The big 5 – Introduction

The big 5 - Introduction

The big 5 is a group of five basic anatomical shapes or positions that the human being is able to 'cultivate'. Being able to express these positions without restriction or over-tension gives you the freedom to move without 'overcooking' the system, and (theoretically) resisting injury. These shapes capture any movements your body produces that look like sport, or just movements in everyday life. I steal this analogy from my man crush Kelly Starrett. Imagine you're a car, whether you're just driving from A to B or on a race track (everyday movement or some form of sport/exercise). Say you're out for a run and you have really stiff ankles and anterior hips. The range of motion you're missing, or lack of ability to get into certain positions is like driving your car with the handbrake on. Obviously if you're driving down the highway with your handbrake on you've introduced a very large amount of tension or stress into the system, which can only but end in disaster to the parts of your car.

Movements that put your body into positions that you're not capable of achieving without some form of external load (e.g. weights in the gym, gravity while running) introduces this same overtension issue causing stress to your musculture, joints, and connective tissues. Thousands of repetitions under these loads are going to take their toll, eventually resulting in injury. The percentage of runners that get some form of injury each year is ridiculous (Why? - Maybe because running is probably the number one 'just do it' activity). Having the mobility to move without an overtension issue is one thing, but there's a big motor control component (technique) as well. Think of my last three posts on movement errors as the technique, and the following posts as the mobility (position) component.

There's a ton of different techniques available to improve the mobility the soft tissue around a joint, but I wanted to propose something simple that anyone could do without having to think about it, and something that could be viewed more as 'just a resting position' than actually doing work. Spending time in the following positions captures the physiology of the big movers (the hips and shoulders) but also the secondary movers (knees, ankles, elbows, wrists) at the same time. You can spend time isolating a specific muscle or joint 'stretching' it, but the way your body works and interacts in isolation is different than when in a system (Sometimes you need to treat a specific or isolated area for sure, but in this context i'm talking about gross positions). As Ido Portal says, you can't foam roll your way to a good squat.

An extra bonus to spending time in these more 'holistic' positions (as opposed to isolating areas e.g. holding a quad stretch) is it incorporates a motor control component as well. What I mean is your body will not only slowly adapt to a new range of motion, but spending time in the position will let your brain figure out how to control it, how to be strong and stable at (a new) end range.

There are three different upper body positions        

         Overhead                                       High pull

Push up

And two lower body positions                      

        Squat                                                             Lunge


Each position captures either flexion or extention of the shoulder/hip (and the subsequent positions of the secondary joints) and the rotational components that accompany flexion and extension.

In english

If you can get into these positions without restriction, and you have the technique to control your body in motion throughout these positions, your body will work like a body. That means no injuries, unless someone throws a chair at you because you're squatting in a restaurant.


As I said in the earlier movement posts the spine is the priority. It's the chassis of which the hips and shoulders sit upon. Thus the health and effectiveness of the shoulders are limited by the suppleness of the thoracic spine. If your thoracic spine is stiff and unable to extend then trying to get into the shoulder positions above isn't going to be a good time. To be able to move your arms above your head your scapulae have to move, and for your scapulae to move your thoracic spine has to move (into a good position).

Spend some time hanging over anything with a convex shape and open up your t spine/chest. If you can't lower your head over a foam roller and drop your hips at the same time then that's probably a decent sign that your thoracic spine needs some love.

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