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The Strength of the Cross-legged Challenge

The Strength of the Cross-legged Challenge

This post brought to you by Dr. Keith Sparks from ICT Muscle & Joint

Movement is a vital component to life. From the smallest microbe or to the largest elephant, all living things must move in order to survive. The human species is no different.

But just to survive does not mean to thrive. To thrive is very different. It means constantly challenging our body awareness and perception of oneself. The cross-legged challenge is a means to help identify movement capabilities and to correlate it to life expectancy.

cross legged how to

The cross-legged challenge can be viewed as a window into your movement capabilities in comparison to the general population. It helps to identify how the brain and body are communicating throughout a complex movement pattern.

In order to do this efficiently, the brain and body must communicate to balance the dynamics between stability and mobility, throughout multiple regions of the body, all at once (i.e. feet, ankles, knees, hips, and torso). However, it’s not an end-all-be-all test, but more a gateway to visualizing how the body should move in comparison to a healthy individual with ideal movement patterns.

Improving Your Score

The cross-legged challenge is a deep squat, also known as the “third world squat,” while maintaining some degree of hip external rotation. External rotation is rotation outward or away from the midline of the body. This requires adequate, active mobility through the posterior hips in addition to sufficient external rotation strength, while maintaining a neutral to relatively flexed spinal position.

Due to the necessary strength and mobility requirements, there are three low-level, at-home exercises that can be performed to maintain or improve the cross-legged challenge:

  • Wall Running Man
  • Goblet Squats
  • Lateral Lunge

Wall Running Man

This exercise is probably the most complex out of the three. However, it is incredibly powerful in activating the hip external rotators.

While performing this exercise, the farther your hip hinge (pushing backward in your hips), while maintaining a neutral spine, the more force will be required to push your knees outward.

How to perform:

1. Stand facing parallel to wall with your shoes off, if possible.

ict muscle and joint wall running man example

2. Raise the lower leg closest to the wall and apply pressure into the wall at the outer knee.

3. With the standing leg focus on keeping the shin vertical and slightly forcing the knee outward (this will help balance out the force generated by the knee contacting the wall).

ict muscle and joint wall running man example

If performed properly, this will engage both sets of hip external rotators. If you do not feel the activity in the posterior hips or the outside of the leg, then focus on getting your spine into a neutral position and increasing the amount of hip hinge to load the external rotators more. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds in varying degrees of hip flexion.

Doorway Goblet Squats

Goblet squats are an incredible way to work on balance while getting down into a deep squat.

Traditionally, goblet squats are performed with a kettlebell or dumbbell held in front of the body. The doorway modification allows you to lower yourself as far down as deemed safe, allowing use of the upper body as support (ie doorframe). It is simple to perform for all ages.

How to Perform:

1. With your hands, grab onto a doorframe at chest height. If possible, stand with your feet relatively close together, which better mimics the cross-legged position.

ict muscle and joint doorway goblet squats

2. From here, allow yourself to sit toward your heels. If at any time throughout the motion you feel unstable, then stand up out of the position by using your arms to help pull yourself up.

Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge allows you to load more weight onto one leg than the other, improving balance and strength. By focusing on asymmetries from one leg to the other, you are focusing on how the body and brain communicate, which is a key goal of the Cross-legged Challenge.

ict muscle and joint lateral lunge

How to Perform:

Taking a fairly large step out to the side, sit back into the bent leg hip; this is the primary focus of this exercise. This will help groove the patterning and strength of the bent leg, working on mobility of the adductor group of the straight leg. Do not worry about getting your thigh down to parallel. Focus on being stable, with your weight shifting to one leg.

Complete the Cross-Legged Challenge to test your mobility, and use these exercises to help improve your score!

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