Load Bearing 101: Lessons From Katy Bowman in How to Hold Your Own Weight

The way we carry our bodies plays a critical role in our ability to lift heavier loads and move without pain. Here are 3 lessons I learned recently at a workshop with biomechanist Katy Bowman.

People spend a lot of time, energy, and money finding out the best way to lift heavy stuff. Browse the internet and you’ll find countless articles articulating the best way to get weight overhead, deadlift a heavy object, or execute the perfect snatch. Today I want to discuss what I learned recently at a workshop about how to carry a much more basic and fundamental load – your own bodyweight.

Granted, that load is growing heavier by the week as I am currently six months pregnant. Due to my fortunate condition, I was asked by Katy Bowman, a biomechanics expert and founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute to be a model client for a prenatal alignment demo she was doing for her alignment students’ certification. I left the session feeling a lot like I did after the MovNat workshop I attended last year – like I had become acquainted with long-lost muscle friends. What was particularly remarkable though, was that I hadn’t spent all day outside running barefoot or carrying rocks (although that was really cool). Instead, I had spent thirty minutes learning about some small alignment markers that made an amazing difference.

For me, the results were exaggerated by the fact that I am carrying a heavier load than normal. In the pregnancy and baby world, experts talk a lot about “active birth” – the idea that a woman should be an active participant in labor and delivery by changing position, integrating breathing techniques, and other cool birth stuff. After this session, I feel like I have had a more active pregnancy, even in the moments (or hours) when I’m working at a computer or standing at the sink doing dishes – like I am recruiting muscles and engaging my body to carry my baby, rather than simply holding him or her passively in my belly. While this makes for a great pregnancy, it’s also amazing to think what it would feel like to be that actively engaged in the way we carry our bodies on a day-to-day basis, not to mention the restorative effect it would have on basic body mechanics, pregnant or not.

So without further ado, here’s a brief summary of three basic alignment markers I learned during Katy’s session that anyone can work on:

1. Feet Straight Ahead

As a recovering ballerina I’ve been working on this marker for some time. Nevertheless, I still find myself standing with turned-out feet. Katy explains the problem with this alignment habit in her blog post “Stance”:

Why straight? Because the axis of the ankle and the pulley system of the posterior leg muscles require this position to generate maximal torque without friction. If you stand with your feet slightly turned out, your subtalar joint (located below the ankle) is forced to slightly wobble right to left while walking, which means the muscles down the outside of the shin get misused with every step and slowly rotate your lower leg into external rotation – cowboy style. Giddiyup.

Katy showed me how to properly line up my feet at the beginning of the session. But that was just the beginning, because nice straight feet are useless without…

2. External Rotation

When I got home from the session one of the first things I did was share my new knowledge with my husband by reenacting the whole thing. Naturally he wanted to play the part of the pregnant woman and I was pretending to be Katy. I fixed his duck feet and noticed an immediate problem: his turned-out feet had disappeared, only to be replaced with turned-in knees.

Katy demonstrates and explains why and how to fix this problem better than I ever could here:

3. Fix Your Ribs

After my second child was born I had a serious problem with diastasis recti, despite an active pregnancy and what I thought was a strong core. I’ve always wondered why, and have become more and more convinced that it was first and foremost an alignment issue. After the session with Katy I am pretty positive that’s the root of the problem. Why? Because I am a rib thruster (more about that here).

As you can see in the video below, I have a tendency to let my belly carry my ribs forward – a “swayback,” as it is commonly called. Not only does this habit cramp baby’s style in utero (which might have had something to do with why my two babies decided to present not head, but feet first at delivery), but it also increases pressure on the abdominal wall, which can play a role in the development of diastasis recti. Although this is an easy habit to develop during pregnancy when you’re a little top heavy, I’m pretty confident that I do it all the time. Here’s a video of Katy putting my ribs in place:

So there you have it: three basic alignment markers that will help you carry your body more efficiently. “No excuses” is a common tagline in the fitness industry. While I can think of a lot of excuses not to want to do fifty burpees or run laps, you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a reason not to watch your alignment. And instead of screaming at you for it, your body will love you.

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