Gary Ward: What the Foot? (LBP 023)

Gary Ward is the founder of Anatomy in Motion, and the author of the book What the Foot?. He talks about how Anatomy in Motion is based on understanding how the body moves- or what the body does and when it does it- why change can happen in minutes instead of months, his Flow Motion Model, why he is not a fan of stretching, the reason behind redefining “neutral” as “center”, how we need to learn how to have better posture in a subconscious way, what nobody-ever-moved-me-itis is, and of course, plenty about the feet as the gateway to appropriate movement everywhere else.




Show notes

Gary [all other text is Gary unless noted]: Anatomy in Motion is a movement oriented education system. It is based on what the body does and when it does it. What I mean by that is what joints do  in what dimension of movement and in what time- for instance for us in the gait cycle.

Brooke: You say the body does know how to work effortlessly and efficiently.

I think the big picture is that the body- or more accurately the brain- has choices. The way people use their bodies in their daily routine has a repetitive nature. Everything they do is operating in these fixed patterns and habits of movement. The choice essentially becomes no choice but to move in our fixed patterns- We have no choice but to move the way we move until we show the body another way.

What is remarkable to me is that when you show the body how to access the movements it is missing it gives more choice and more options, and allows the body to do what it needs to do when it is required. The brain seems to notice the upgrade in efficiency. Pain drops away and performance is naturally enhanced.

The efficient and effortless state seems to be known by the body, but it needs to be accessed and to allow the nervous system to do its thing.

Brooke: You mention change can happen in an instant or in moments instead of years. To what do you attribute the "biomechanical quantum leap"?

I know that is how it happens because I have seen it too many times to deny it, but I realize that it is radical thinking. I don't want thinking to limit what is possible. It's very important for us to consider that the person who does the healing is not the therapist, it is the individual. If we are able to give a person better choices for their movement potential then they are going to move better. Given that we have the opportunity as therapists to take information from them, and so understand their limitations, then maybe we are able to see the things they can't. We can replace them back so they have a full repertoire of movement back to them. Then they instantly get taller, feet start to move better, pelvises rebalance...

We had a physiotherapist in our training recently and he was saying that he was trained that posture cannot and does not change, but he was seeing it happen. It doesn't take months, it takes minutes.

Reverse compensations- so if you roll your ankle off the side of a curb then you are instantly going to start hobbling around to protect the system from this drastic thing that has happened to it. If we can say you no longer have to be in this space, the dots connect and people can release themselves from their postural problems. Joints find better alignment, length-tension relationships of the muscles change, you are less weight-bearing on just one side- and so obviously things change.

Brooke: A lot of what we see prescribed for managing these issues is stretching and you talk about how that doesn't really work.

I'm not a fan of stretching. The need to stretch a patient or client after every session indicates that nothing has really changed if your hamstrings are the same. It is because of the way they are moving in between sessions. People are taught to stretch the hamstrings, but we have to ask why is it continually tight when I stretched it to be loose?

If stretching doesn't work what does? A recognition that the ability to lengthen is an isolated part of the muscle's skill set. Muscles lengthen AND shorten.  In fact if you reach a maximum stretch the muscle will start to shorten against it. You are teaching it to shorten by stretching it. The more you stretch it, the more you are asking the muscle to concentrically contract against it. It is a protective mechanism that kicks in in the unconscious arena. If we encourage the actual shortening it seems to want to do- muscles lengthen and shorten all day long. Muscles lengthen before they contract. So after every stretch there should be a contraction. I'm never one to take part of a solution, so I would rather teach a muscle to do what it does best and to lengthen and shorten.

Brooke: I wonder if it's possible to paint a picture what it might look like if I walked in and saw an Anatomy in Motion session in progress?

Basically we have the 5 laws of motion:

1)  Muscles need to lengthen before they contract, 2) Joints act and muscles react which kind of flips the model on its head because most people feel they need to contract a muscle to move a joint, but in movement it seems to be the opposite way around so we look at the movements of the skeleton and what movements are missing, 3) Everything operates around a perception of center.

If a center of mass is over to the left, or forward it is going to influence the stance in standing and in walking. What movements can we create to bring their mass over to the right and how is that going to give an opposite experience to the muscles? If a pelvis is over to the left you might notice the muscles on the outside of the left hip and inside of the right thigh are going to be stretched and lengthened and those muscles are trying to decelerate any further movement of the pelvis to the left.

Muscles that are long and tight are working hard by concentrically shortening against a skeleton that is moved away from its resting position. So they feel tight and irritated and we want to stretch them, but in reality what we should do is show the skeleton the opposite space and what that would do is to take those long muscles and allow them to relax. When the brain perceives this is starts to make a decision do I want to stay left, or access right? And then it can find its position of center. Or what most people understand as the word neutral.

Somebody walks in in a habitual pattern of movement and we are able to use the Flow Motion Model to observe what movements are excessive and what movements are missing and then to use exercises to replace the missing movements so the brain can find center.

Brooke: You had touched on neutral and how the concept of neutral is flawed and you use "center" instead. Can you say why you think neutral is flawed?

Center is neutral- just to get that clear. When other people would be saying neutral, I would be saying center. and I made that change because neutral leads to this idea that the perfect way to move is in neutral- you lift in neutral, you sit in neutral, walk in neutral, stand in neutral... But you can't be in neutral and the body is not designed to be in neutral full time. Movement is about moving away from neutral and then back through neutral and then away from it again. So neutral is a mere moment in time.

