“Why movement matters”, by Jon Nicholson

01 Mar

Jon Nicholson is leading the next Crossfit London UK Mobility workshop : The Squat Pattern, and if you don’t have your ticket yet, now is the time to get booking. It’s on the 26 of March. Time, and tickets, are running out.

Jon is a Feldenkrais practitioner, and has attended (and loved) the Crossfit London UK i-Course. To give you an insight into some of his methods, Jon has kindly agreed to write the following article for us.

Why Movement Matters by Jon Nicholson

A functional framework for optimal training and performance

I want to start at the beginning with the very basics – not even the basics of exercising but go right back to the basics of what it means to be a living, breathing animal. So what am I talking about? It seems too obvious to say, but, in the world of fitness, strength and conditioning, even rehabilitation, it’s an idea often overlooked. Simply this: “movement”

Movement is the stuff of life – whether it’s in the gym, whether it’s the daily routine of our lives. We move. But why should this idea form a useful first approach to optimal training, exercise, or rehabilitation? Well, if we start with movement, we begin to put physical structures like muscles and fascia and concepts like mobility, stability and posture into their correct place and context. In other words, the basics provide a framework for correct understanding.

With so many methods, approaches, techniques and practices out there, it can be confusing trying to decide what is useful or not; actually, they can all be useful … once you have a framework for understanding from which to make the best choices and decisions about your training and lifestyle.

So, what do I mean by “movement” or how can we think about it more precisely?  We could by start trying to analyse movement by cutting the body into its individual parts to identify them; but, that would make us anatomists. So, let’s not do that; instead,  let’s be “movement-ists” and look at what human movement really is – what defines it.

In the case of all vertebrate animals (and that includes us!) the clue is in the word ‘vertebrate’ – it’s the skeleton that defines movement. Our bones define our shape, and our joints define how our bones can move relative to each other. Together, our bones and its articulations are the blueprint for all possible movement.. Once we understand that, we can look at muscular, fascial or neuromuscular issues as the difference between what our skeletal limits are, and how we are currently moving; or as my colleague, Jo Webster, neatly puts it, “the difference between what you can and can’t do as opposed to what you will and won’t do.”

Now, I’m not saying muscles aren’t important (and, for a professional I believe it is important to have a thorough understanding of muscular anatomy) – they act across joints to pull on the bones to create the movement in those joints; but it’s not the muscles that define movement. Often you’ll hear people talking about movement issues with reference to obscurely Latin-named muscles. But specifying the bones, joints, and the terms for movement “flexion”, “extension”, “abduction”, “external rotation” – that’s the real language of movement.

What are the practical advantages of thinking in terms of movement?

It’s easier for anyone understand. We can all see and feel skeletal movement ourselves, where the body bends and where it doesn’t.  As leading manual therapy author, Eyal Lederman, says: “…there is no need to know the complex and exact anatomy of muscles for effective neuromuscular rehabilitation. The focus is on movement capacity and not in individual muscles.” By paying attention to our own movement, we can begin to understand what is happening in our bodies and learn to trust our own experience; rather than just accept the outside authority of some expert.

When we run into physical problems, it offers a more useful perspective. Most people don’t obsess about the state of their coracobrachialis or semispinalis dorsi, but they do care if they can’t walk, run, jump, climb. Even for the physical therapist or exercise coach, it can be far more helpful to think in terms of the movement. Are we working with a “psoas problem”, or is it the ability to fold at the hip joints independent of flexing or extending the back that’s the real problem?

It mirrors the concept of functional exercise. A bodybuilder or “yoga-ciser” might be interested in what muscles they’re “working”, but someone interested in functional fitness isn’t. We’re interested in what we’re “do”-ing. For example, would you rather train the gluteal muscles in isolation, or the practical function of hip extension?

This is how the real experts in human movement think – the sports coaches, the dance teachers, the old boxing coaches – not necessarily people who’ve spent a lot of time in the library but people who’ve learnt what they know by time served watching, teaching, and moving themselves. They have a deep, intuitive grasp of human movement. They might not have an explicit framework with which to express themselves like an anatomist; but they have what really matters – understanding. “You need to put a little more hip into it …”

Well, so much for theory… how about some practice?

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”

To understand how this different perspective can change how you think about your body and movement, here’s a short experiment for you to try out for yourselves.

Experiment #1: Where does my arm start?

