Body School - David Knox - ebook

Body School ebook

David Knox



IMPROVE YOUR FITNESS AND HEALTH WITH THIS ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE HUMAN BODY! Are you ready for the final exam? Your body is the most powerful tool you have. To stay fit and healthy throughout your whole life, you need to understand how it works. The body is a complex structure of bones, muscles, joints, and tendons, and every one of those needs to be studied and exercised. David Knox, an expert in dance, martial arts, and yoga, has spent decades developing safe and effective healing and recovery techniques for chronic pain and injuries. With his expertise and experience in training others, he will accompany you as you find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and what to do to live in complete harmony with your body. In this easy-to-understand, user-friendly, and beautifully illustrated book, you will find a solution to all physical problems you may have. The exercises are described in detail to ensure proper form and execution and each one is accompanied by photographs showing the progression of the movement from the first to the last step. With an easy-to-use cross-reference index, you can find the right exercise for you immediately and get started on your quest to a pain-free life!

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David Knox

Body School

A New Guide to Improved Movement in Daily Life

Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.


IntroductionAbout the AuthorReference IndexChapter I: Before we beginThe Five Learning EssentialsA Word on MusclesA Word on JointsA Word on Body TypesA Word on DietChapter II: Form (a good place to start)Getting to Know YouToes, Feet, Ankles and CalvesHips, Knees and Thigh RotatorsWorking Supine StretchBridge/Pelvic CurlShoulder Rotation and ROMChapter III: PostureThe Body as Architecture“Stand Up Straight!”Your FeetYour KneesYour ButtAbdominal Support and BreathingThe Role (Roll) of the ShouldersThe Neck and HeadMirror ChecklistThings to Consider—TroubleshootingChapter IV: ExerciseWhyWhat’s Your Pleasure?What to ExpectForm, Baby, FormIn the ClassroomChapter V: RunningArchitectureSupportMechanicsOn the TreadmillChapter VI: ExercisesHips, Legs and FeetButts, Butts, ButtsKnees, SpecificallyCalves and Ankles and Feet (Oh My)Those Crazy AbdominalsWorking the Chest, Back and ShouldersThe Arms, Wrists, Hands and FingersChapter VII: FlexibilityWhyCautionary TalesStretching: Assisted, Passive and ActiveWhere Lies the DevilStatic, Pulsing or Extending the StretchWho’s on First?Laying the FoundationChapter VIII: StretchesStanding StretchesBending and Stretching (using the Knees and Hips)Sitting on the JobOn the ReclineOn Your BellyChapter IX: Injury and RecoveryGetting HurtWhat Can Get HurtRecipes for DisasterGetting InvolvedChapter X: Recovery TechniquesThe Pain of RecoveryThe Tools in the WorkshopHeads UpThe Neck and the ShouldersThe TorsoThe Legs, Feet and ToesThe Arms, Hands and FingersIn SummationCredits

For all who suffer the human condition...

The contents of this book were carefully researched. However, all information is supplied without liability. Neither the author nor the publisher will be liable for possible disadvantages or damages resulting from this book.

Please note: For reasons of readability this book is written in the male speech form. Any references to trainers and participants of course include men and women.


This book is about you and your body—how it works and how it breaks and how to get the best from one and the least of the other. Laid out in common language and specific detail, it is a guidebook to freedom of movement and freedom from pain.

Through these pages you learn how to think for your muscles, how to take the information you gather and use it to better understand and improve your body and better heal its injuries. You learn how to take the lead in your own physical destiny.

Though we are all made very similarly, we are no two exactly alike. This book will help you find your way; it will lead you to your right questions. The answers will be found in your muscles, joints, nerves and presence of mind.

About the Author

For 41 years, I have worked in the world of professional physical arts. In the course of innumerable injuries to every part of my body, I have consulted with and been treated by a broad array of doctors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and others, with varying degrees of success. I have studied postural and therapeutic protocols—Western and Eastern, methodologies—mainstream and arcane, and I have come to certain conclusions about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to healing, maintaining and, if you wish, getting the most out of that one item whose lifetime warranty is truly guaranteed—the human body.

My professional life began as a dancer, studying in New York in 1976, where I trained with some of the best teachers in the world. In 1988, I began studying martial arts, directly from the creators of two schools and, later, from the senior disciple of a third, earning two black belts. In accord with studying these disciplines, I received a strong education in the applications of strength, flexibility, massage as therapy, injury management and recovery.

Aside from performing, over the years I have taught classes—in yoga, power yoga, martial arts, self-defense, kickboxing, flexibility, ballet, exercise form and technique—and, for six years, I was a lead instructor in an outdoor boot camp. I continue teaching today and working as a personal trainer.

The fly in my ointment (and it’s a Big Fly) was discovered when I was 24. That’s when I was first seriously afflicted, and subsequently diagnosed, with a vertical, hairline fracture in my lower spine—what one might call a congenital birth defect.

When it shifts, a severe electric shock renders my legs useless, and I collapse to the floor. As many as six very painful weeks pass before I can walk again. Not willing to submit to the restrictions of spinal surgery, I have spent decades determining effective rehabilitation and maintenance strategies that keep me on my feet.

As an instructor, I have followed the same train of thought that evolved from understanding my back problems and applied the same analysis and recovery techniques to all kinds of injuries on all kinds of body types, from teenagers to octogenarians, with continued success. However, the greatest success comes when individuals learn to help themselves.

