Jackie Wright: Mastering movement patterns
The Fitness Trail
Movement is the foundation of fitness. Our bodies have over 600 muscles and are well designed to move the body through space and time. Consequently, mastering movement patterns positively contributes to the process of becoming fit, and to continually improving your fitness level throughout life.
Some movement patterns are more challenging for us to learn than others. For example, a biceps curl is a fairly simple, single-joint movement pattern and may not require a great deal of practice to master.
However, a squat or lunge, which are multiple joint movement patterns (i.e. hip/knee/ankle), may require a great deal more preparation and practice to master. Consequently, while we must stabilize the body during a biceps curl, and this is critical to the safety and effectiveness of the exercise, a squat or lunge require a well-developed kinesthetic awareness (i.e. where you are at in space and time) to perform optimally.
As an example, prior to performing a squat, you must learn to hinge from the hip joint, place your body weight predominately into your heels, track your knees over the heels to mid-foot, and engage your core adequately enough to maintain a neutral, uncompromised spine in order to create a quadriceps-dominate movement pattern. Therefore, if the movement pattern is more complex, as in this case, rehearsing and mastering the pattern prior to adding external load, is advisable.
So, prior to picking up a dumbbell, or other external load when learning a movement pattern, perform the movement pattern without any external load first. Not only does this prepare the body for the pattern by reinforcing the action (i.e. the rehearsal effect), it enables you to correct negative compensations prior to adding external load. If you are unable to perform the pattern successfully without external load, there is little value, and perhaps a great deal of risk, in attempting to add external load.
An example of mastering a squat movement pattern at different progressions might be to begin with an unloaded supported squat, followed by a free-standing unsupported unloaded squat, then perhaps to adding a light kettlebell during an unsupported squat. At this point, gradually adding more external load to your unsupported squat, while never compromising the pattern, may be a good strategy (i.e. the heavier the load = more stability/rigidity required of the body to support the additional load).
However, you may also attempt a Smith Machine bar squat, initially with just the bar (i.e. usually approximately 25 pounds.) and then progressively adding plates to the bar increasing external load. Once you have mastered the fixed Smith Machine bar squat, it may be time to attempt a “free-bar” squat. This progression may initially create a “regression” in external load as the free bar squat requires significantly more core strength and stability.
In fact, you may begin with a very light free barbell mastering the movement pattern once again with this “new” variable. And, progressing with a free barbell may take considerably longer than with a fixed bar or dumbbells, etc. Your first priority must be to protect the integrity of the movement pattern.
As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Jackie Wright is the owner/manager of Mountain Life Fitness LLC in Granby. She may be reached at her website at http://www.mtnlifefitness.com, her email at firstname.lastname@example.org and her Facebook page at Mountain Life Fitness.
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