Movement patterns as qualitative performance indicators

11 Sep

For gymnasts, martial artists, olympic weightlifters and kettlebell lifters, technique and movement comes first. The mastery of which takes up the large majority of training time and attention to detail can seem hard to grasp for most not well versed in the respective disciplines. The attention on harnessing tension and relaxation requires a complex combination of speed, power, timing and extraordinary bodily awareness and mobility.

However, for most people looking at athletic performance, whether it be for competitive sports or general fitness, movement quality is overlooked in favour of quantifiable results adhering to numbers and time. This post is a reflection on the limitations of this approach to physical performance and the role fitness professionals have in insuring movement patterns are integrated back into training programmes.

Those who achieve greatness through physical performance more often than not have the ability to control muscle tension through strength and power and to relax sufficiently to allow speed, flexibility and endurance to be sustained whilst competing under pressure. None of this is achieved without proper training and understanding of fundamental movement patterns.

Movement however, in this modern world of instant gratification and impatience for change-driven objective results, is not a quantifiable measure of performance as time and numbers. Movement is a qualitative measure of health which cannot be reduced to a competitive exercise. Herein lies the challenge for fitness professionals working with the mainstream public or within the rehabilitation field: How to teach quality of movement as a performative aspiration before quantifying results through numerical benchmarks?.

You see it everyday at training facilities, on internet forums and magazines; ways to achieve quantifiable results in the shortest period of time. “My goal is to deadliftlift 400lb before Xmas”, or “I want to run a marathon under 3 hours”, or “Improve my FRAN time under 4 minutes”, and so on. Most would not care how they look getting to these results, as it´s all about the result which can be objectively stated. Professional athletes are usually exceptions to this rule, as they depend on results to make a living, but they have usually achieved a high level of movement competency along the way.

For 99% of the population however, the question could be whether achieving objective ´performance´ results in favour of long-term quality movement habits is really a question that arises on a day-to-day basis?. This is where the professionals need to step up to the mark. Most average people exercising for health benefits and enjoyment should be encouraged to work within the parameters of proven programmes that gradually increase performance through sensible periodization and measurable feedback. It is simply too much to ask the amateur gym-goer to be able to adjust their training each and every time they feel the effects of multiple variables effecting their daily performance. But it must be the prerogative of trainers and gym owners to ensure a baseline of movement quality is instilled into members before starting rep. counting, loading or time factors.

We are all born with amazing flexibility and mobility, but reinforce bad habits and patterns of movement as we age. The common ankle, knee, hip and shoulder mobility issues are all too plain to see, as is poor core stability and spinal weakness. No one has a place, or will gain any significant longterm benefits by stacking plates on barbells until these essential areas of mobility are trained back to their intended function. To do this takes time for most, and to reinforce bad habits by loading weight and forcing advanced movement patterns only leads to unspecific injury caused by inadequate foundational conditioning.

What happens when poor mobility is overlooked for objective gains in the weight room, or when exercise is turned into a competitive venture?. Compensatory form (as an adaptive function of our evolutionary makeup) takes place, often unilaterally, which reinforces already poor mobility. Commonly seen in the squat, push-up or shoulder press, hip weakness and shoulder collapse makes for awful looking movement.

The solution is to get back to basics and teach control of movement through bodyweight training and quadrupedal walking. Teach the integrative form of different fundamental movements and breathing techniques and reinforce this until weaknesses are ironed out, strength is gained, and a platform is laid out for more specific functional progress. Instead of looking at your strengths, look at your weaknesses, and build upon them to integrate your body and mind into a strong and stable performing unit. Isolating body parts or movements because you are strong at them, or forcing movements the body is not prepared for is simple nonsensical.

Kettlebells are one outstanding aid not only for screening poor movement but for strengthening symmetrical and proprioceptive awareness throughout the body. Foundational movements such as the swing, Turkish Get Up, press and snatch cannot be performed without this “core” awareness, or you will simply fall over. And maybe get a bell landing on your head. I firmly believe in the kettlebell being of huge benefit to the future of mobility training in the huge proportion of the modern population who struggle to perform basic movements such as the squat with ease and efficiency. Spinal shortening is all to common with the aging process, and the cumulative effects of compensatory measures to counter hip immobility has disastrous consequences.

The way we move and interact with our environment are fundamental parts of our integrative way of life. If we are forced to inhibit ourselves in any way from moving freely, it has a spinoff effect on our whole performative sense of being, both physically and emotionally.

Movement patterns were bestowed upon us at birth and are a primordial component of humanity. We owe it to ourselves to avoid dysfunctional limitations that come about by lethargic modern lifestyles as well as looking too readily for quantifiable objective results which bypass fundamental movement patterns that are at the essence of true qualitative fitness and performance standards.

For an immediate start on the road to proper mobility, I thoroughly recommend


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