How many ways are there to move?
Whilst this is a rhetorical question likely without a definitive answer, it’s one worth pondering.
We have the obvious basic forms of human locomotion such as crawling, walking and running. As well as the unstructured examples we see, such as the free-play we associate with children (sadly less so with adults…), more varied and without real purpose or intent.
We also have more structured approaches such as Yoga, Pilates, Martial Arts and Gymnastics to name a few. In which we have deliberate patterns or routines of movement with an intended purpose/outcome.
There are the team and individual sports that we may play recreationally or professionally, as well as the movements we typically associate with resistance training in which external resistance is used. Such as those that you’d find within a gym setting, or more specialised sports such as Powerlifting, Strongman and Olympic Lifting.
Yet fundamentally each of these are an example of the same human system of movement at play.
This is the interplay between the nervous, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine and integumentary systems (amongst a host of others such as the visual and auditory systems…), to create an outcome to meet the demands of a task.
The brain and body doesn’t differentiate between whether we’re running to play Football or running away from a perceived threat. They’re movement one of the same, only the imposed context differs.
Within each of these examples we also have a fundamental constant at play that we often fail to appreciate, Gravity.
Gravity is a fundamental component of the physics we all encounter living on earth.
Movement is simply the process of interacting with the internal and external forces to achieve an outcome.
Whether this be moving from one place to another, performing a back flip, or picking up a weight from the floor, it’s all one of the same fundamentally. I’m either overcoming the forces at play or yielding to them.
Discussions and disagreements regarding what examples of movement we use, are often based around black and white thinking with regards to which approach we take. What we perceive to be the “best” approach in learning to both accept and create force.
But we can simply the argument by looking at movement on a spectrum of force management.
We don’t need buckets or boxes of movement to exist, or black and white thinking to occur, because there is no clear delineation between with regards to movement.
It’s the interplay of the same systems against the same forces, regardless of what we name it.
Learning to Accept Force
As we mentioned above, Gravity is a fundamental constant. We are always having to deal with this fact whether we’re upright, bending over, or laying down.
To accept forces, the body needs to be able to yield against not only the external forces being applied to us, but also the internal forces within us.
Let’s use a bodyweight squat as very simplified example…
We may all have seen, or are ourselves, an individual who can effortlessly drop into a bum-to-heel deep squat and rest there without issue. Or reach down and not only touch our toes, but get both palms flat. Moving as if there is next to no resistance whatsoever to the task being performed.
In both examples, this individual is demonstrating the capacity to yield and accept the forces being applied both internally and externally to meet the task demands.
With the squat, muscles can alter position to allow force to travel through them. Connective tissues can disperse the force to allow movement to occur. The pelvic diaphragm can descend enough relative to the forces being applied to enable them to move vertically downwards without resistance. There is a greater input of energy than there is being produced.
We may also have seen, or are ourselves, an individual who can barely break 90 degrees of hip flexion within a bodyweight squat without discomfort and a large degree of effort to move or maintain position.
In this example, muscle position cannot be altered sufficiently and connective tissues cannot yield enough to movement to occur. Force is not being dispersed throughout the system and we cannot achieve the orientation of the pelvic diaphragm we need to move vertically downward. In this case, there is greater energy output than there is input.
Is one of the examples right and one wrong?
It depends on the context and the intended outcome.
Learning to Create Force
Accepting force is just one part of the equation however.
Movement is a balance between accepting and creating force. If we want to move against, not with, the forces around us, we have to learn to create force ourselves.
To create force we need to be able to contract against resistance.
We need muscles to be able to access a concentric (shortening) orientation to produce force.
We need connective tissues to yield just enough to enable us to move into position, storing energy, but still release enough energy against the force needed to move against resistance.
We need to be able to pressurise the body internally, both within the ribcage and pelvis, to create the positions needed to apply force against, to meet the demands of the task.
This is an ongoing balancing act, and one that we continue to battle against across our lifespan.
Accepting enough force for sufficient movement to occur, creating enough force for the task to be completed
We can use walking as a quick representation of this balancing act in real time.
I’m stood stationary. Feet together. Gravity pushing down on me.
To take a step forward with my right leg, I need to produce force against gravity and my own body to move the limb forward (Newton’s First Law).
Yet as soon as my right foot contacts the floor again, I now need to accept the force of contacting the floor (eg. gravity plus bodyweight), slowing the limb down, absorbing…, but not so much that I now collapse into the floor and cannot continue moving forward.
To continue forward I now need to now create enough force again on the opposing limb to then leave the ground and take my next step forward.
Create – Accept – Create – Accept
Whilst this is a vastly over reductive view of locomotion, it provides a starting point into how we can begin to view movement on a spectrum of force management.
Application into the Training Process
When working with a client, this is one of the first considerations we can make regarding the direction we take with training.
Where on this spectrum do they fall…
Are they someone who is struggling with being able to accept force, possibly presenting with an injury to an area in which the load cannot be evenly distributed?? (e.g. a runner with pain on the inside of the knee?)
In this case, they may benefit from training strategies to increase they way in which they can distribute force within the body, limiting the focal loading on one area… (eg. inside of the knee).
Are they someone who is very capable of accepting force, but has limited capacity to create force to meet the demands of a task? (eg. a very “flexible” Yogi who struggles within tasks requiring greater levels of force production)
Would this individual benefit therefore from training strategies to create the necessary muscular orientation and thoraco-abdominal pressure needed to increase force production?
Or are they an individual already capable of producing force without time constraints, but would like to increase the speed at which they create this force? (eg. a Rugby Player who is undoubtedly strong but cannot create force in an appropriate timescale to make use of this strength)
Would this individual therefore benefit from strategies to increase the rate at which force is being produced? (eg. training for greater “power” production)
With this view point in mind, we can begin to see how we can take these expressions of human movement, from simple walking/jogging, all the way through to a sports such as Olympic Lifting, and recognise how we’re simply dealing with the ability to either accept or create force.
The differentiating factor between being the way in which these forces are managed.
In future insights we will look deeper at how we can take this idea of force acceptance and production further, and look at specific examples of how we modify exercises to favour one end of this spectrum over another.