Indispensable to my education, and a great good fortune in my life, is my brilliant father, Dr. Murray Heimberg, who has worked in medicine for more than 50 years and taught me so very much about the physiology that is us.

Reference Index

Numbers below indicate exercises and stretches. These tables apply to both the healthy and the injured.






The Neck

14, 15, 19, 23, (25)

1, 2, 6


The Neck and Shoulders

The Shoulders


1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 16 ,19

13, 14, 15


The Chest

14, 15, 16, 17, 22

1, 2, 3, 10, 13, 14, 16, 19


The Abs

(25), 6-13

2, 4, 10, 13, 14, 16

Middle Back

The Middle Back

7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 23

1, 2, 3, , 5-13, 15, 16

Lower Back

The Lower Back

6-13, 18

4-15, 16

Hips and Buttocks

The Hips and Buttocks

1-6, 9-13

2, 4-13, 15, 16


The Thighs

1-6, 9-13

2, 4, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18


The Knees

1-6, 9-13

2, 4-13, 15, 16


The Calves

1-6, 9, 10, 13

2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 17


The Ankle

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13

2, 4, 5, 7-10, 12-15, 17


The Foot

(same as Ankle)

(same as Ankle)


The Toes

3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13

4, 5, 7-10, 12, 13

Upper Arm

The Upper Arm


1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 13, 16


The Elbow


2, 3, 5, 6


The Forearm


2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 13, 16


The Wrist


3, 5, 10, 13, 16


The Hand


1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 13


The Fingers

(same as Hand)

(same as Hand)

Exercises (chapter VI)

Stretches (chapter VIII)








Side to Side


Calf Extensions


Arm Circles


Calf Raise Machine


Leg Swings


Standing Calf Raise


Bending and Stretching Using Knees and Hips


Walking and Running


Half Lotus Variation


Ab Work and the Neck


Standard Crunch






One Leg Wide


Single-Leg Lifts


Both Legs Wide


Leg Lifts


All of Your Twist


Crossover Crunch


Knees to the Chest


Crossover Crunch Variation


Reclining Single-Leg Stretch


Open Cross-Cross


Weather Vanes


Lat Pull-Downs




Seated Upright Rows


Cat Curl


Bench Press


Chest Flies

(chapter II)


Reverse Flies


Pelvic Curl


Lateral Raises


Toes, Feet, Ankles and Calves


Biceps Curls


Working Supine Stretch


Tricep Extension 1


Shoulder Rotation and R.O.M.


Tricep Extension 2




Finger, Hand and Wrist Curls

Chapter I: Before we begin

In order to get from this book all that it has to offer, there are a few guidelines that must be followed.

The Five Learning Essentials

First and foremost—Think! Although all of the guidelines listed here are equally important, without this first, the others have no chance. Thought, focus and intention are every bit as important in exercise as in any other aspect of life. It’s your body—the only way to understand how it works is to make the work your own. So, think. Which brings us to our next rule:

Safety. Safety first, safety last, safety in the middle! It is my belief that there is a safe way to move the body in any way it has been built to move. Take your time, don’t grow impatient and develop your technique properly. And that brings us to the next rule:

Precision. Know where your body parts are and put them exactly where you want them to be. You only have to be off just a little at the wrong time, or a little for a long time, to create an injury that won’t seem to go away. Furthermore, poor technique will deprive you of the full benefits of your work and reinforce negative habits. Remember, you’re training your muscles. They can only learn to the degree that they are taught. Which brings us to our next rule:

Support. When you move or position your body, don’t leave it up to your joints and bones to take the full load—use your muscles! Often, we only see the most obvious part of an exercise, not taking into account the support of the rest of the body. Once again, you decrease your benefits and increase your risk of injury without proper support. But don’t take my word for it. Decide for yourself. Which brings us to our next rule:

Question. Question everything. Question everything that I say in this book, question everything that anyone, from the rankest amateur to the most acclaimed specialist, ever tells you about moving your body. If you don’t understand the information, ask questions and think about it until you do. If you want to try something out, do so safely, with precision and support, and see how it feels. There are so many different ideas out there, so many different expert opinions, so much about the body that is still being discovered. It’s up to you to find what works best for you.

A Word on Muscles

When you were a baby, you had to learn how to walk. As you toddled, you learned to guide food into your mouth. You learned to run, to reach, to throw, to jump—the list goes on and on. In every case, you first had to learn. The good news is, your muscles are waiting to be taught. They are genetically designed to learn the things you teach them to do. However, they rarely learn overnight, and the harder the task, the finer tuned the precision, the longer it takes.

So, patience is the key here—patience and dedication. Some things you try may be fairly easy, while others may prove considerably harder. Some things an instructor tells you that you should feel as you work, you may, at first, either not be able to feel at all, or be mistaken in what you think you are feeling. I still continue, to this day, with all my diligent training, to have occasional major physical revelations, in which I finally feel, for the first time, things I’d been taught years before, things I had thoroughly grasped, from the beginning, as concepts in my mind. My point is that just because your brain understands a physical instruction, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can make your body do it right off the bat. It takes practice, my friends. Anything’s possible with thoughtful, dedicated practice. Don’t like the way you walk? Shoulder not feeling right? Fix it with steady practice. Wish you were a better dancer? Practice.

Of course, we are all limited by our own personal genetics, and one person may excel where another shines but dimly. Yet, I don’t believe that anyone is hopelessly uncoordinated. If you teach your muscles, they will learn. The biggest barrier to a person’s learning is not one’s physical inability, it’s one’s ego. Not wanting to try something you don’t think you’ll be instantly good at. No one likes to feel foolish, especially in front of others.

