Use the Whole Leg - Legs Begin at the Diaphragm

Old time boxing coaches used to say, “One of the first things to go are the legs”. A cursory view suggests that they were right. But a symptom and source are seldom in the same place. Perhaps, an updated statement might be, “One of the first things to go is the lower back, which weakens the legs”. Nerves traveling between the brain and the legs obviously pass through the lower back. A tight lower back can squeeze the nerves and make them less effective.

It’s not just boxers. The lifetime prevalence of low back pain is estimated at 60% to 70% in industrialized countries. Further, lumbar spinal stenosis is one of the most commonly diagnosed and treated pathologic conditions affecting the spine.

How can we keep our legs strong? We can (1) visualize that our legs start at the diaphragm, and (2) let gut weight fall into the legs. This is more than a visualization; it’s your body’s design.

If we consider only skeletal bones, legs originate from the hip’s ball-and-socket joints. But if you consider legs as bones plus the muscles that move them, legs originate from the diaphragm. Roughly the first 14 degrees of walking use muscles that begin at the diaphragm and attach to the lower vertebrae.

We move bones with muscles – not muscles with bones. When you walk, feel the muscular movement deep within your abdomen. To some people, it feels like a massage immediately in front of the lumbar spine. To others, the lumbar muscles feel like a retaining wall in front of the spine. Either feeling allows weight to drop.

By engaging deep abdominal muscles, you will immediately appear thinner than you would otherwise be. (The gut falls inward without effort.) Back and leg problems are less likely. It’s a win-win.

In the spirit of “letting weight fall”, avoid pulling the legs upward into the hip and abdomen. Get a sense of the legs falling downward from the diaphragm toward the ground. Don’t worry; they won’t fall off.

From the attitudinal perspective, “putting your foot down” from the hip is a lot different from “putting your foot down” from the diaphragm. Everyone gets it. Putting your foot down from the diaphragm communicates that you really mean it. Doing it from the hip looks tentative. In doubt? Stand in front of a mirror. Put your foot down both ways and compare the communicated messages. No further words will be needed.

Your leg strength is important. Use the whole leg – the way nature designed it. I hope some boxing coaches get this message.


Jack Menear