by Spencer Brown
The topic of movement competency has received little attention in the scientific literature away from elite level sports performance. However, there are a few dedicated professionals who are striving to bring this topic to a wider audience with a view to increase people’s awareness of its importance for the reduction of unnecessary injuries.
Each of us has a basic requirement to overcome our body mass and gravity in order to move across the ground. This movement requires certain levels of strength so we do not place excessive stress on our muscles, connective tissues and joints. Whether we want to walk, run, jump, throw, kick or catch, we all have to demonstrate the following:
- force production/reduction
- force stabilisation
- force absorption
The above points, then, form the foundations of human movement competency. An inability to demonstrate any of the above fundamentals (at varying thresholds) may lead the participant on a journey towards below optimum performance and injury. Because the body will always seek to compensate for areas of weakness, poor movement patterns can expose those areas that require attention.
Mechanical vs. Metabolic
A common, and seemingly logical, assumption made by many is to focus their training on increasing oxygen consumption (VO2), endurance capacity and speed. I’m not suggesting that these factors are not important or that you shouldn’t train to improve them. Rather, the greatest weakness in people’s physical limitations is the omission of mechanical efficiency and resilience. By this I mean that the above movement basics (production, stabilisation, absorption) are poor. So when we think of human physical performance in this way, it seems logical to focus on the movement skills needed for a given task before we start to focus on other requirements.
‘the swimmer needs to learn the correct stroke pattern first, being fit is not enough’
Sports requiring competency in technical movement skills naturally take the participant on a journey of learning these skills. But how many of you have thought about learning how to walk, run, jump and land? Probably not many of you. However, these are complex skills which many of us are not very good at doing, and just like the finer technical aspects of a swimming stroke or tennis serve, can be learned and mastered to enhance our performance. Whether you’re a coach or participant it would seem sensible, therefore, to ensure that movement competency remains a preliminary focal point from which other physical performance characteristics can develop.
Injury Prevention vs. Performance Enhancement
Unlike mechanical and metabolic training principles, there is no definitive line where one moves from prevention to performance, and many may argue that they are one in the same. This is true when you consider the athlete returning from injury, at what point do they cross from one to the other? This paradigm is one that I come across every day which needs to be monitored with care. In my experience trainers and coaches can place too much emphasis on enhancing performance with little regard for injury prevention. Amateur level sports participants (including recreational gym goers) need to place more of an emphasis on movement competency by making sure they acquire the correct mechanical skills needed for the task at hand.
Figure 1. Circuit class member presenting with back/shoulder pain (left); Military Fitness member presenting with anterior knee pain & lower back pain (right).
Many injuries can be avoided by first identifying poor movement ability. Furthermore, many exercisers risk injury by lifting too much weight, executing with poor form or a combination of the two. Similarly, many group fitness class goers are risking injury through repetitive poor movement mechanics. Sadly the images above are all too familiar and something which I have witnessed many times in my clinic, Body Pump, Zumba and Boot Camp-style fitness classes!
In summary my message is this:
Movement competency IS important! Teach/learn the basics well and try not to place initial training emphasis on solely performance outcomes (speed, distance, load, strength, power etc.). Rather, focus on eradicating poor and/or compensatory movement patterns. Mechanical factors need to be addressed first, and then focus on the metabolic ones. Only then can the human body continue its journey towards genetic potential.