Why it’s important to expand your movement comfort zone!

Clark (1995) theorizes that there is a positive correlation between one’s motor skillfulness and daily activity level. This is important because of the rising obesity- and inactivity-related diseases in our society and the decreases in activity among everyone from children to adults. Low self-efficacy toward movement abilities and diminishing movement comfort zones play a role in these decreasing activity levels, and I believe it is our job as coaches and trainers to increase clients’ self-efficacy and movement comfort zones.

Self-efficacy is a person’s perception of his or her ability to successfully complete a certain task, and individuals tend to avoid tasks where their self-efficacy is low (Jongen et al., 2016). Based on this, Clark’s theory correlating motor skillfulness and one’s activity level isn’t too much of a stretch. People who don’t believe they can do activities are less likely to do them, but why don’t people believe they can do activities?

I think one reason people have low self-efficacy toward movement is that with less and less movement over time, movement comfort zones get smaller and smaller. Many adults spend a majority of their lives moving from chair to chair, and other movements aren’t practiced so they become less comfortable. Getting down to the floor and back up, for example, is something that rarely happens for many. This movement becomes out of their comfort zone, avoided, and soon enough, they can’t get down to the floor (or up from it).  As the old adage goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” and this applies to movement skill as well.

Dan John is a well-known strength coach who strongly advocates that everyone get down to the floor and back up 25 times a day to increase comfort on the floor and movement ability and as prevention for falls or fall-related injuries. He mentions research that showed people who had difficulty getting down to the floor and back up were five times more likely to die in the next six years than the participants who did the task with ease (Barwick, 2012; Barreto de Brito et al., 2012). Using these patterns on a regular basis is the best way to increase one’s comfort with them.

I also observe limited movement comfort zones in many kids, especially those who don’t regularly participate in sports or other exercise-based activities. Their movement comfort zones aren’t challenged, they don’t expand, and through their lives, these kids avoid more and more activities because they lack the self-efficacy to participate. One thing I do with the kids I coach is push the boundaries of their movement comfort zones. We crawl, roll, and tumble, practice handstands, climb cargo nets, and traverse monkey bars. I integrate this idealogy with adult clients and in my own life as well. I think the best way to increase movement self-efficacy and comfort zones is through repetitive practice of activities out of one’s comfort zone. This expands one’s comfort zone and provides experience-based evidence about how skillfulness in many movements can be easily obtained with practice.

References

Barreto de Brito, L. B., Ricardo, D. R., Soares de Araujo, D. S. M., Ramos, P. S., Myers, J., Soares de Araujo, C. G. (2012). Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 0(00), 1-7.

Barwick, T. (2012). Can you do this? Simple sitting test predicts longevity. NBC News. Retrieved from: http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/13/15870881-can-you-do-this-simple-sitting-test-predicts-longevity

Clark, J. E. (1995). On becoming skillful: Patterns and constraints. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 66(3), 173-183.

Jongen, P. J., Heerings, M., Ruimschotel, R., Hussaarts, A., Duyverman, L., van der Zande, A., & … Visser, L. H. (2016). Intensive social cognitive treatment (can do treatment) with participation of support partners in persons with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis: Observation of improved self-efficacy, quality of life, anxiety and depression 1 year later. BMC Research Notes, 91-8. doi:10.1186/s13104-016-2173-5

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Sprint Development and Motor Programming Theories

Sprinting is a motor skill used by many athletes to achieve goals in their particular sports. Soccer players sprint up and down a field chasing a soccer ball or opponent player and making breakaways. Baseball players sprint from base to base, and football players sprint to get the ball into the end zone or to make themselves available for a pass. Rugby, lacrosse, and basketball require running as well. These athletes must sprint quickly and efficiently to out-play opponents and sustain performance for the duration of a match. Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.  Successful sprinting relies on the reciprocal patterning of the arms and legs.  The left arm moves in the opposite direction of the right arm and left leg. Similarly, the right arm moves opposite of the left arm and right leg. A kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprinting by Bhowmick and Bhattacharyya (1988) demonstrated that this arm movement creates angular momentum to counterbalance the angular momentum produced by hip rotation from the leg movement, and it helps elicit forceful leg drive to increase the overall velocity forward.

