Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Human Movement Patterns and Their Relationship to Exercise Selection Part 1

As a coach, one of the most common questions I get is:

"How do you make a programme?"

People choose to follow certain regimes based on big goals such as losing weight, improving aerobic capacity and increasing muscle mass. While these are all worthwhile goals, they introduce most people (especially beginners) to a whole host of problems. Even taking aerobic capacity as an individual goal - there are literally hundreds of different protocols to follow, most of them with "scientific evidence" to back them up. To say that fitness and exercise can be a minefield is an understatement. 

As I spoke about specificity in a previous article, you may have started to think that "skill" based fitness had some validity to it. The purpose of this article is to expand upon that theory and introduce you to some different ways in which you may develop or adapt your own health and fitness programme.

Movement Planes

In Biomechanics we talk about movement planes (direction of movement) and how they relate to sport/human movement. Exercise, skills and daily tasks can all be categorised into one of three movement planes or a combination thereof. Why is this important? Well, if your health and fitness programme consists of movements through one plane and daily life/competition requires that you move in another plane then we can assume it may cause some problems due to lack of conditioning/function.

The movement planes are classed as Sagittal, Horizontal/Transverse and Frontal. The planes of motion are best thought of as an invisible wall that you would pass through during a certain movement (some people imagine a sheet of glass).

Including movements through all three planes is important as most athletic movements occur this way. Take a look at your current training programme – does it have movements/exercises that occur through multiple planes of motion (multi-planar)?

The Seven Basic Human Movements

Now that we are aware of the planes of motion we can also consider the concept of the seven basic human movements. It has been proposed that natural and functional human movement can be categorised into basic patterns. What are they?

  • Squat e.g. back squat, front squat, overhead squat
  • Lunge e.g. walking lunge, backwards lunge
  • Push e.g. press-up, bench press, overhead press
  • Pull e.g. pull-up, high pull
  • Bend e.g. deadlift, sit-up
  • Twist e.g. wood-chop
  • Gait e.g. walking, step-ups

You may have even followed programmes that touched on this concept – the push/pull routine in weight training is probably the most common example. The theory states that even complex movements can be categorised this way. So, if a person were competent in all seven movement patterns would they ultimately be a better athlete? It is certainly an interesting theory.

At low levels we could examine individual patterns for improvement but it is important to realise that nearly all athletic ability would require competence in multiple movement patterns. Indeed, it is a useful way to examine the complexity of an individual exercise or skill. If you’ve ever tried to master some of the Olympic lifts you’ll appreciate the following example:

Clean and Jerk (split) = Bend, Pull, Squat, Push, Lunge.

So, this theory also states that athletic ability can be improved by not only being competent at the individual movements but at combinations of them.

Weak Point Analysis and Correction

Following the concept of human movement patterns you can begin to analyse your health and fitness programme:

  • Do I regularly perform movements from each of the patterns?
  • Are there skills/movements that I struggle to learn/perform? Can these be attributed to a movement pattern weakness?
  • Does my existing programme overly favour a particular movement pattern? How useful is this movement pattern in relation to the demands of my life?

My advice would be to look at your existing health and fitness programme and ask yourself the questions above. Consider your own strength and weaknesses and use movement pattern analysis as a framework to make some changes if necessary. But remember, the analysis should always be based on you and your current goals.

As a basic guide, try to include an exercise from each group in your regular programming. Over time, work towards increasing your proficiency in each group.

Train hard!

Adapted from an article originally written for BritMMA

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