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10 Levels for Body Movements with Functional Movement Training

Updated on June 17, 2018
Sue Adams profile image

Dancer, choreologist (movement notator), author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

What is Functional Movement Training?

Functional Movement Training is a technique that teaches moving in the most efficient way while performing normal daily actions. In this article you will learn the basic sequence that trains the body to be able to move comfortably through all possible levels for body movements. Once the sequence is mastered, the technique for a new, better looking and, more importantly, healthier (more body friendly) way of moving in daily life is established for good.

Note: Some elements of this Functional Movement Training method follow the basic principles of classical ballet.

Improved Movement Style Becomes Automatic

The greatest advantage of mastering all levels for body movements is that the new, improved movement style eventually becomes automatic. Once this new, improved way of moving is embedded in your habitual movement vocabulary you will never have to work at it, even think about it ever again. It’ll be automatic; in the bag. Sounds like a good idea? I agree, but first we must face three challenges:

3 Challenges to Overcome

  1. We primarily use our hands and eyes to perform an action. This creates a predominance of forward and down bending.
  2. Gravity is constantly pulling us down. Spines and necks, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles find it hard to keep everything balanced upright. Aches and pains are considered normal with age. It's all gravity's fault. But we can reverse it with gravity inversion and use it to our advantage.
  3. We are disconnected from the ground, the floor. We have lost touch with mother earth. This is where using the 10 levels for body movements with

    Functional Movement Training comes to the rescue.

Are You Comfortable Squatting or Sitting on the Floor?

See results

How Do You Fall?

Those unable to perform a deep squat have weak thigh muscles and stiff knees. Falling over in this condition may result in pulled muscles, tendons may snap. Landing on the floor with unprotected force may even break a bone. Ouch!

A supple person on the other hand, with good balance, full mobility in the joints and strong thigh muscles, will catch the same fall unhurt. Now you too can safeguard your body by challenging yourself to use the 10 levels for body movements in day to day living.

10 Levels for Body Movements

The challenge is very simple: How do you move from the highest and tallest that you can be (as when jumping in the air, or hanging by your hands off the branch of a tree) to lying flat on the floor in one smooth sequence without using the hands?

Being able to move comfortably through all 10 levels for body movements facilitates action. It makes any given task more efficient and more comfortable to do.

The actual sequence is short and simple but may take some time to perfect. Once it is mastered however, by using it throughout the day as you pick up stuff from the floor etc., it will become totally embedded in your musculature and, provided you stick to using it, the technique is self perpetuating.

So what are the 10 levels for body movements?

10 Levels for Body Movements

1. Jump / hang
2. tip of toes
3. on the ball of the feet
4. standing
5. half squat
6. full squat
7. hang squat
8. sit squat
9. L shape sit
10. lying down supine

Beginners

If you are not up to jumping or hanging yet, begin the sequence at number 4, the standing position. Remember, no hands and try to keep the spine as vertical as possible throughout. To begin with, you may want to hold onto a chair or stand near a wall until your balance improves.

Before you start let us look at the mechanics and benefits of each hight fr body movements in turn.

1. Jumping or Hanging

1. Jump / Hang

At the peak of a jump you defy gravity, you become weightless. That's a great feeling.
When you hang from the hands, the body weight is passed over from the feet to the hands. All pressure on the joints is taken away which allows them some gentle downward traction by gravity. Now your body feels loose and tall. You may like to swing by the hands to lose more gravity. But how do you land from a jump or a hang?
In both jumping and hanging, the challenge is to hit the ground with a soft landing. How? By slowly and noiselessly rolling through the feet and bending the knees. Landing smoothly covers levels 2 to 5 (remember to keep the spine vertical - do not tip forward).

2. Tip of The Toe

2. Transition Through Tip of the Toes

Landing In slow motion, the tip of the toes briefly touch the ground first. This position is called "Pointe" in ballet. Don't worry, no, you are not require or even advised to stand on the tip of your toes like a ballerina at any time. This is a transitional position only the tip of the toes do not have time any weight during a soft landing, nevertheless, they are he first to touch the ground.

3. Relevé - Standing on the ball of the Feet

3. On the Ball of the Feet

During a smooth landing the body weight goes smoothly through the ball of the feet. This position is called a "relevé" in ballet.

4. Standing

4. Standing

You do not stop in the standing position when landing from a jump or when landing from hanging. This is only a transition position because you haven't caught the landing quite yet until you bend the knees as follows.

5 Half Squat

5. Half Squat

To catch the jump with a soft landing the knees must bend to a half squat. In a correct half squat the knees bend to the full extend of the length of the Achilles's tendons without lifting the heels off the floor. This position is called a "demi plié" in ballet which is a half squat in plain English.

Caution!

Compare a conventional squat as practiced in most gyms with a squat whereby the spine is kept vertical to prevent the lower back muscles from doing unnecessary overtime. Unlike the squats seen at the gym, aim to keep the spine vertical at all times. Under no circumstances should this half squat or the following full squat with vertical spine be used in weight lifting.

