By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, RSCC
Our previous post dealt primarily with the concept of Energy Systems and how they relate to our training and conditioning. If you didn’t get a chance, you can check it out here.
And as promised, today’s topic will revolve around Movement Potential and Variability, as well the brain’s role in conditioning.
I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of Movement Potential and Variability is somewhat complicated, so I’ll try my best to clearly explain its role in conditioning. Our movement potential is what our body is capable of achieving, doing, or becoming in the future. Obviously certain persons have a larger potential for achieving more complicated movements, but everybody has a certain amount of “human movement potential.”
In the role of conditioning, our movement determines both our energy production as well as our energy expenditure. For example, inefficient movement results in a lower quality transfer of forces to the environment. In this situation, we can use the analogy of a car that is out of alignment, or is driving while the emergency brake is on. This is not the ideal environment for the car. It still runs, and you can still get to where you need to be, but it requires a greater amount of work (energy) to do so. Inefficient movement in the human body could be due to poor running mechanics, improper energy system development, sub-optimal power to weight ratio, muscle imbalances, and so on. On the other hand, very efficient movement expends the least amount of energy.
Our Movement Potential is largely determined by various “movement qualities,” such as:
- Joint Mobility/Stability
- Joint Stiffness
- Lever Length
- Muscle Fiber Size/Type
- Fascial Chains
These movement qualities are what determine how well we are able to move dynamically throughout a wide range of different patterns. Now, some of these traits are genetically inherited, but with proper training certain qualities can be enhanced. As we all know, some people are blessed with a capacity to run fast, move quickly, run for long periods, etc. However, the point I am trying to make is that movement is the culmination of many qualities and factors, and by training these qualities in a specific manner, we can influence our Movement Potential in a certain direction (run faster, run longer, be more reactive).
Movement Variability is defined as “the normal variations that occur in motor performance across multiple repetitions of a task.” Whether you know it or not, no two movements that we do are identical. There are so many environmental factors that affect how we move. Simple tasks like getting up from the couch will always be slightly different. Even with professional athletes (where it appears they LACK variability because they are so consistent performing a certain task, such as swinging a bat, shooting a basketball, throwing a football), they actually have GREATER Movement Variability than the average person. This greater Movement Variability gives an athlete the flexibility to solve a variety of movement “problems” more effectively.
According to Jamieson, the goal of training “is not to perfect a single movement pattern or patterns, but rather to develop the greatest range of stable movement variability while preparing the body and brain for the specific environment – no such thing as the same movement twice.” In other words, we need to prepare the body to meet a variety of tasks, and allow it to find the best way to perform those specific tasks.
Of course, this “potential” and “variability” are controlled by the brain. The brain plays an understated but immensely important role in conditioning. We commonly assume that conditioning, or being well-conditioned, is all about the heart and the cardiovascular system. That is part of the picture, but body is much more complex than that.
The body always seeks to maintain homeostasis (stability) through allostasis. During training, we are introducing the body to a wide array of environments and stimuli, and the body is constantly adjusting for the specific purpose of energy production. In other words, the brain determines the needs that must be met INSIDE the body in order to meet the demands OUTSIDE the body. This leads the body to either increase energy production or increase energy storage.
Whenever we discuss training and conditioning, we must also discuss decision-making and motivation. The brain obviously is the prime player in this process, as well.
In any decision regarding movement and performance, the brain will essentially perform a “cost-benefit analysis.” How hard we work (motivation) is about predicted utility versus predicted costs, as well as any risk.
When training or coaching conditioning specific tasks, it’s important to reinforce the benefits and downplay the cost of the work to be done. We don’t need to be shady or backhanded about our approach, but designing a program that shows constant progress is important to keep motivation high.
According to Jamieson, “when the brain and body are prepared for the environment and there is motivation, movement performance is high. When they are not, the result is fatigue and a decrease in movement efficiency and skill execution.”
The brain is obviously a massively complex processing system, and it’s role is to take in as much information as possible about the internal and external environment and make the necessary adjustments to maintain homeostasis. The job of a coach and training program is to PREPARE the brain and body for the environmental demands.
Just remember that “movement variability is the oil to the central nervous system.” Sometimes having stiffness in a movement is a good thing, sometimes we need to be free and loose. We can target and train certain qualities (fiber size/type, joint stiffness/mobility/stability) to help achieve our goals. But we must also prepare the body to operate under a variety of conditions while performing a variety of tasks. The body will self organize itself and find the best way. Allow it to happen.
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