Michael Jackson’s legendary dance moves revolutionized the music industry, and even nine years after his death, doctors are still trying to figure out how the King of Pop was able to do what he did.
Neurosurgeons at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, published a study in the Journal of Neurosurgery that took a look at the iconic lean that Jackson debuted in his 1988 Smooth Criminal music video.
Jackson accomplished the gravity-defying move by leaning his body forward to a perfect 45-degree angle, while keeping it completely straight. “Most trained dancers with strong core strength will reach a maximum of 25 to 30 degrees of forward bending while performing this action,” neurosurgeon Manjul Tripath said. “MJ pulled off a gravity-defying 45 degree move that seems unearthly to any witness.”
The Secrets of a Smooth Criminal
So how exactly was the King of Pop able to pull it off? Researchers discovered that the secret is in his strong core and fancy shoes.
According to the BBC, Tripath explained that most people who attempt the lean find most of the strain is in the Achilles tendon of each ankle, rather than the erector spinae muscles of the back. However, researchers found that a strong, athletic core from strengthened spinal and lower-limb muscles help the dancer successfully do this move.
“The chances of injury to the ankle are significant,” Tripath warned. “You need strong core muscles and good support around the ankle. It’s not a simple trick.”
Jackson also got an upper-hand on his fellow dancers by patenting and designing a one-of-a-kind shoe that would assist him in pulling off the move. According to Complex, the shoes had a specially designed heel peg that would protrude and connect to the stage, allowing Jackson to shift his balance and perform the lean.
The patent was first created in 1993, but expired in 2005. The revolutionary shoes were reportedly auctioned off for $600,000 in 2009. MJ’s talent, however, is priceless.
Build a Core Like MJ
You might not be able to emulate the King of Pop’s moves in real life without the special shoes, but you can work to build up your core strength to legendary levels. Just add these three moves to your workout routine and before long, you’ll be feeling lean like a smooth criminal.
Four sets of 30 second holds
The plank is a basic core building block. To perform the simplest version of the exercise, just get on the ground, with your weight on your forearms and your toes.
Keep your spine straight and squeeze your glutes, keeping your core as tight as possible. Start out by holding the position with perfect posture for 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat three more times.
For an extra challenge, check out these variations.
Hollow Body Hold
Four sets of 30 second holds
Push your core even more with hollow body holds. Start by laying down and pressing your lower back against the floor. Tuck your knees to your shoulders, then extend your legs straight out and point your toes, pointing your arms toward your feet.
Once you’ve mastered the basic form, make the move more challenging by extending your arms straight behind your head. Start by holding for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat four times.
Four sets of eight reps
You probably know all about crunches—but have you ever flipped the script and tried to reverse the movement?
To do just that, lie on your back with your palms facing down on the floor. Lift your feet and hips off the floor and crunch them inward, driving your feet up toward the ceiling. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to the original position.
To make the move more difficult, keep your feet hovering above the ground when you reach the bottom position. It’s okay if you tap the ground though—it’s just easier on your core. Try four sets of eight reps to start, with a 30 second rest between each set.
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