23 Jun Movement: Quality & Quantity
by Derek Hessing
Movement: Quality & Quantity
Do your knees ache when you run or walk for long periods of time? Have you given up on doing pushups and situps because they make your back hurt? Are you trying to get stronger lifting weights but your numbers aren’t budging? Look around the fitness community and you’ll see these little nuggets of advice flying around:
NO PAIN NO GAIN!
IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU DO, JUST DO IT!
It sounds reasonable, right? Exercise makes you healthier, so more is better, right? RIGHT?! Yet, despite gyms popping up on every corner, an ever expanding collection of home exercise videos, and 5K races every weekend, the nation as a whole doesn’t seem to be getting healthier, and we have yet to spawn a generation of superhumans. So what’s the deal? What are we missing?
The answer, if you ask me, is quality. We are so concerned with how much we move, we forgot to think about how well we move. You see, our bodies are very sophisticated machines. We’re built to last and built to perform. The strongest tendons in our bodies can hold upwards of 1,000 lbs, our bones are strong as iron, and our muscles, when contracted maximally, are strong enough to break those bones. When the system is working properly, human beings are capable of amazing things, but when that movement quality is lost, we’re set up for injury and chronic pain. Here are a few examples for your viewing pleasure.
You can probably tell which examples are the good ones and which are the bad, even if you’re not an exercise expert. Good movement is, at some level, instinctive.
Imagine driving with a spare tire. It’s fine for a while, but after a few hundred miles, problems start to arise. Less than optimal movement patterns and habits take a toll over time, resulting in limited performance, chronic pain, and potentially catastrophic injury. Put that into a training context by adding weight or fatigue, and those problems start to show up sooner rather than later. It’s no wonder a lot of people give up their efforts to exercise and be healthy when they’ve hardly begun. If it hurts to run, why would you keep doing it? The good news is, our bodies are built to last. With proper care and high quality movement patterns, our tissues can operate at close to optimal levels for 80+ years. The key is to ensure the machine is well oiled and all the parts are working well as a whole. And here’s a cool bonus! The safest, most functional movement patterns are usually the strongest.
Try this quick experiment: Put your elbow next to your ribcage and your fist pointed straight up. (Think of the success kid meme) Then have a buddy pull down on your fist. They might be able to pull you down, but you’ll be able to put up a pretty good fight. Now try that same exact thing, but tilt your fist back a bit, so your palm is pointed more toward the sky. Now have your friend push down on your hand. Not nearly as strong, are you? There’s a good reason for this.
With your wrist straight (neutral) the force from your buddy yanking down on your fist is transferred directly through your forearm and elbow, which is braced against the strong muscles of your core. When your wrist is bent even slightly out of alignment, all that force is focused into the relatively weak wrist joint. Your brain knows that there’s no way you can manage that weight just with your wrist, so it shuts the system down to save you from injuring yourself. Obsoive…
This principle applies to just about any move you can make. The stronger your position, the more force you can actually produce. Optimal performance always starts with strong movement quality!
So how do you know the difference between functional and dysfunctional movement? Between efficient and inefficient, strong and weak? Fortunately, movement quality isn’t a new idea. Formalized methods of movement have been around just about as long as human beings have. Each has its own methodology, pedagogy, and even philosophy. Whether it’s dance, martial arts, yoga, pilates, gymnastics, weightlifting, or even parkour, every formalized movement system has its own way of teaching healthy and strong movement skills. Pick one or several and dive in! Commit yourself to moving well, then moving often. Be happy, be strong, live like a badass.