The thing is, don’t worry about it. Relax. Everyone who has ever existed, when learning something new, has had to start at the beginning, from that poorly skilled, potentially embarrassing, even laughably bad place—the very place from which all good things may grow. The greatest athletes in the world had to start at that place, and, I assure you, many of them felt at least as silly as the least among us. Yet, they persevered, and, eventually, everything changed. So, when you try something new, try this also. Leave your ego at home. Concentrate on the work. No matter who you are, you will improve over time. Your muscles will learn.

A Word on Joints

Bones give our bodies a definitive form. Without bones, our bodies would be nothing better than quivering masses of muscles and organs lying blob-like on the floor, or taking the general shape of whatever vessel into which they might be poured. It’s nice to have bones.

Joints in the bones allow our bodies to move. Cartilage, on the ends of and between the bones, cushions the joining. Reaching across the joints, attaching the bones to each other, are dense, fibrous ligaments. Overlapping the joints and ligaments, from either direction, are the muscles, supported and attached to the bones by somewhat tougher tendons. The overlapping muscles contract and extend to move the joints and keep them aligned and stable. Different joints do different things. The degree to which a joint can be safely moved in all the ways and directions for which it was designed is called its range of motion (ROM).

Range of motion varies widely from one person to another and decreases with lack of use as muscles, tendons and ligaments lose their flexibility. It can also decrease as one ages, depending on the health of the joint and one’s general level of fitness. The good news is, it can be redeveloped, or, at least, its deterioration considerably slowed, with a bit of safe and steady practice. Not all positions in a joint’s range of motion are equal, however. Just because your body can move that way doesn’t mean it should be heavily stressed in that position. Too much weight at the end of your range, too little support in the course of a movement, push a joint just a little too far (over-rotation/hyperextension) and zap!—it’s too late. You’re injured.

So, treat your joints kindly. Think about what they’re built for; think about how they move. Think about how your particular joints line up; think about how they respond in different situations. When trying something new, observe carefully and gently control the entire operation until you’re sure that your body understands. Never stress an unsupported joint or attempt to push it in a direction it was not built to go.

A Word on Body Types

Bodies come in different sizes and shapes, each of which may have different pros and cons. Tall people may have more back problems, short people a more confined range of motion. The thicker among us may have a hard time getting thin, whereas some on the skinny may find it hard to gain weight. It has to do with how you were built and what you’ve built from what you were given.

Regardless of our individual models, the human body is built for action. We are descended from hunter-gatherers, people who chased the wooly mammoths across Iberia, or foraged barefoot in the jungles, or developed crops, by hand, in the Fertile Crescent. Advances in social technology aside, we are still built this way. To ignore this fact comes at a high price. Diminished physical abilities, diminished pleasure, chronic pain, weight issues, breathing problems, heart and circulatory risks—these are but a few—can all be brought on or made worse by not properly maintaining your body.

What you do with it is, ultimately, your concern. But, whether you work it because you want to, or only when you must to recover from or prevent a worse situation, anyone—tall, short, fat, thin, loose, tight, weak, strong—can achieve results. You may have to start very slowly and the road may seem impossibly long, but you can achieve results. Don’t worry about the length of the road—just take it day by day, one step at a time. Be patient. You will amaze yourself.

Understand your body. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. If you can, find a health-building physical activity that inspires you and get to work. Just remember, as I often do, the words of Sensei Robert Bryner, master of Okinawan kempo and aikido, “Work on the hard stuff. The easy stuff is easy.”

A Word on Diet

Do I really need to say it? You are what you eat. Food is either nutritionally rich or nutritionally poor, and your muscles (including your brain, my friends), bones, organs and everything else grow stronger or weaker depending on what you feed them. In automotive terms, the fuel and lubricants you put into your machine determines, along with maintenance, how well your machine works. Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and real vegetables, lean proteins from meat, poultry, fish, dairy, soy, chickpeas, lentils, using unsaturated oils when you cook with oil, having some nuts along the way—this sort of thing will build your body, your mind and influence, in a big way, who you are. You’d be surprised how much diet can affect one’s personality.

If losing weight is your intention, let me redirect your thought a bit. Losing weight should be a goal for many people who are obese, but obesity is defined as a percentage of body fat—over 25 % for men and over 30 % for women—not weight. So, when you say you want to lose weight, is that really what you mean? Two people of the same height and weight can vary drastically in their respective percentages of body fat. One could be lean and mean, bulging with muscle, the other saturated and fat, puddling with gravy. Providing the lean person is not using illegal steroids to gain size, would you say they both needed to lose weight? What about thin people with high body-fat percentages? They need something, but it’s not losing weight—they just need to convert unhealtful fat to healthy muscle.

Muscle takes up, on average, one-third as much space as fat and creates a more dynamic image—strong and lifted versus heavy and earthbound, lean and shapely versus drooped and bony. I have seen many a svelte silhouette, many a strong posture and taller presence created when not an ounce of weight was shed. One woman I worked with, five days a week, one hour per day, lost seven inches off of her waist in six weeks though her weight did not change. The point is, many people who think they need to lose weight actually need nothing more than to burn their fat into muscle.