5a. Lunge

Lunge

A variation at this level is the lunge position also stretches the Achilles tendons and although not strictly a part of the sequence, it has been included here as a useful position for reaching for things at this particular height rather than bending forward and damaging the spine. This position is called a "tombé" in ballet.

Example of Half Squat and Relevé in Practice

Take a kitchen worktop. To comfortably work at a worktop it should be at your hip-bone height which is just below the elbows when your arms are hanging down. Unfortunately kitchen worktops are all built to a standard 90 cm from the floor. So unless you can afford to have a bespoke kitchen built you are going to have to adjust your body height to be most comfortable.

Kitchen Top Too Low for Tall People

If the worktop is lower than your hip bones your upper body has to bend forward to cut the tomatoes. Bending forward during an action damages the lower back. You can lower the trunk to keep it vertical by either bending the knees out sideways or spreading the feet outward to lower you body height.

Kitchen Top Too High for Short People

If the worktop is too high, the tomato juice drips down your forearms. In this case rise up onto the ball of the feet (relevé) to raise the height of your body.

6. Full Squat

6. Full Squat / Sitting on Heels

The full squat is called a "grand plié" in ballet. The full squat is one of the most useful positions to use in functional movement in daily life when ever the body is required to do something at a low level. Unfortunately many of us can no longer get down into a full squat (stiff knees and weak thigh muscles). This is what causes most knee problems because the knees are then never allowed to fold to their full anatomical capacity.

Example of Full Squat in Practice

Compare two following instances of “getting a drink from the bottom of the refrigerator” and you will discover that the second option is so much more comfortable and energy efficient. It all depends on what leads an action, (1) our eyes and hands, or (2) using the appropriate levels for body movements?

(1) Eyes and Hands Lead the Action (bad habit)

On the bottom shelf of the fridge door is a jug of delicious freshly homemade fruit juice. Normally, you would bend forward and reach down to get the drink, but stop a minute. Why bend down? All that energy is unnecessarily wasted. In a forward and down bent position, half your body weight is off center. During the entire time of the action, the muscles of the lower back are working hard to stop you falling flat on your face into the fridge door. The damage caused by many repetitions of the same badly performed movement, day in day out, over many years, will in the long run make you handicapped with lower back pain. Compare this behaviour with the second option whereby we ignore the greedy hands and eyes and engage some of the levels for body movements instead.

(2). Use of Levels (good practice)

Bring a glass and open the fridge door. Go down into a full squat (level 6). Now you comfortably help yourself to that drink, even pour it out into the glass; perhaps temporarily put the full glass on the floor to tidy up the bottom of the refrigerator while you are there. The challenge is to pick up the drink and train those thigh muscles to get you up to standing again. Have fun trying it, you may need hand support to begin with.

7. Hang Squat

7. Hang Squat

The entire body weight (apart from the lower legs) now hangs from the knees supported by the soles of the feet. Incidentally, this is the correct position for elimination (emptying the bowels). Try sitting on top of the toilet bowl in this position and, provided you eat decent healthy food, all your bowel syndromes will vanish pretty soon. Check out the source reference at the end: Health Benefits of Squatting to Poop.

Actions in the Hang Squat

In many countries the population perform daily manual actions in the hang squat position. Note how placing the knees behind the upper arms helps to keep the spine nearly upright, leaving the hands free to work.

8. Sit Squat

8. Sit Squat

After having peeled the potatoes in the previous hang squat position you may want to relax the knees in the sit squat position – just gently shift the weight back to rest your butt on the floor behind your feet. Now you are in the Sit Squat position.

9. L Shaped Sit

9. L Shaped Sit

The L shaped sit stretches the hamstrings (tight bit behind the knees). Make sure to sit on the sitting bones, not on the tail and keep the spine straight. If your are not comfortable in the L sit, practice the position with your butt and spine tightly pushed against a wall.

Note

At all cost don't hang back in the pelvis. If that tends to happen just bend the knees slightly until your hamstrings have sufficiently lengthened to keep the legs straight in the L Shape Sit.

The Sitting Dilemma

We spend most of our waking time sitting on chairs. The next video explains exactly what's wrong with prolonged sitting on chairs and why all chairs should carry a government health warning since living on chairs is a prime cause for stiffness, bad posture, discomfort, back pain, a lack of concentration and many other health issues.

Alternatives to Chairs

As you now understand from having watched the previous video, social norms permitting, you are well advised to (at least in your own home) chose alternative ways of sitting using the floor, sitting on your very own built in sitting bones (the base of the pelvis) rather than sitting on chairs all day. A few alternative sitting positions are pictured below.

10. Lying Down

10. Lying down supine

A slow transition between the L shape sit (number 9) and lying down flat on your back (number 10) is a reversed sit-up action that tones up the stomach.

Caution

If you are not comfortable lying down on your back on the floor use props as shown in the next illustration.

That's It!

You have completed the downward journey of the 10 levels for body movements but that is only half of it. Now how do you get back up again? To complete the sequence reverse, play back levels 10 to 1 as shown next.

