Sunday, September 8, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron, Part Twenty-Six

Grounding and Discharging

No matter how centered one is in his embodiment of the here-and-now, and how optimally charged, one will not be able to lift well without good grounding. "Grounding" means contact with the literal, physical ground. It means being planted in such a manner that one has solid support for the task about to be done. The more solidly grounded one is, the more energy one direct and manage. Grounding affords stability.

The issue of grounding adds a complexity to the already complex issue of optimal arousal. There is an intimate relationship between charging and grounding. A lack of adequate grounding will undermine the effectiveness of  what would under circumstances of good grounding be an optimal charge. 

Turning now to practicalities, I want to address techniques of grounding for the lifter. It doesn't take a lot of words, or complex words to describe the process of grounding. I do suggest that you not be misled by its simplicity, and that you practice it well. Since we all do work with grounding, it is tempting to overlook it. But, in our everyday lives we take it for granted, and do it mostly outside our awareness. So, I propose the following experiment:

Stand barefoot on a smooth, solid, hard surface. Unlock your knees and place your feet in a comfortable position, about shoulder width. Close your eyes and breath comfortably. Feel the floor under you. Wiggle your toes. Explore the floor with your toes, leaving your feet in place. Shift your weight to the balls of your feet. Shift your weight back on your heels. Shift your weight from one foot to the other. Bend your knees slightly and let your energy "sink" down into your lower body, all the way to the floor. 

If you do this experiment very slowly, and with close awareness, you will experience what is meant by being grounded. You may recognize the sensation, and realize that it has close kinship with being centered. In fact, centering and grounding techniques can be used together to deal with an overcharge of energy.

In the standing position, grounding is through the legs and feet. It is these body parts which connect one with the earth. When one is in other positions, other body parts with some solid, supporting surface may become primary. In sitting on a stool with one's feet on the floor, for instance, one may ground through one's feet, legs, and buttocks. By lifting one's feet one can feel how much less grounded one becomes, using the buttocks alone.

In addition to the primary grounding that involves the contact boundary between the physical body and the actual physical ground, there can be a secondary grounding through the eyes. Looking intently at a stationary object anchors one in the actual physical world. The ballet dancer learns when doing a pirouette to look at some single stationary point as he passes that point in each rotation. This gives a moment of greater stability in an otherwise and intentionally rather weakly grounded situation.

Just as one lifts better from a centered position and from a position of optimal charge, one will lift better from a well-grounded position. For this reason I will describe grounding techniques for specific lifting situations. All of these are but variations on the above exercise.

The following instructions are general directions for grounding in preparation for any standing lift. Since one is getting grounded in the presence of the bar, this can be referred to as "addressing the bar." Before addressing the bar, appropriate centering and charging have been done.

- - - Walk to the bar and place your feet at the width that feels most supportive and stable, and at a distance from the bar which gives you the best leverage. Take time to move your feet until the position feels just right. Bend your knees slightly and feel the floor under you. Shift your weight more to one foot, then to the other. Equalize your weight between your two feet. Let your energy "sink" into your legs and feet. Feel your energy flow smoothly and powerfully up and down your body, connecting your whole body from feet to hands. Look at the bar intently. Bend your knees, bend down and place your hands exactly at the width that you know to be most comfortable for this lift. Feel the hard steel in your firm grip.

From this point, the task is to execute one's technique with an appropriate amount of force. The above instructions are a model. The individual lifter can practice this model and make any personal modifications which he or she sees fit to make.

The grounding sequence must be quick, or else one may begin to lose the optimal charge one has built. With practice, grounding can be done in only a few seconds. In actual practice one may ground and charge at the same time. Learn to do each by itself, then you can experiment with combining them. In competition, I do some charging before addressing the bar. As I'm planting my feet I take three to five huge, loud, forced thoracic breaths through my mouth, thus running my charge up to the optimal level. Then I grasp the bar, spending no more than a couple of seconds, exhale completely, take one huge thoracic breath, and lift. I find that in practice, unless I am attempting a limit or near-limit lift, I do all the charging I need as I am addressing the bar.

When bench pressing, grounding is through the upper back, the buttocks, and the feet. While lifting, push against the floor with your feet. Never lift your feet or move them while bench pressing. Keep them firmly planted. (The exception when, for exercise purposes, some lifters put their feet on the bench itself, or even lift their feet off the bench and cross them. This is intentionally ungrounding in order to make the exercise more difficult and/or to take away the advantages of arching the back.) Wiggle on the bench until you feel well planted in your buttocks and your upper back.

On the incline bench, again, it is crucial to get your feet well planted. Push with your legs to get the needed stability. Get your buttocks and back planted firmly on the bench.

When sitting, grounding will be primarily through the legs and feet and the buttocks. Keep the feet firmly planted and push with the legs enough to insure stability.

Exercise machines present special problems in grounding. Often designed to isolate a given muscle group, they can put one in an inefficient position with respect to grounding oneself. For this reason some machines have belts for strapping oneself in place. Before lifting on any machine, get stabilized as best you can. whatever part of your body is bearing the major part of your bodyweight is the part to "sink" your energy into, and thus anchor yourself. Of course, the machines are not meant for maximal lifts; they are meant for exercising relatively isolated muscle groups without full assistance from other muscles.

In competitive lifts which have two phases, there are two occasions for grounding. In the squat one needs to be well grounded before taking the bar off the rack, and again before actually executing the squat. In the clean & jerk one needs to ground before the clean, and ground again before executing the jerk. And in that most awkward of all competitive lifts, the snatch, there are really two phases. This is especially true in the squat style. One obviously needs to ground before starting the snatch. Less often acknowledged is that when in the squat position with a heavily loaded bar held overhead at arms' length, one needs to get well grounded in order to recover to the standing position.

The simple fact is that if one is not grounded before lifting a weight, he will lose balance and lose leverage in the attempt to find his grounding. In the most dramatic scenario, the ungrounded lifter finds himself abruptly and painfully grounded by the unforgiving demand of gravity.

The final task of he body as an energetic system is to discharge. Once the lifter is centered, appropriately charged, and grounded, what remains is to discharge his energy. The force of that discharge is measured by the amount of weight lifted. The discharge is focused by virtue of the lifter's centeredness and grounding. Its forcefulness is a reflection of the lifter's muscular strength and level of chargedness.

Maximal muscular effort is supported by the forceful, full, thoracic exhalation. The challenge is not to exhale so quickly that the lift is not completed by the end of the breath. One cannot maintain the maximal level of muscular effort while sucking in the next breath. For this reason, the heavy lift is usually begun with the breath held after a huge thoracic inhalation. If the lifting time is short, as in a speed lift such as a clean, a jerk, or a snatch, the breath may be held until the bar is locked out, and then the lifter exhales forcibly. For lifts which take longer, such as a press, bench press, squat, or deadlift, there is the danger of holding the breath too long and getting dizzy or even losing consciousness. Therefore, the exhalation begins during the lift. But it must be timed such that its completion does not precede the completion of the lift.

In performing exercise lifts, the guideline is to exhale during the effort phase of the exercise. With the light to moderate weights used in most exercises, it is not necessary to hold one's breath. Sometimes, however, as one approaches the end of a set, it may be necessary to hold one's breath for the first part of a repetition or two.

Being centered at the time of discharge means being at one with the task. No distractions. No ambivalence. No hesitation. No holding back. The discharge is the explosion of one's commitment. So, upon discharge, one puts every bit of available energy into the lift. Precise and narrow is the focus of energy.

Next: The Lifting Trance.


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