Still, if you’re a lean size 7 and you want to make size 5 (and it can often be done healthfully), or you do have extra pounds you truly wish or need to shed—it’s really simple—burn more fuel than you consume. Burn more calories (fuel) than you eat—you will lose weight. Eat more than you burn—you will gain weight. Regardless of all the exciting new diets out there, gaining and losing weight always begins and ends with calories. It’s that simple, and it’s that absolute. No two ways about it. Of course, there are many more specific and important things to consider in one’s diet than just eating healthful foods and being aware of one’s caloric consumption, but it’s a good place to start. The good news is, there are any number of professionals, books and other sources available for your further research. If you really want to get serious, look into them. Good nutrition builds good stuff. Poor nutrition inhibits the growth of every good thing you’ve got. It’s your choice.

Chapter II: Form (a good place to start)

In order to get a working sense of the individuality of your muscles and how they come together as a team, let’s start off with something relatively simple, a little thing I like to call:

Getting to Know You

Everything in your body is interconnected. Nothing happens without other things getting involved. Regarding your muscles and joints, nothing moves without several factors coming together. Various muscles must cooperate, the joints have got to be up for it, and the brain must send the right messages down the right nerves to the right receptors in the right muscles that have been trained to interpret the messages properly and produce the desired movement. Remember when you learned to write?

Even the movements of our everyday lives—walking, bending, sitting, reaching, grasping, going up and down stairs—are done in the ways we’ve trained our bodies, consciously or unconsciously, to do them.

Through these everyday movements, we’ve become relatively familiar with the larger muscle groups of the body. We feel the calves, thighs and butt when we squat, walk and climb; we feel the back and shoulders when we pull or lift; we feel the chest and shoulders when we push or press; and we feel the arms and hands when we push, grip, pull and lift.

Unfortunately, although we are all aware of the belly—which should be working in all of the moves mentioned previously—whether it actually gets involved or not varies greatly from one person to the next.

Still, none of our big guns would be very effective without the stabilizing and guiding assistance of smaller and lesser-known muscle groups.

Toes, Feet, Ankles and Calves

Look at your feet. You stand on them, walk on them, press on them every day. Yet, when was the last time you thought about how they really work? Have you ever considered the various muscles in your feet and toes?


Sit down in an armless chair (not too cushy, one with support) and get barefoot. Then, sit up straight—don’t arch—with your back solidly supported by the back of the chair. Arms relaxed by your sides; hands may gently grip the sides of the seat (Photo 1).


Stretch one leg out straight and flex your ankle (pull the top of the foot toward the chest). Now, try to pull your toes toward your chest (Photo 2).


Feel anything extra? More squeeze in the front of the calf, maybe? More stretch in the back of the calf? Keep the foot flexed as strongly as you can and try to curl the toes down, as though you were making a fist (Photo 3).

Can you do it without moving the ankles? Feel the tops of the calves now?

Pull the toes back again and try to extend the feet, as though you were on tiptoes. Can you hold the toes back or do they reach forward with the ankles?


If you managed to hold them back, keep the feet extended and point the toes (Photo 4).


Do they really reach out or do they just curl down? Now, rotate them open and flex and point a couple of times (Photo 5).

You can train your feet to do any of these things and have stronger, more stable calves, feet and ankles for your effort. (If your feet cramp while pointing, pull the toes back or flex the entire foot. Work the feet regularly, and the cramping will eventually go away.)

Now grab a couple of marbles or similar small objects (bottle caps can work; coins are tougher) and drop them on the floor. Pick one up with your toes and extend your leg. While holding the object, point and flex your ankle. Think about the front of your calf and feel the muscles there when you flex. Really work your range of motion. Consider the top of the foot as it changes angles.

Hips, Knees and Thigh Rotators

Release the marbles and lie down on your back on the floor, legs out straight and pressed together. Place your arms on the floor, diagonally from your body, palms down or, for an extra stretch, comfortably out over your head.


Stretch your legs out straight. Don’t think, “Lock the muscles to hold the position”, but rather think fluid strength, long and reaching, like your legs were two living, reaching steel beams (Photo 6).

Flex your feet and toes and pull those heels out long, away from the hips (Photo 7). Point and flex (full range) a few times.



Now, squeeze your butt hard, keep your heels together and turn your knees open (Photo 8). The feet will naturally follow. The rotation occurs from the hips.

Stretch your legs, if you can, until the backs of your calves touch each other.

People with hyperextended joints must be careful, and everyone should be aware of any potential cramp in the muscles or pain deep inside or at the back of the knee.

As you use your butt to turn the knees out, do you feel the difference in your backside? Welcome to your rotators!

We’ve all heard of the gluteus maximus, but do you know the other members of the gluteus family? They come in three sizes—maxi, midi, and mini (and, coincidentally, ladies, do provide some padding for the body). Big Max, along with several muscles that lie underneath deeper in the backside, is largely responsible for rotating your legs in and out. It is from the hips that leg rotation is safely performed. Pity of it is, most people think from the feet up, rather than from the hips down, and their feet and knees go where they will. Not a good idea.

With your legs in open rotation, slowly flex and point the feet a few times, making full use of the toes. Do you feel the extra work in the butt and back of the legs when you flex the feet?

Think about the outside of the thighs, from the butt through the knee. Feel the outside of the calves as you move from point to flex. Mimic holding a marble with the toes as you flex.

Move the heels a few inches apart, keep your legs strong and try to rotate the feet around the ankles in a full circle. Try to use the toes as well, flexing them when the foot is flexed, pointing them when the ankle points. Work both directions, at least eight repetitions. Work regularly, and you will improve.