Getting Up Again

By doing the sequence in reverse you are using completely different muscle groups as the relationship with gravity is now also reversed. I find getting up from 8 to 5 the most challenging.

Lying Down on Your Stomach

Now you know how to lie down flat on your back and come back up again, what about lying down flat on your stomach instead? Try the next sequence every other day as an alternative.

Descent to Prone (face down) Position

Perform 1 to 6 as far down as the full squat
7. now place the knees on the floor – the toes are still flexed
8. kneel up
9. crawl position
10. bend the elbows to lying down prone
Now reverse the sequence back to standing and jumping.

Know Your Counter Moves for Recovery

Of course this all sounds great in theory but there are times when we are so involved in an action, there is no head room for concentrating on the body, we just want to get the job done as quickly as possible. So we revert back to old, damaging habits. No worries, as long as you are aware of making a wrong move, you can perform the appropriate Counter Move to remedy the damage done. One thing is for sure, we predominantly tend to bend down and forward. Therefore a daily dose of backward arching and upward and outward reaching is essential to keep us upright. Watch the next video for an explanation of what your muscles have to say about counter moves for recovery.

Counter Move for the 10 Levels for Body Movements

As explained in the above video, the muscles used in training or any type of strong activity need to be consciously instructed to lengthen, relax and let go of all tension immediately after working. Failing this, they'll hurt like hell the next day and remain in a semi contracted / cramped state. While practicing the 10 levels for body movements, most of the effort is made by the quads (front of thigh muscles). So the appropriate counter move to recover from this strenuous action is a thigh stretch either standing up or lying down as shown below.

Thigh Stretch

Benefits

The benefits of using some, preferably all of the 10 Levels for Body Movements for all low-level actions are:

  1. Alignment - The back and neck vertebrae can be held in their vertically balanced alignment.
  2. Flexibility - toes, ankles and knee joints are used to full range.
  3. Balance - work towards performing the moves without holding on to anything to greatly improve your balance.
  4. Muscle Toning - Low-level actions performed correctly give the thigh, calf and stomach muscles a good workout.
  5. Mobility - The knee joints are kept fully mobile, bending fully to the very limit of their anatomical movement range, purpose and design. No knee replacements needed here, even if you fell over unexpectedly.
  6. Safety - Fall Down? No Hurt
  7. Comfort - Even the most unpleasant tasks (like for example picking up the kids' toys every day) when done at floor level, will become more comfortable and turn a nasty job into effective fun with Functional Movement Training.

Functional Movement Training in Practice with a Floor Desk

The next video is a perfect example of Functional Movement Training in practice. By cutting off the legs of an old coffee table I created a floor desk perfectly adjusted to my size. Watch how all the problems arising from sitting on a chair at the computer like

  • shortened hamstrings
  • back and neck pain
  • repetitive strain injuries
  • discomfort
  • lack of concentration

can all be completely avoided when the body is allowed to move freely, to rest in the horizontal lying down position (for thinking time) while working for hours and hours at the computer. This working method has increased my flexibility and productivity no end. All my friends are now copying the idea and benefit from the same advantages. Watch the short video!

Fitness Without Exercise

The advantage of Functional Movement Training is that once you begin to modify your lifestyle and have invested some time and practice learning the 10 levels for body movements, a new, better and healthier movement style is born. From now on there is no longer the need for spending money, time and effort at the gym. Good physical awareness and behavior turns "exercise" into Life Style Integrated Training, a challenging, joyful and rewarding process that leads to feeling strong, suple and comfortable in all daily actions we undertake. In short, it makes you fit without the need to exercise since your physical behavior is improving as you go about doing more important things in life, just do them in a physically correct fashion.

Conclusion

Functional Movement Training with the 10 levels for body movements improves your health, flexibility, strength, your looks, confidence and your quality of life. By using the technique on a daily basis for all day to day actions at various levels, you may no longer need to go to the gym, saving you a lot of time and money too. Right now, the way you are positioned affects the way you feel and function. By adjusting your lifestyle and personal environment to please your body much comfortable and happy in the long run. So no delay, start today!

Sources

What if we got exercise all wrong?
Health Benefits of Squatting to Poop
Reduce Rate of Falls - randomised parallel trial

Useful link

New Design- A Floor Desk to Cure RSI

Feel free to ask questions and share your progress in the conversation below.

Comments

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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Informative and useful to all.

    • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 

      6 months ago from Andalusia

      Sorry to hear that Mary. I hope you weren't hurt too much. Lucky that you found this article, now you can practice your chosen levels and use them every time you need to reach a low level in your day to day movements at the farm.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      6 months ago from Brazil

      I recently was knocked off my feet by my two dogs and this made me realize how crucial being supple is for me.

      Although I do physical work on a daily basis, there are areas which need to be attended to. My posture and stretching of my legs and hips are my greatest concern at the moment.

      I think starting on the balls on my feet, level 3, would be suitable for me.

      Thanks for the advice.

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