Successful sprinting relies on the reciprocal patterning of the arms and legs.  The left arm moves in the opposite direction of the right arm and left leg. Similarly, the right arm moves opposite of the left arm and right leg. A kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprinting by Bhowmick and Bhattacharyya (1988) demonstrated that this arm movement creates angular momentum to counterbalance the angular momentum produced by hip rotation from the leg movement, and it helps elicit forceful leg drive to increase the overall velocity forward.

Utilizing the generalized motor program theory, I could improve an athlete’s running ability with drills that reinforce the reciprocal patterns of the arms and legs. Drills could initially start from the on floor, using Perry Nickelston’s (n. d.) Primal Gait exercise where, while lying prone, one presses his or her shoulder and the opposite thigh into the ground and extends the opposite shoulder and thigh away from the ground, then alternates to the reciprocal position. The next drill we can progress to is an arm and opposite leg raising from a quadruped position, followed by crawling in the quadruped position using the same reciprocal arm and leg motions. I could then progress my client to walking, or marching, upright with the reciprocal arm and leg patterning and implement another exercise such as a single leg step up with knee drive and reciprocal arm movement to increase strength, power, and stability in this pattern.

When searching the internet for the dynamic systems approach in relation to sprinting, the name Frans Bosch appears frequently. He is a well-known sprinting and jumping coach who consults for many European sports teams. It is a challenge to find original information from Frans Bosch on the internet that is free and in English, but available sources do indicate the value he places on using a dynamic systems approach to train athletes in a way that best transfers to their performance settings. Bosch uses unique coaching techniques and cues to elicit unconscious movement responses (West Ham United FC, 2014). Through drills, he aims to create conditions that optimize the self-organizing system’s chance of finding a satisfactory solution (Hargrove, 2016).

Frans Bosch’s ideas can be incorporated when using dynamic systems theory to develop sprinting. For example, the game of tag allows players to transition from standing still to walking to sprinting based on demands of the environment. This demonstrates the nonlinear behavior that is typical of dynamic systems as participants move through unsteady transition states to attractor ones. Further, the game of tag allows systems to self-organize into the best movement solution for given circumstance. Another possible exercise utilizing dynamic systems theory involves performing sprinting drills on varying terrain (i.e., sand, turf, dirt, grass, hills, winding path, straight path, etc.). This applies dynamic systems theory by altering the constraints of sprinting in order to develop robustness in the skill, another concept that Frans Bosch is a proponent of (West Ham United FC, 2014).

I think that both motor theories have a place in training a particular motor skill such as sprinting. As a coach, I apply both approaches, separately and together, to train my athletes. I progress players from generalized motor program-based drills for reciprocal patterning to dynamic systems drills that call for self-organization, environment-elicited behaviors, and nonlinear state transitions. My goal as a coach is to best prepare my athletes for sports performance and skill robustness to ensure success and reduce injury risk, and I believe that utilizing both systems is the best way to do that.

References

Bhowmick, S., & Bhattacharyya, A. (1988). Kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprint start [Abstract]. Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness, 28(4), 315-323.

Hargrove, T. (2016). Review of “Strength training and coordination: An integrative approach” by Frans Bosch. Better Movement by Todd Hargrove. Retrieved from http://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2016/review-of-strength-training-and-coordination-an-integrative-approach-by-frans-bosch

Magill, R. A., & Anderson, D. I. (2013). Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Nickelston, P. (n. d). Moving beyond mobility manual 2.0. Retrieved from stopchasingpain.com

West Ham United FC. (2014). The team behind the team [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0nZsAHdDyQ