(You may have noticed, as you rotated your legs out and open, a stretched and tightening feeling at the sides of and beneath your lower belly. Along with the rotators in your butt, there are other muscles attached to the lower spine that reach down through your hips and help turn the legs. Being aware of them and using them consciously can really help trim a waistline and flatten a pooch.)

Working Supine Stretch

Relax for a moment. When you’re ready, interlace your fingers and stretch your arms out above your chest. Press your shoulders down into your body and down into the floor, squeeze your butt, rotate your knees out, stretch your legs, and either flex or point your feet and toes. Pull your chin in until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck and contract your belly down toward your spine.


Inhale slowly and deeply into the chest, as you reach with stretched arms, slowly, out past the top of your head and toward the floor, as far as is comfortable. From the hips down, you’re reaching one way, from the shoulders up another (from the shoulders, not with the shoulders—don’t let them get up around your ears—keep them in place!).

Try squeezing your butt up off the floor as you stretch (Photo 9).

And flatten that belly at the top!

Between the two stretches, the torso is working (keep that belly strong to protect your spine!). It’s like pulling taffy.

As you exhale, refine the move and consider the details.

Bridge/Pelvic Curl

Moving on, let’s go to an exercise commonly known as the bridge. It is taught lying on the back, with the knees bent vertically and the feet close to the hips, arms at the sides. The subject engages the butt and lifts the back off the floor, supporting with the shoulders and feet, perhaps holds for a breath or two, and brings it back down.

As far as that goes, that’s fine. But, consider a moment: there are 29 vertebra in the spine. The bottom five, below the pelvis, are fused together and have very little movement. Likewise, the top two (the one connected to your skull and the one immediately below it) are also fused together. That leaves 23 joints in the spine, between the head and the hips, capable of considerable movement.

When you do the bridge as described, most of these joints move little or not at all, as the related muscles serve a primarily stabilizing role. The only considerable movement comes at the hips, shoulders and knees. Furthermore, in many cases, doing the bridge in this manner leaves too much of an arch in the lower back, which can be fine if you’re standing upright, but can cause problems when your lower back is taking the stress at the center of a bridge.

Still, one may argue that, as spinal stability is a big part of the reason for this exercise, the lack of movement in most of the vertebra is a good thing. Teach them not to move, and they’ll hold more steadily in practical application—that is, daily life.

I feel differently. I suggest that the more specifically one develops the joints in the vertebra and the related muscles, the better they will be at whatever task they’re assigned. The more they are put through their motions, the more aware the muscles become and the greater the health benefits to them and the discs (between the vertebra), which tend to compress over time in an unaware spine, causing all kinds of pain.

Also, many people with back problems will find it difficult (painfully so) or impossible to do the bridge as described. I know. I have been one of them.

To my mind, just teaching the vertebra to hold still as a group does not lead to much individual understanding. Why not get to know them individually while using them as a group at the same time?

Starting with a variation that I learned from an excellent dance teacher, Ms. Thelma Hill, I expanded upon it to create a safer and more comprehensive format for the bridge, one beneficial to spines healthy and injured. I call it the Pelvic Curl. It has proven immensely helpful in rehabilitating my lower back, as well as the lower backs of several of my clients.

Now, let’s get specific in the set-up. Yes, lie on your back. Yes, bend your knees and bring your feet toward your hips, and make a point to bring them as close to the hips as they will comfortably go.

(However, do not wiggle or lift your back to try to scoot the feet in closer. If you do, your back will not be able to move properly in the exercise. The flexibility at the knees and hips determine how far the feet come in.)



When the feet are close to the hips, the thighs get less involved, which better isolates the spine and seems to create a less stressful angle from which the lower back can work. If you are more comfortable with the legs farther out, and some people are, leave them farther out, but never with more than a 90-degree angle at the knees, as an angle greater than that can cause undue stress in the knees themselves (Photo 10).

Make sure to line up your hips, knees, ankles and toes, hip-width apart, in straight lines from the hips down (Photo 11).

Be sure to keep your knees properly centered throughout the exercise and your feet forward, not turned in or out. Failing to accomplish either of these diminishes some benefits of the movement.

Place your arms, palms down, at your sides or, if you can comfortably reach them, hold your ankles, provided you don’t have to strain or tug to do so.

The shoulders press gently down into the body for horizontal stability and down into the floor for vertical stability, but not so far into the floor to cause any hint of an arch in the upper back.

Take a slow, deep breath. Exhale from below your navel, pressing your lower belly down into your lower spine, and your lower spine into the floor. At the same time, squeeze your butt in from the sides.

Your hips will curl upward, as if they were the blade of a shovel scooping up and away from your torso (Photo 12).


The visible movement may be very small, or fairly significant, depending on your muscular awareness, flexibility, weight and physical condition. The important thing is to learn to feel it. Don’t worry about how far it moves. Find that feeling, build on that feeling, and the range of motion will come.

Some people have a hard time isolating their hips and curling them up, and instead, thinking they’re doing the right thing, lift their entire backs from the upper back, relegating, once again, the bulk of their vertebra to a simple group exercise. This comes from lack of muscular sensitivity in the hips, lower belly and lower back and is remedied with a little practice.

Once you’ve exhaled and your hips are curled, inhale up into your rib cage, squeeze your ever-contracting lower belly down into your lower spine, and pull your butt back down to the ground. Your belly should resist uncurling throughout, but it should also lose the fight.

When the butt reaches the ground, the lower back should not be allowed to arch. Keep it flat.

