Train Movements Not Muscles

What is exercise? Exercise is physical effort with the purpose of creating a specific adaptation. Whether you aim to gain muscle, improve endurance, lose weight, or simply maintain your health, exercise requires movement. While there are thousands of exercises, the human body only moves in a handful ways, and these movement patterns create the foundation for successful exercise. The ability to perform these movements properly must exist in order for exercise to be truly effective.

The foundations for movement and balance are developed very early in life. Take learning to walk for example. As an infant, your movement capabilities are limited but they are very calculated. A baby begins on it’s back flailing arms and legs in order to develop core strength. Next the baby rolls over on their belly and will creep, almost like a combat crawl before rising to a full crawling position. Now crawling the baby is learning to move opposing limbs together (right leg and left arm / left leg and right arm). This is building even more core strength and stability as the baby moves closer to walking. Eventually the baby will try to stand up, this is usually done by grabbing a hold of something and sitting into a perfect squat before standing up (and usually tipping over). Now the baby has developed enough core strength and motor control of their limbs to start walking. There are no cues from a coach or manual for developing these skills. We are simply born with inherent movement capabilities, but unfortunately these skills fade over time if not used regularly.

As toddlers we can sit in a perfect squat or touch our toes without giving it a second thought, but as adults we find ourselves severely limited in some of the most basic of movements. This is the result of behaviors and stressors that affect us over time, creating dysfunction in our movement and therefore dysfunction in the way we exercise. A dysfunction will be persistent so long as it is consistently reinforced or unchallenged. Something as simple as carrying a heavy bag over the same shoulder every day can cause severe asymmetry in upper body movements. Wearing high heels every day, or sitting at a desk for 40 plus hours per week can cause severe dysfunction of lower body movements. Now, when you go to the gym to lift weights or go out for a run your dysfunctions are magnified and are further reinforced. By putting more stress on a dysfunctional movement pattern you are putting yourself at great risk for injury and decreasing your ability to adapt to your training.

With that said, our ability to move properly should take priority over training intensity and volume. Basically, learn to move well first, then hit the weights or start running. Gray Cook, a highly respected physical therapist and strength coach, and the co-founder of Functional Movement Systems explains the relationship between exercise and movement quality as a seed planted in soil. Training, or exercise, is the seed and the body’s movement capabilities are the soil. If the soil is rich, it will support the seed which will grow. However if the soil lacks nutrients the seed will not be supported and will not grow. Basically, if you have movement limitations and/or dysfunctions, your body will be less likely to grow and adapt to your training. By developing good movements you are increasing the effectiveness of exercise.

Now that you understand the importance of developing good movement and how it will make your training more effective, I urge you to try the Self Movement Screen. This screening can be done at home and is very basic. It has been developed by Gray Cook and the movement specialists at Functional Movement Systems, and will provide you with an easy way to test your movement capabilities and identify areas that you may need to improve. Be honest with your scoring and open to making improvements. Your body will thank you.

If you have any questions about developing better movement patterns or if you would like to learn more about how you can optimize your health and performance, contact the Ethos Fitness + Performance team or visit our Blog.