If you ask most people where they think their arm starts, they’ll usually reply with somewhere in the region of where an arm plugs in on a Star Wars figure, or a Barbie doll (… so I’m told!). That’s useful if we’re saying something like “I’ve got a nice tangood definitionnasty skin rash developing on my arms, but not on my torso”. However, as people interested in functional fitness, we’re a little unlikely to say something like that. We’d be much more interested in a question like “When I move my arm, what happens?;  and when we start to think in terms of the skeleton – which bones move in which joints –  the answers can be surprising:

1. Lie down with your back flat on the floor – legs long or feet standing, whatever is most comfortable. (You can try this out sitting or standing, if you prefer, but sit up rather than slouch in the sofa or hunch over a desk. You might have to translate the instructions a bit too…)

2. Let your right arm hang by your side so your hand is by your hip, and then reach your left hand over your right shoulder. Feel around your shoulder-blade until you can really make a solid connection with its bony shape and hard surface texture. You should be able to find a ridge running across near the top of it which is an ideal place for your fingertips to hook onto.

3. Now raise your right arm out to the side, while keeping the elbow straight. Make sure you keep your arm in the same plane as your torso – so your hand doesn’t move in front of your body or behind it. Raise the arm until it’s above shoulder height with your upper arm close to the side of your head, then reverse the movement back down.

Slowly repeat this action a few times, all the time feeling for the movement of your shoulder-blade with your left hand. As you’re moving your right arm, do you feel a point where your shoulder-blade starts to move as well?

4. Straighten your right arm out to the side at 90 degrees, so that your hand is now lying on the floor at same height as your shoulder.

Now, keeping the height of your arm level with your shoulder and with the elbow straight, lift your arm to move your hand in front of yourself, crossing your mid-line (the line of your sternum). Repeat this a few times, slowly enough to feel the movement of your shoulder-blade with your left hand. When your arm starts to cross your mid-line, does your shoulder-blade start to move?

5. Again, start with your right arm lying straight out to your side at 90 degrees, with your hand the same height as your shoulder. This time, close your hand into a soft kind of fist, and then start to rotate your arm so your hand goes from palm down to palm up. Keep rotating your arm, going slowly enough that you can really feel any movement of your shoulder-blade. Rotate further and further until you’re rolling your arm all the way as far as you can – do you feel a point where your shoulder-blade starts to join in the movement?

You can quite easily feel that the bone of your upper arm (the humerus) is  attached to your shoulder blade at the shoulder joint. However, the shoulder-blade has NO skeletal connection – that is, no articular joint – with   your ribs or spine. So, how is your shoulder-blade connected to the rest of  your body? Let’s find out:

6. With your left hand, find your right collarbone. It runs across the front of your body from one tip of your shoulder-blade to your breastbone. Make a good connection with it so, again, with your fingertips ,can really feel the hard bony surface.

Repeat movements #3-5 again, this time feeling the movement of your collarbone under your fingers. It’s a lot smaller movement, so you’ll have to go slowly. Again – can you feel when the collarbone joins in the movements of the rest of the arm? Feel this along the length of your collarbone – at the end nearest your shoulder, then at the end nearest your breast bone.

The arm-bone connects to your shoulder blade, which connects to the torso via your collar bone!

7. Feel your way down your collarbone to the sternum or breastbone. Again repeat the three movements of the arm in steps #3-5. This time see if you can feel the movement in the joint where your collarbone joins the sternum. You could try putting one finger on the collarbone and another on the breastbone, or just feel the joint itself under your fingers while slowly going through the movements.

8. Finally, take your left hand away and go through the movements again, and this time see if you can feel the movement of your collarbone and the movement in the joint between your collarbone and your sternum (the sterno-clavicular joint) – kinaesthetically, in your “felt-sense”.

Now come back to our original question and ask – functionally – in terms of movement: “Where does my arm start?”

So, next time you’re in the gym or just out and about, maybe take a moment to think about your movement: your skeleton; what’s moving, which bones, in which joints. Observe someone else’s movement. If you have access to a skeleton, take look at where the joints are and see how they move. You’ll start to gain a new appreciation for how we’re designed to move and how the skeleton is our blueprint for action!


Check out Jons site at http://www.totalbiomechanix.com/



One thought on ““Why movement matters”, by Jon Nicholson

Comments are closed.

Pin It on Pinterest