Try the curl again. Use the breathing. It can help. Try at least 12 repetitions before going to the next step.

Next, we’re going all the way up onto the shoulders, but not in a flat board fashion. We’ll begin with the pelvic curl we just practiced, which will straighten out as the hips move into line with the knees and shoulders. Above this line, the body will begin to arch. Remember—curl below, arch above.

We’ll reverse the move on the way down (which may take more practice), pulling in first with the chest and upper back before rolling down through the hips. Remember, don’t go beyond what you think is safely within your capabilities.

Inhale into the ribs. As you exhale, press that lower belly into that lower back into the floor and squeeze that butt. Curl the hips slowly and powerfully upward and let them peel your back off the floor, one vertebra at a time, as they rise ever higher in steady, consecutive order. Press that belly in to hold and stabilize the curl throughout.


Keep the butt, back and belly working, keep the curling movement strong and flowing, like an ocean wave in slow, exhaling motion. One vertebra at a time. Nice and smooth.

As your upper back rises, your hips align with your knees and shoulders and that straight line is achieved (Photo 13).


Continue the upward thrust with your hips. As the spine passes through that straight line, changing from curl to arch, press upwards through the hips and the back, especially up and through the chest, with a sense of stretching as you lift. Squeeze that belly flat against the arch and feel those muscles stabilizing the upward press of the butt, back and chest (Photo 14).

The shoulders remain stable, pressing down into the body and down into the floor. (At the top of the arch, there can be some squeezing together, in the back, of the shoulder blades for a little extra work, but that is an individual matter of safety and skill.)

If you want more, at the top of the arch, rise onto your tiptoes (Photo 15).


Lift every bit as hard in the body as you press higher through the heels and work those feet and calves.

Don’t let your ankles roll open. Keep the work on the ball of the foot. (The ball of the foot is the triangle created between the big toe, the second toe, and the pad of the foot at their base.)

Be sure to maintain the alignment from the hips through the knees, ankles, and feet.

If you want more, squeeze your butt in a rapid (twice per second), pulsing motion, which will cause a small up and down bounce of the body. Try to pulse ever higher, with just the slightest release between pulses. Don’t relax the butt too much or let it drop too far below the line of the shoulders and knees.


If you want more, place your palms on the floor above your shoulders and press up onto your hands and (the balls of your) feet (Photo 16).

Really lift through the body, as this position can be very stressful on the shoulders and the lower-back. If you’d like to hold the position, you must constantly press higher. If you think just to hold, your body will begin to drop ever so slightly and your joints will take all the stress. Not a good thing.



To come down, inhale deeply into your ribcage with a sense of broadening the upper back, drawing the upper abs in and under the ribs and the solar plexus (that little triangle where the ribs meet and center at the bottom of the chest) with the intake of air (Photo 17).

(If this feels too awkward, before lowering your body, bring your heels to the ground. It’s easier to maneuver and easier on the back.)

With this, the chest and upper back will begin to curl in and downwards. Continue pressing up with the hips and start sucking that upper back down toward the floor, pressing the upper abs in to assist the curling (Photo 18).


Continue to curl down through each individual vertebra. You will find your butt and lower belly have to work ever harder to sustain an upward press as the curling back descends, and the abs and middle back will be hard pressed—literally—to articulate when the downward curl reaches the middle and lower spine.

When the downward curl has run its course, the spine is again completely flat on the floor (Photo 19).

Eight repetitions should give you the idea.

Shoulder Rotation and ROM

The next one is pure relaxation.


Remain on your back on the floor. Extend your knees to 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor, arms by your sides. Pull your chin in until you feel a lengthening through the back of the neck (Photo 20).


Turn your palms up and slowly sweep your arms wide, outside the body, along the floor, to the extent that your elbows remain comfortably on the floor (Photo 21).


At the extent of your range, bend your elbows until the backs of your hands rest on the floor. If your shoulders are too tight to allow this, bend your elbows until the fingers are pointing toward the head (Photo 22).


Leading with your hands, draw your arms toward the top of your head, continuing until your forearms cross each other over your forehead (Photo 23).

If it’s comfortable, you may rest the arms on the floor above the head.

Resting the arms on the forehead takes the load off the (injured) shoulders and allows them to stretch safely.

If you can, continue until the left hand reaches the right elbow and the right reaches the left. Wherever the hands stop, do not grip the arms.

Let everything relax and focus on your breathing—long, deep inhales from the bottom of your belly; slow, comfy exhales from the shoulders back down.

Enjoy the stretch. Try putting the lower forearm on top. Remember to use pressure in the abs, especially the upper abs, to control the degree of arch in the spine.

To bring the arms down, stretch your legs (optional, depending on the comfort of your lower back), stretch your hands, stretch your fingers, stretch out through the elbows and slowly reach out over your head along the floor (or above it, depending on flexibility and comfort) (Photo 24).


Then press wide, around and down from the top of your shoulders as you sweep your arms along the floor toward your hips (Photo 25).


Special care should be given to the point where the arms form a Y with the body. It seems to be the point of highest stress, and there can be a feeling of the muscle rolling over the joint. There’s nothing wrong with that, if it doesn’t hurt, but some people find it disconcerting. (The tighter you are, the more stretch you’re likely to feel. Be gentle until you gain a clear understanding.)


At the bottom, reach long toward the feet and lift the arms slightly to clear the legs as they cross (Photo 26) up to the elbows (full ROM), and sweep up the body, over the face and head—moving always from the shoulders (Photo 27)—to begin a second repetition reaching up and out (Photo 28).



