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Why Our Bodies Are Like Silly Putty 

Learn to move efficiently to increase performance

Article by Dr. Michael Kay, DPT, Modo Bio Physiotherapist

Photography by Unsplash

Silly Putty Olympic Gold

Whether they accept it or not, the prevailing model for fitness and sports industry professionals involved in biomechanics is based on the anatomy of a dead person. Biomechanics, one of the main fields of study of human movement, assumes that under force, cadaver tissue will react similarly to living tissue.

It seems to make all the sense in the world. The anatomist pulls on the cadaver’s flexor tendon and the joint moves. This action looks a lot like a pulley system, and from there, we began to model the body using classical engineering and lever systems. The interventions follow along appropriately. If you have lower back pain, we have to strengthen the core and stretch the hip flexors. If a young athlete needs to

increase his speed, get him stronger with a weight bar on his back. If you want to play golf better, you need to change your swing mechanics to a traditional lever-based approach.

Unfortunately (or, very fortunately) the body or more generally, nature doesn’t work this way. The simple fact that we are made up of 99% water and all tissue in the body is made from the same viscoelastic stuff (think silly putty), completely shoots down the dead person anatomy model. Dead people don’t have much water in them.

Pressures inside the body (air pressure in the thorax and fluid pressure in the abdomen) create the shape of the axial skeleton (skull, neck, ribs, spine, and sacrum) upon which the arms and legs attach.

Once you see the body this way, it is in stark contrast to the lever model which does not even consider the “shape” of the individual. If we simplify the model, we realize that all we can really do is expand and compress our silly putty. Everything else is just noise.

If we figure out how to get your silly putty to move the right way, the most efficient way, you can start to perform correctly, play better golf, run faster and create more power.

Dr. Michael Kay was awarded a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Chapman University. He has clinical experience working in pediatrics and geriatrics rehabilitation and sports performance.