Sorry for the late post- between a weekend seminar and the Superbowl I was not prepared haha!
This weeks Movement post I want to bring up an idea that actually came up this weekend during the seminar and I think is a pretty interesting topic: Movement Variability. This is essentially talking about when you move, no matter the movement pattern, you have options to complete the task. As a coach, we usually try to expand our clients movement variability with a variety of drills or exercises to expand their movement library. But is movement variability always a good thing? Like all things- it depends.
First let's look at why movement variability could be considered a good thing.
1. Court or Field Sports- With the incredibly chaotic and unpredictable nature of most team sports, having lots of options to complete the task such as juking your defender, getting a shot off, or transitioning from a cutting to sprinting pattern is essential! You don't know when there will be a sudden change in the environment (examples given above), so you must always be adaptable to the situation.
For example- while biomechanically there may be a more advantageous position to sprinting- very rarely will you have the time or luxury of being in the perfect position. You may have to be watching another athlete with the ball with your shoulders square in another direction. Or, you may be sliding with your defender, right before they juke and get around you forcing you to drop step and sprint to recover. Regardless of the situation, you have the general sprint mechanics down but are adjusting as the situation dictates.
2. Task Completion- When you have a goal in mind- your body will achieve the goal, regardless of the environment restrictions. This goes into something termed "Dynamic Systems Theory". For example- If you pull a hamstring but the finish line of marathon is 100 yards away- you'll still run, limp, hop, or even walk through the finish. It didn't matter what the gait pattern looked like- you crossed the finish line. While you may make the injury worse- you had options to cross that finish line which most people would take some extra time in PT to complete.
3. Overuse Injury Reduction- Think certain tissue (body tissue) overuse. The body will always adapt to demands we place on it as long as there is a sufficient stimulus. Perfect example- while I sit at a table that is too low for me to typing at, I am forced to adopt a forward head posture, internall rotated shoulders, rounded upper back, shortened hip flexors, and my glutes and abs not being needed so they shut off.
If I stayed like this day after day, week after week, and year after year, my body would adapt when I stand and my posture will look very similar to most peoples posture we see daily. Your body doesn't know this is inherently bad for it, it just knows what you are doing everyday and wants you to get more efficient at that posture. Regardless if the posture is terrible for your shoulder, spine, and hip health.
This concept can apply to anything, even sport or other life activities. While we want to be efficient at what we do day in and out- stepping back from such extremes is probably a wise choice. If we didn't offset our typical posture positions in whatever our endevour was, we would be much more limited in our movement variability (probably couldn't stand straight, put your arms overhead, run, etc).
Now let's look at when movement variability could be considered a bad thing.
1) Sports with lower complexity- This is not to say the following sports aren't difficult or highly technical, but compared with some traditional field or court sports the have less degree of freedom (variability).
Powerlifting, Weightlifting, and even multiple Track and Field events such as the sprint events have less degrees of freedom comparatively. In the first two you lift the weights or you don't, staying within a few feet of your body. Sprinting is HIGHLY technical- but you are running as fast as you can in a straight line (maybe taking a curve in the longer sprints) for a designated distance.
Once you find your technique in these sports, it is ill advised to try any other way besides your usual technique to "get the job done". That is why so much time is spent in each of these sports on the technical aspect of ea specific movement.
2) Later training blocks- Early on in an athletes training program, most coaches are more concerned with GPP (general physical preparedness). This refers to general physical qualities and is not too specific to the athlete or sport, just that they are generally strong and fit. This base is setting up the athlete for later blocks as they get closer to the season or competition, which then should be getting more and more similar to the athlete and their sport.
So for example- a basketball athlete might be working on general aerobic fitness, lower body work capacity, and general mobility training early in the off-season. As the program progresses, the athlete will probably spend more and more time getting basketball specific, until a week or two before season they are performing more lactic type endurance work, lower body power endurance, and specific mobility of the ankles and hips. If the coach still had the athlete performing GPP work a week before season, they would be inadequately be ready to perform opening day.
3) Under Load- While this may seem obvious, I think with all the crazy Swiss ball Squat videos and crazy things like online it is still worth bringing up the we probably don't want to deviate from the best movement pattern when we are under load. The point of strength training is usually to stabilize the load placed on us, not dance around under it. Any unnecessary movement usually ends up messing with the joints and ligaments, as well your inter vertebrae discs. There have been plenty of studies done on flexion under load and how this can more easily lead to injury (on a side note- Dean Somerset has a nice article that might make us rethink this one slightly. http://deansomerset.com/spinal-flexion-important-low-back-health-strength/ ).
4) Learning a new skill- Like we said earlier, in sport and life you typically want more then one option to obtain your goal. However, think back to your Tee Ball days, or Pop Warner as a kid. When you when over a new drill teaching you how to throw a baseball or tackle- did the coach manipulate the environment to make the task more challenging and game specific? OR was it relatively simple? "Stand back on the line and throw to your partner? Step with the left foot, throw with the right." "Head down. Wrap your arms around his body."
You probably practiced these drills for more then a few minutes, and practiced them every time you practiced with the team. This is known as blocked practice and is best utilized when learning a new skill. Your body is trying to figure out the general movement pattern, with some variation for your own body. If you start trying to make the task more complex too quickly, poor technique may present and the skill may not be mastered as quickly or neatly.
So, while movement variability is absolutely necessary and seems to be unavoidable even if we didn't want any- sometimes we may want to limit it depending on the circumstances.
To Sum Up:
-Movement Variability is giving yourself options to complete a task
-Useful when playing most traditional sports, task completion no matter the cost, and reducing overuse injuries
-Avoid when in sports that are simpler in nature (less degrees of freedom), limit in later training blocks ("Keep the goal the goal" -Dan John), when you are under heavier load, and learning a new skill
-To change the amount of Movement Variability, scale up or down by manipulating the degrees of freedom. An example would be performing hip CARS in an all 4 position (the floor helps lock you in and gives you 6 points of contact, easier body control) vs a standing no assist variation (no feedback from anything, 2 points of contact, much more reliance on the persons ability to control their body).