Be gentle, but work your entire comfortable range of motion.

After a half dozen or so repetitions, try reversing direction. Think about how the arms react in the various positions.

Be sure to maintain the shoulders securely in the body throughout the move. Don’t let them rise when your arms go up. Work from the shoulder socket rather than from the neck. Work those fingers, hands and wrists to gain strength and fine-tuning.

And always, safety first.

Chapter III: Posture

I use the word here defined as solid structural support for the body, whether moving or still.

The Body as Architecture

What is solid structural support? Think of a building. What keeps it standing? Solid structural support. If the weight bearing beams weren’t in the right place, if the angles weren’t properly aligned, if the foundation wasn’t stable, a building wouldn’t last very long. A little earthquake here, a little high wind there, or something as simple as too much stress on the wrong part of the building at the wrong time, and down it goes.

Have you ever stepped on an uneven surface or misjudged the drop from a curb and felt that ankle start to roll, or that knee buckle, as your body begins to fall? Same deal.

Only, buildings have it easier than us. They don’t move. We do. Steel, concrete and glass have nothing to learn. Our muscles and joints do. Our support structure is not locked into place when construction is complete—for us, that’s just the beginning.

If you train your muscles to properly align and support your body, they will learn. Their ability and strength will increase, and their response will become ever more automatic. On the other hand, if you ignore them, you run a high risk of degrading every aspect of your physical self and inviting sudden injury and chronic pain.

Even in the more passive activities of a sedentary lifestyle, the amount of load and stress placed on the body in the course of daily routine can be quite enough to cause all kinds of harmful complications.

An older client came to me—overweight and sedentary—with strong, chronic pain in the knees, especially in the right knee, just behind the kneecap. Almost anytime the knees were fully stretched, whether standing (supporting body weight), sitting (supporting the lower legs and feet) or lying on the back and extending the legs straight up (very little weight to support), pain was a virtual guarantee. My client told me the worst pain came when climbing stairs, which at times was nearly impossible to do.

To see for myself, I set up a couple of steps in the gym and discovered my client had a very curious way of climbing stairs that relieved the hips of their natural job of lifting the back leg and, instead, put all the force—in her case, of pulling the body forward and up—into the stepping (forward) knee and the arm pulling on the bannister, which put the point of greatest stress directly behind her forward kneecap.

We began to dedicate part of each training session to correcting the movement and the related imbalances that had come up in her body. When the proper technique was achieved, my client felt no pain climbing stairs.

So you see, even a simple movement from everyday life, repeated thousands of times over months and years, can lead to very painful bad habits and physically limiting injuries, which for many remain forever misunderstood and never fully healed.

Your body is your architecture. Build into it a solid support structure and enjoy freedom of movement, increased energy and a happier you. Let it slide, and things will creep up on you that you’ll wish you’d never known.

“Stand Up Straight!”

We’ve all heard the words—from mothers, fathers, teachers, coaches, drill sergeants, you name it—but what do the words really mean? It sounds easy enough—

“On your feet! Tighten the legs and butt! Suck that belly in—get those shoulders back! Oh, yeah, and get that chin in...”

Yet, the fundamental thing about good posture, something I never even thought about until I was taught, is that the reason to do these things is to support your bones and your joints in a structurally sound way.

Not only does good posture protect your joints, it also teaches your muscles healthful habits and gives solid support to, and helps ensure the healthy functioning of, your internal organs. Good posture also helps protect the nerves running through every part of your body. And, believe it or not, once you learn how to stand up straight, it feels damn good.

So, let’s start at the bottom and pick this thing apart.

Your Feet

Where should your feet be in relation to the rest of the body? All the way together? Directly under your hips? Wider than your hips? Where are your toes? Straight forward? Slightly turned out? What about your body’s weight? Do you rest on your heels, your toes or both?

Most people can stand safely with their feet anywhere from twice as wide as their hips to all the way together underneath them, and there are different reasons for doing each. But, for the moment, let’s keep them slightly apart, directly under the hips.

The feet can be straight forward or turned slightly open. The weight is distributed evenly on your feet from side to side, and even to slightly forward front to back. Do not sit on your heels.

Your Knees

Your knees should be strong and straight, but not locked. They should line up in the same direction as the balls of your feet.

Your Butt

Gently squeeze your butt from the sides in. This helps stabilize the legs and feet below to provide a solid base from which the torso can rise. Although this may make your hips rotate forward a touch, avoid curling them too far forward. Such over-rotation often occurs automatically, usually due to an unintended squeeze from underneath the butt, and inhibits the spine’s ability to properly align and lift. Though this area tightens some to help stabilize the hips, until you fully understand how it feels, less may be more.

Abdominal Support and Breathing

Next, let’s talk about your belly. Your belly is an amazing thing. The “abs,” as we know them, are actually just one, long muscle, in our eyes divided into a four or six or eight pack by tendons that wrap around the muscle and help contain the largely unsupported middle. Several other muscles lie around and underneath the abdominals, aiding its ability to be manipulated in so many ways. (Anyone who’s ever seen a really good belly dancer ripple her belly, or a yogi do the rolling wave thing, knows what I mean.) The basic element of that ability, to be able to squeeze your belly below the navel while lifting or contracting it up and in, is easily accessible to anyone with consistent practice.

The lower abs, especially, also assist the hips in their stabilization and activate the strengthening of the lower back.

