated, right? It's pretty simple. We just don't usually think about it quite like this. So, if you take an exaggerated long exhale, you get every little shred of breath out of your lungs. If that's where you're starting from, that's gonna give you this longer spectrum to have more time, more capacity, more length, more space to be taking a breath in.

Okay. So we tend to get so focused on the goal, oh, I wanna get there. And so we try to just go that direction, but sometimes we have to look back and say, where does this spectrum start? Can I give myself a system to reverse engineer a more efficient starting point to kind of catapult you in the direction you wanna go.

I hope this is landing, the breath, the breathing example. makes it a little bit more tangible, right? 

Knocked Knees and Not Forcing It

Here's another example, knocked knees. It's very common to have this posture where instead of the leg being straight you will see the knees kind of curve into the midline of the body.  Sometimes it’s one knee, sometimes it's both.  And this is super super common by the way. In layman's terms we simply call it knock kneed. (Or in anatomy speak we will say it’s a valgus angle) 

While many therapeutic approaches exist for this situation, many of these various approaches will essentially be some version of encouraging or forcing the knee to move away from the midline.  In other words, the focus and the intention, the goal is to get that knee to move away from the midline.  (In the trampoline analogy it would be hyper focusing on the ‘up’ part of the jump)

We don't want it to fall into the midline, so let's pull it back over here, right? This is interesting because when we think about it more from the lens of a full spectrum of movement we arrive at some very different questions, some very different approaches. 

If the highest possible jump is directly related to the lowest possible spectrum of ‘down’ then a knee that is rolling into the midline is actually a cry for help.  It’s essentially saying, I keep trying to further down, in order to jump up, but it’s not working.  

We need to understand why the body isn't able to experience it’s full spectrum of movement. It has a reason, right? 

Now, to really get to the bottom of this example is a little more complex, and I’m trying to give you the 20,000 foot view, the bird eye view. If you are struggling with knee pain or issues in the lower body, foot, knee, hip, etc.  then you want to make sure that your therapeutic program is something that is holistically addressing this spectrum of movement, the patterning, the coordination and timing or your whole lower body.  How does your foot interact with the ground?  Are you progressing movements from the floor to maybe hands and knees, and then to standing, for example.

Three Cups Analogy - A Harmonious Symphony of Movement

One last analogy for you my friends. Picture three cups. One cup, two cups, and three cups. And you're pouring water into each of the little cups. That is, each cup represents a different direction of movement, okay?

We are three dimensional beings, we are 3D creatures. Movement happens in a 3D environment.  We can twist, and we can side bend, those are two different dimensions and directions of movement. And the third dimension is forward and back… I call that one the sumersault plane of motion. 

These three cups together create this symphony of movement. And so you can think of these three cups as needing to be equally full. At least in terms of your resting posture.  During movement it will all slosh around a bit, but when we come to rest, we are hopefully landing in a place that is ‘balanced’ which would mean that these three cups are all equally full.

Now, within each of those three cups, we want to be able to experience a full spectrum of movement.  All the way up and all the way down. All the way left, all the way right. If we have something like a knee that is rolling in and knocked kneed and it's not able to experience that full spectrum of movement, then part of what we can do is start to look at those three cups of movement and say, which one's missing? Why isn't this one cup as full as the others?

It gives us much more to look at! Much more than just over focusing on the end result. 

We know we want that knee to be able to experience living in a little bit of a different pattern that's a little more straight and not just knock kneed, right? The tendency in a lot of therapeutic modalities tends to be to try to force it back in the direction that we want it to go whether that's through exercise or massage or manipulation or different things.

If we look at this full spectrum of movement within these three cups, it gives us a lot more to look at to understand in a holistic pattern of movement, you know, what's happening at the foot, what's happening at the hip, what's missing from this full spectrum of movement that's preventing the environment that would allow that knee to be able to, almost, have permission to experience that full spectrum again.

Challenge and Shift: Nurturing Curiosity in Biomechanics

I challenge you to switch your thinking. If you find an imbalance in your body, if you know you've been working on an injury for a long time and maybe it's not really getting better, then see what it feels like to try on this different way of thinking about your body. 

My hope is that it may open up a little bit of space for you to wonder.

What is that spectrum of movement in this part of my body? Or how does that work? What other elements might be involved here? What are those other cups that might be too full or too empty, which might not be allowing my body to move in a way that is optimal, in a way that is pain free, in a way that's really going to drive peak performance.

This is a very different lens to take than just saying, this imbalance is wrong and I need to change it and I need to kind of force it to do this other thing that would be better, right? So it gives us a lot more to look at and to work with and essentially to understand. So I hope that's helpful for you.

It's definitely a little bit nerdy! So if you're a movement science nerd like me then you'll love this. Feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues who you think would enjoy this. And, thanks for taking the time to read my writing, I’m always happy to hear your thoughts, ideas, questions, and feedback.  Don’t be a stranger.

In Movement and In Stillness,


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