What are “Movement Patterns” and Why Do They Matter to Me?

The body is one piece. This is a fact. We have two eyes, two ears, one mouth, and one heart. We have a torso, arms and legs. Generally, the are all connected to each other.

Many well-intentioned people in the fitness industry break it down even further . We have a bicep muscle in each arm. We have pecs, we have lats, we have four muscles on the front of the thigh that we collectively call your quadriceps. We have these little muscles in the shoulder that make up your “rotator cuff”  that a lot of people get really worried about, especially if you throw things (in your sport or in anger).

But you know what? We are controlled by one brain, and one spinal cord. These components house all the information your body is sending and receiving. It responds to thoughts such as:

“Bend down to pick up that pencil”

“Squat down to pet that cute dog”

“Run away from that freaky clown” (or it should say that!)

 

Why should you care about this? Because our body thinks in patterns. Push, pull, bend, squat, carry. To get through life, the body moves one integrated unit. Multiple muscles performing varying tasks, from stabilizing to moving, in the proper sequence at the same time to accomplish the desired task. It’s actually harder than you realize, and most of the time you won’t realize until you can no longer do it.

For some reason, the concept of full body integration is lost in many exercise programs for athletes. If a majority of you program looks something like “bicep curl”, “tricep extension” “deltoid lateral raise”, “hamstring curl”, then a crucial element is missing – connection. While these single-joint exercises can be helpful to build some muscle, it is important to make sure that larger, multi-joint movements are not forgotten. A program without a foundation of large, multi-joint movements is unlikely to be optimal; rather, it is a basic introduction to anatomy rather than to effectively improving your performance. Sure, it makes a trainer sound smart when they can spout off all these origin and insertion points, which nerves go where, different levers and whatnot. But moving one joint at a time is very, very unlike what most of our daily life looks like.

 

Often times, these exercises are prescribed because larger, integrated movements like the deadlift and the squat were unable to be performed correctly. The integrated movements like these ones have always been, and always will be, the most important exercises. This is because they are the best to get you stronger (a later article will come with more info on that!).

Instead of correcting that movement, an examination of all the muscles that were supposed to be involved took place. This concept is called the “reductionist method”. We looked at your body, decided you didn’t move well enough to pick stuff up off the ground, or press it over your head, or any other integrated movement. You have trouble getting up and down off the ground, your shoulder just doesn’t want to lift too high for some reason, you get the picture. So, we gave you a bunch of different exercises for each “major muscle group” . We told you that if you got stronger on all these moves, you would feel better and those tough movements would get easier.

The problem is, you have all these muscles. That’s great. But building a resilient human being is not building Frankenstein. Exercising one muscle (or “muscle group”) at a time does not mean that when you try to use it together it will magically work. And this is where the anatomy method falls apart for building performance. This is where the fallacy occurred. Look back and notice above. Instead of helping you with your problem, we avoided it.

When looking at patterns, we see that a well performed deadlift requires a good hip hinge. This means that the hips shoot backwards (flex), the knees bend a bit without sliding too far forward, and the ankle stays relatively neutral, with maybe a small bit of bend. This is a well integrated pattern, where three joints (the ankle, hip and knees) are all doing co-ordinated movement. The parts method would say that if we can’t get into that hinge position, we should work on the quads, hamstrings and calves because those are all involved. It assumes that the pattern will naturally fix itself when the muscles are stronger, which is a VERY big “if”. What this fails to take into account is that strength was never the problem…it was the pattern.

Don’t get caught up in this muscle group or that, and should you be exercising it or not. Ask yourself instead: can you bend down and pick stuff up? Can you squat down to touch your butt to your ankles? Can you reach above your head for the box on the top shelf without pain? Am I getting better?

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