Body Grip is the Basis of Human Functionality

Lead In - speed 2

Body Grip. What do we mean by body grip? Today I am going to introduce to you the concept of body grip and how to practise it.


Anatomy of intercostal muscles

In the Bodywork presentation we described how bodywork can be used to change your behaviour by helping you to alter the structure of bone, tendon and muscle in the body. In this presentation we focus on bodily change in the chest, and the next presentation, the face. These two parts of the body comprise the most complex matrixes of muscle, tendon and bone that are found anywhere on the body. In the chest we are familiar with the larger muscles on the surface that connect to the shoulders and provide lift or the back and abdominal muscles that contribute to posture, but we often ignore the tiny intercostal muscles which delicately bind the ribs together to enable breathing.

Definition of Body Grip

What is body grip? Consider the expression “Get a grip on yourself”. What does this mean? I say it refers to having a good grip on our body through the chest or upper abdomen. The concept of body grip is best understood by imagining that you are going to lift a heavy weight. Before you start, you prepare yourself by stretching your chest taut to expand the chest open and extend the pelvis rearward. While imagining lifting the weight, you extend the large muscles attached to the front and back of the ribcage, which do most of the lifting, and you also extend the smaller muscles that hold the ribs together to help provide a firm foundation. These small muscles are the intercostals and they provide the background of the body grip because they hold together the actual bones of the ribcage and make it a single solid structure.

Let's try this out so you can see what I mean. Either sit or stand. You are about to get a grip on yourself! Get ready to lift that heavy weight. You want to do this properly so that you don't drop the weight or injure yourself. Now extend all the muscles in the back and front of the chest ready to take the weight. You may also work your arm muscles as well if this helps. Feel the muscles across the front of your chest stretch. The most noticeable ones will be the big muscles on the front but you should be able to feel the smaller muscles around your rib cage tension as well. If you have good body grip then you should be able to retain this for a lengthy period of time without tiring and feel good about it. If not then chances are your grip on your body is not so good and you need to practise lots.

Benefits of body grip


The intercostal muscles are mostly associated with breathing, but their function as stabilisers to the rib cage mean they play an important part in core fitness by providing a stable platform upon which body action takes place. Imagine that the body is like a crane. A crane is well anchored to the ground on one end and on the business end lifts and moves objects with fine alignment. If the crane was not stable, the operator would have great difficulty lining up beams with bolt holes and placing large concrete walls within a centimetre of error. Similarly, as humans, carrying out finely tuned activities like playing maestro guitar, elite sport or master speech craft requires being anchored upon a firm foundation. The rib cage structure is what provides that foundation.

Muscles by themselves, cannot supply a firm foundation because they are made of flexible tissue which is constantly in tension or release and therefore changing shape and size. Using muscle tissue as a foundation would require holding it tense continually, which is not what they are designed for. The structures in the human body that are designed for creating stability are bone, tendons, and muscle working together. As described in a previous presentation about muscle, tendon and bone configuration, tendons, and similarly, ligaments, are inflexible components that retain their shape and length consistently over time. If you look at an internal diagram of the rib cage, you can see the complex matrix of tendons and muscles that make it up. It is clear that any voluntary muscle movements available within the rib cage are very limited. The muscles are small and criss-cross so that they pull almost in opposition. There is also an abundance of tendons. Compare this to muscles in the arms and legs, for instance where there are less tendons and where muscular movements we can make are large and profound. It is clear that any changes you wish to make in the way that the ribcage behaves requires altering the tendons that bind it together. If you have developed a weak structure in your chest, then strengthening this will require working on those tendons and developing their relationships with bone and muscle so that you can get a better grip on yourself.

The main event

Good body grip is at the heart of good human functionality and can be improved using bodywork.


Bodywork exercises that benefit body grip can be found in disciplines that use stretch and hold such as yoga. Body building pretty much requires that you have good body grip, because otherwise it doesn't work so well. So if you have tried body building and find that it isn't rewarding, then perhaps it is because you haven't got good body grip and you need to change how you hold your body when you lift the weights.

The specific exercise that can help you to build body grip is pretty much what we just did. No weights are needed. All that is required is to stretch the muscles of the chest as if you are carrying a weight, or are ready for action so that you can better connect with the intercostal muscles. It helps if you understand about posture and I do have a separate presentation on that, so that when you practise body grip you also practise good posture. The two go together. Stretching the chest involves expanding it outwards and also pushing the pelvis in the opposite direction, so that curvature of the spine is optimised. A nice S-shape. If you observe a weight lifter doing a clean and jerk, you will notice how much they extend the backside outwards. So when you grip your body, your butt should also be extended.

You can practise body grip pretty much anywhere and anytime, especially since it can be done almost unnoticeably. If you have a desk job it is a good exercise to do regularly to help prevent poor posture and back pain. You can do it walking around during the day, or lying in your bed before you go to sleep at night. The more you do it, the more you will condition your body to naturally take on the body grip shape and strength. It is like learning any new skill. At first it is difficult and somewhat onerous but the more you do it and find out how it works, then the more rewarding it becomes. Change is incremental and gradual but you will notice small improvements in all areas of life, including sport, work and your voice. Yes, your voice. A solid chest cavity is fundamental to a strong, resonant and durable voice. Have you wondered why large people often have big voices? One of the reasons is that the extra weight they carry around helps them to develop a body grip that provides them with a more powerful vocal capacity. In their case, they don't have to imagine carrying around weights because they actually carry extra weight with them all the time.

In previous presentations on posture I described held structure and habitual structure.  Developing body grip requires using held structure, which means that you have to consciously hold or grip your body for periods of time in order to improve it.  Changing your body grip, which is a form of habitual structure, requires holding an improved structure for a period of time until your body is conditioned to the new structure and then that new structure becomes the new habitual structure.

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Now we have a quick body grip test: Lie on a bed on your front with your arms by your sides. Now, expand the muscles in your chest so that you are holding yourself up with your chest. If you have good body grip then you should be able to hold this position for five to ten minutes. If not, then your body grip is not good.

Personal example

When I was younger I failed the body grip test. I was your typical weedy weakling. In order to improve my body grip,  and as described in this presentation, I practised body grip whenever and wherever I could. As my grip improved, I noticed the changes in many of the things I did. When swimming I could feel a much better connection across my chest and my strokes became stronger. When weight lifting I found that I was able to lift correctly. My guitar playing improved immensely and so too my voice. The incremental changes that came about, often noticeable on a weekly basis sealed my conviction that this technology works.


Your body grip, which is the grip you have across your chest when engaging the intercostal muscles provides a foundation for much of your functionality.

Challenge to audience

If what I have said about body grip rings true with you, then I suggest you go out and try it. See if it works for you. What I've learnt about it suggests to me that it underpins many aspects of human functionality and that the more we understand about it, both in our collective knowledge and our individual experience, then the benefits it can bring are immense. If poor body grip is a characteristic of psychological weakness, then improving body grip may be a means of prevention and treatment of psychological disorders. If good body grip is a characteristic of elite sports, then improving body grip would open up competition to more contenders and further push the limits of achievement. If good body grip is a characteristic of a well balanced and happy life, then developing it should become a core part of the school curriculum.

References and further reading