If you look at a gait cycle, you are asking a spine that is able to flex and extend, rotate side to side, and side bend side to side and you're asking it to be in neutral. It is critical that we can be able to move through neutral when going from point A to point B. But actually we should access 2 flexions and 2 extensions in the spine through each step we take, and if we hold our spine in neutral we are going to miss out on that. We call it center because it is the middle of two extremes of experience.

There is also a thing in the book about the spinal gyroscope- if you can fully explore the 6 ranges of motion your brain will have a better appreciation of what it is like to have a spine standing tall.

What this means [when you attempt to hold your spine still in neutral while walking] for other joints in the body is that they have to take up the slack for other joints that are not doing their job in the body. The body is a completely closed system, which means if something doesn't do what it is supposed to do, something else has to do its job. This causes excessive ranges of motion of the joints and new length-tension relationships of the muscles which get sore over time. The trick is not to treat the soreness but to get he spine doing what is hasn't' been able to do for years.

The muscle system is the great tension exchange. When you lose tension someplace, you have to get it somewhere else.

Brooke: What does the Flow Motion Model look like?

It's basically my next book that I am writing. I'm really excited to bring the flow motion model to life for people as a kind of reference book. It is the thing that I have been passionate about since I got into the world of movement. It's the description of what he body does and when it does it. It is a detailed description of each joint motion in all 3 dimensions in each phase of gait in each step in the human gait cycle. The unique thing about gait is that over a period of 0.6 and 0.8 seconds, which is the duration of a single footstep for most people, as measured by the force plates that we use, we should see that every single joint motion should take place in that small amount of time.

And they have relationships up and down the body. So the relationships to the foot and the knee, the shoulder, the arm... each phase becomes like a roadmap to what should be happening in which segment of the human body at what time. We can observe a person's gait cycle or their posture and observe the missing motions. All with the goal of giving us informtion as to what to do next. We can watch somebody walk and pick aspects of what they are doing. What can we do to restore function so that they can [heel strike] optimally next time.

What we notice by doing that is that if we can make every person's strike phase "perfect", then it's going to influence how they move into their suspension phase and how they move through the whole journey. and because it is happening in such a small time period there is virtually no time at all to recover if the strike phase is off.

Brooke: The idea being that addressing the feet with this much nuance is going to affect everything upstream.

I genuinely believe that. Even now you can go online and find stuff about feet but it's really all about a concentric way of thinking. There are very few people thinking big about the foot related to movement.

Brooke: And we do a lot of controlling the feet- it's about how to prop them up, give them orthotics, or limit their movement really.

That marries back to our neutral conversation. Can you teach a body to find center rather than by enforcing neutral on it? There are 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot. Our spine has 33 joints but there are 2 feet- so that's 52 bones and 66 joints. They form our foundation in the sense of gait and they are the interface between our inner world and our outer world.

Our external environment is generally flat these days and that contributes to the repetitive habits and the lazy feet that we see these days. Our feet are incredibly complex but also incredibly simple. The idea that we want to put stability into a 33 joint system is crazy. We should put movement and mobility into the system.

It would take some serious convincing to get me to think about the foot does not effect the rest of the body. So for example if  the foot has a more internally rotated rear foot on the left side than the right you will notice that there are some inseparable connections. One of them being that this will generate a rightward rotation of the pelvis, and a counter rotation to the left of the spine. This results in a lengthening of such muscles as your right internal oblique, left external oblique, right erector spinae, and right lat. Other therapists can observe these things but as soon as this guy leaves the room on his pronated left foot  he's just going to walk those stretches right back into his life. It's  about the repetitive patterns in the gait. We won't change the body if we don't change the gait.

People say but the foot can be affected by the rest of the body and I wholeheartedly agree. If you bang your head and if affects your neck and reaches into the spine and filters down into the feet and makes a change, that change will affect the gait cycle and that gait cycle will be used  every single day until it's changed. That gait cycle is feeding information back into the body all the time. One way to change that is to work with the feet simultaneously while working with the neck. We are pretty sure that whether it came from the feet or not you get the information from the feet.

We get people to look at the feet and predict what the rest of the body is doing. But we would like to get to a place where you can look at a scapula and predict, or look at the pelvis and predict. When you consider that the human goal is to keep their head over their feet and to move forward, there are not a lot of adaptations- so we find a lot of common adaptations that people are using as their cheat mechanism to move through life.

Brooke: I get emails a lot from people and often I get asked if I only have one place to work to affect my body where should I work?  I always say, "You are never going to not benefit from getting more mobile and supple feet."

Brooke: Let's talk about what never-moved-me-itis is.

It was a phrase I invented- it popped out of people coming to see me who were in pain for years and had seen everyone and they had all these labels and the crazy thing would be 2 or 3 movements into the session they are remarkably pain free and light on their feet and they were giddy and couldn't understand why. They had been given so many labels so I would tell them, "You have nobody-ever-moved-you-itis.So keep moving!" We provide a heap of homework solutions for people to keep putting the good work back into their bodies. And it's not unusual for me to hear from people a year or two down the line, and people are always still saying that these exercises gave them their lives back.

Brooke: What are you playing with in your own movement practice right now? Or is there anything you are especially intrigued by?

We leave our students with a very specific instruction at the end of every training and it is observing your own body in movement. A way of observing yourself an the changes that happen in your own body.Outside of that I like movement and sports, I like hand balances and handstands. I just move!

Home Play!

While this mobilization does not come from Anatomy in Motion (I haven't studied it- sorry guys!), it is something I do with my clients frequently to help them get their feet juicier and more mobile. It's time to shake hand with your feet! Here is a moldy oldy video of me demonstrating it back in the Fascia Freedom Fighters days- happy foot mobilizing!


Anatomy in Motion

What the Foot? book

Anatomy in Motion intro video

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