Today's topic is a brief dive into essentially what my life's work in fitness and movement has all been about.
The intention of movement.
Have you ever wondered why or how performing simple tasks that don’t seem to cause you any immediate pain or discomfort can suddenly leave you in crippling agony, or lead to torn ligamentous tissue without a sudden sports injury?
Ever bent over to pick up the laundry basket, the same way you’ve done it 100 times, and suddenly tweak your back?
Or after years of not playing high school / college sports anymore, your chronic knee pain you’ve developed is diagnosed as torn meniscus and you go ahead and get surgery for it. A few years later, you’ve got the same issue again?
The human body is an amazing skeletal machine, held together by ligaments, and manipulated by muscles attached to the bony structures with tendons. With this machine we can accomplish some very incredible feats of movement and manipulation, even ones that look like they are not supported by good physics, and all the while, prevent injury to the structures that hold everything together.
But we are also capable of leveraging and applying force off the structures designed to bear load and putting it onto our bones, our ligaments, and our tendons. Fortunately, we aren’t so breakable that moving in such a manner guarantees we are going to break down, but when we are constantly grinding forces into structures not suited for those forces, eventually, something will have to give.
This is where the intention of movement comes in, and the theories behind it for moving effectively, efficiently, and safely.
Before I dive into that though, I want to clear some air.
There is no such thing as “bad posture.” There are postures our body is not prepared for, and there are postures we spend too much time in.
Understanding this core concept will help you move forward in understanding how to move intentionally, and recognizing what postures you spend too much time in and bringing your body back into balance.
The tensions we generally experience are as follows.
Muscular Efficient and Inefficient Tensions are two sides of the same coin. We can produce movement using both efficient and inefficient tension and generally speaking from the outside the movement appears to be exactly the same.
Let’s explore this a little deeper with some examples and analogies.
If you were to hold a glass full of water out in front of you, and pour it out slowly. If you were performing this movement with inefficient muscular tension, you may start to feel a nagging, burning, and otherwise uncomfortable sensation in your trapezius muscle or various neck muscles connected to the arm you’re pouring the liquid with. Inherently, you’re not doing anything that’s going to cause you injury, and you are accomplishing the goal of pouring out the liquid.
If you were to perform this same action, with muscular efficient tension, you would feel a work-like fatigue in the muscles of the shoulder, and the structure of the arm and the shoulder would be gently hugging your rib cage.
In the example of inefficiency, a group of muscles that are by design, more suited for other types and ranges of movement, have become the primary movement centers to create the action we are seeking. In a more lamens explanation, your trap and neck muscles are overpowering your rotator cuff muscles.
In the example of efficiency, the rotator cuff is engaged and working effectively, making it so the effort of the movement is balanced through the limb and not creating and nagging or painful tensions in the body, it is just producing efficient and effective work.
Ideally, we want to favor muscularly efficient tension, and identify movement patterns that rely on muscularly inefficient tensions so we can strengthen the muscles that aren’t pulling their weight, and identify muscles that may be suffering from being tight long, or tight short due to our average postures. Then we re-train our mechanics for the movement we are trying to accomplish in the most effective and efficient way for our body and our structures.
Pinching Tension is a tension sensation that we get when a muscle, nerve, or bone is pressed, pinched, or otherwise impeded by another muscle, or bone. It can also be experienced when we relax muscular flexion and “rest on the joints” of a particular structure.
Some examples to help build the understanding.
If you were to lower yourself into a squatting position, and at the bottom of your squat you relaxed and released the tension in your muscles, you would be transfering the weight that was being controlled by the muscular flexion, into the knee joint, putting all of that loaded weight directly onto the bones, and the ligaments.
On the surface, this looks, and probably doesn’t feel like it’s causing any damage. But, when forces are put onto structures such as that, over time, it wears them down, and grinds them. As well, the sudden reactivation of the muscles under load can absolutely pull and cause acute shifts in tension that can damage the structures.
An example of that, would be if you took a heavy load into your squat, relaxed the tension off the muscles into the knee joint, and then tried to reactivate the tension in an explosive motion upwards.
There is a reason why during movement we want to keep tension in our muscles until the movement is complete. It keeps the joints safe and unloaded!
Some other ways we can experience pinching tension is when we approach a stretching posture for a muscle group, but through either faulty mechanics or structural inability, the tension of the stretch is placed directly onto a joint or juncture that is not the intended area of stretching.
A good example of this is if you attempt to enter into a pigeon stretch or pose, and begin feeling tension inside of your knee, as opposed to your hip or hamstring complex.
Another way we experience pinching tension is much more apparent. If a nerve is placed into pinching tension we will typically get a “shock” of either pain or numbness that quickly spreads down the length of the affected area.
Generally speaking, pinching tension is a tension we want to avoid.
Stretching Tension is probably one of the easiest tensions to identify, as it is the sensation of muscular tissue being stretched and reclaiming some of its perceived elasticity.
Tension such as this can be easily identified and felt through many different movements and motions, for example, if you were to bend over to touch your toes, you would more than likely feel a stretching sensation in the back of your legs.
Being able to identify these different tensions can help you create your own personal roadmap for “Un-F%^&ING” yourself if you experience chronic pains and aches, or find yourself getting injured constantly from activity (Of course, this is all assuming your issues aren’t related to something structural and are just from mismanagement of tension and inefficient movement patterns.)
That being said, truly learning, understanding, and reprogramming your body takes a long time, a lot of patience, and self education.
Oftentimes, when I begin working with a new client and identify their inefficiencies, after a month or two, they almost always ask me this question “How come my weak side seems to get it, but my dominant side seems stuck?”
This is because it is much easier to write a new movement “program” than it is to rewrite an ineffective movement “program.” It takes MANY reps to build good form equity and solidify the pattern so you can automatically default to it. It takes MANY reps AND MANY more reps to overwrite something that has already been your default mechanic for quite possibly decades.
The other thing to remember, is that it’s also impossible to just completely get rid of the old programming as well. Which means, most of the time, you will need to maintain a modicum of awareness of how you are moving to prevent yourself from reverting to old patterns that landed you in injury town to begin with.
This is why we primarily see repeat clients who go through therapy, start a good program prescribed to them by their therapist. Get better, get stronger, disregard the therapy work because they are “cured” and then end up re-injuring themselves in almost the exact same way.
To keep yourself injury free, you need to always be aware of your movements, and you need to always be working to optimize your movements. This means, you NEVER EVER STOP DOING THERAPY WORK even after you are fixed. In fact, a good chunk of your warm-ups before activity should be focused on therapy work and waking up muscle memory for good movement patterns.
Move with intention. Move with purpose. Keep your mind's eye focused on what your body is telling you. Trust me. It knows best, you just need to learn how to listen.