Without tucking your hips forward, gently exhale as you press your belly in below your navel. Think firm and flat. Now, keep it where it is and inhale, inward and upward, through the upper abdominal, with a sense of drawing the air and the muscles up and inside the rib cage, filling it like a sail on an old Spanish galleon.

The solar plexus, the triangle just below where the ribs join the chest, makes a good point of focus. Concentrate on an expansive feeling to the sides and a broadening of the middle of the back, rather than a great thrust forward with the middle of the chest.

The Role (Roll) of the Shoulders

Shoulders can be very troublesome things, and I will get into more detail about them later. For now, it is enough to line your shoulders up, vertically, over the highest point of your hipbone on the sides of your pelvis. The shoulders should not be rolled forward, pulled back (despite that army thing), or hunched up, but rather just pressed gently down to secure the expansion and lengthening of your torso, as well as secure the shoulders themselves. If your shoulders are habitually misaligned, pay extra attention to getting them properly set—see, think, train, adjust, and repeat as often as necessary.

The Neck and Head

That brings us to the neck and head. We all know the neck supports the head, but did you ever think of using the neck and head to lengthen the body? Lifting from the crown of your head can lighten the load on your spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet.

Look at a marionette. A string attaches at the highest point on the top of its head, pretty much in line with where its spine would be (if it had one). This is the crown of the head. Lift the string and the marionette lifts, nice and long, through the top of the head, lengthening as it lifts through the back of the neck (if it had one), leveling the chin and steadying its gaze (once again, if it had one), and standing tall.

Now, slowly relax the string and watch the marionette’s body shrink and crumble. Hmmmmm.

Okay. It’s time for you try it. Not the crumbling part—the standing up straight bit. But, think lifting from the top down, not pressing from the ground up.

Let’s go to the mirror. (If you can’t get a good full-length mirror, you might want to hire a really good mime...)

Mirror Checklist


Are your feet together or under the hips? How is the weight distributed?

Looking down, are your knees aiming in the same direction as the balls of your feet? Knees should be straight, but not locked.

Squeeze your butt. Does your pelvis rotate forward? A little is fine, but not too much. Your lower spine should retain a natural curve.

Take a big breath and exhale, pressing in below the navel.

Inhale deeply up under the rib cage. Feel that broadening in the chest and middle of the back as you grow taller through the spine.

Keep that expansive, tall feeling as you exhale.

Inhale again and lift through the crown of the head, lengthening the back of the neck and leveling the chin. Press your shoulders down gently, at the same time, to stabilize the lift of the torso (Photo 29).

Now, turn profile to the mirror and try it all again.

Things to Consider—Troubleshooting

The Feet

If you’re having trouble distributing your weight evenly to the insides and outsides of your feet, check the following.

If the weight is primarily on the insides of your feet:

You may have flat feet (fallen arches).

You may have alignment problems from the knees and hips.

You may have weakness or imbalances in the muscles of the legs and feet.

To check your arches, take off your shoes and turn the inside of your foot to the mirror. Does the space between the heel and the ball of the foot have an upward curve or a downward curve? Is the outside edge of the foot in this area lifted somewhat or flat to the ground? If the arch is normal, it should appear lifted with an upward curve.

Flat feet can allow an overly outward rotation of the ankle, which can cause problems to muscles and joints up through your body. If you have any concerns, see an orthopedist. Both flat feet and high arches can benefit from arch supports in the shoes, as well as certain types of exercise we will discuss later.

The Knees

To check the alignment of the knees, stand facing the mirror and put your legs together. Do the feet come together, or is there a space between them? The feet, in this position, will come together if your knees are straight or bowed. If the knees touch, but the feet don’t, you knees are somewhat “knocked.”

Optimally, one should be able to draw a straight, vertical line from the hips through the knees to the balls of the feet. Having said that, let me point out that, if, in my whole life, I’ve seen three people with legs that have grown perfectly straight, that’s all I’ve seen. It’s very rare. Generally, we’re all a little bent.

Personally, I got me some bowed legs.

If you carry the weight of your body more on the outsides of your feet, you are probably a bit bow-legged as well. Many of us are, and it tends to encourage an inward rotation of the feet. In the mirror, the feet will come together, but there will be an outward curve to the legs and the space between them will be widest at the knees.

One way to get an idea about your ankles’ alignment is to look at the heels of your shoes. Are they worn evenly down the middle or more to one side or the other? This is a good indication of your habitual weight distribution, which does have an impact on the muscular balance of your legs and hips.

While the rotation of the ankles can generally be modified considerably with focused exercises and constant vigilance, the same is not necessarily true of the knees. Those who are knock-kneed, and the bowlegged among us, are, to some extent, stuck with what we’ve got, especially if our bones have finished growing. Once the knee joints are set in their tracks, realigning the knees is something that may be possible, but must, to my mind, be approached cautiously and with an eye to a commitment of several months, at the very least, before there will be any noticeable change. The last thing you want to do is cause pain, instability and tracking problems in your knees.

A safer, and more doable, idea would be to maintain the legs as they are and not allow them to knock or bow any farther. That is, of course, if “as they are” is a healthy place to be. If one’s legs are so far bowed or knocked that one or more joints is constantly being pressured in a harmful way, the situation must be relieved.

If your knees, when bent, will not line up with the balls of your feet, you’ve got a rotational problem. To find out, stand with your feet under your hips, keep your weight in your heels and bend your knees a bit, no more than 90 degrees. Do not put your weight on your toes or allow your knees to go past the end of your toes.