As trainers, we are are constantly monitoring client form and how they perform each exercise. We do have client safety in mind always, and ensure that you do exercises correctly to prevent injury. But, we also want to make sure that the body is moving through movement patterns in correct form. That is, recruiting the correct muscle fibers in the right number and in the right sequence to perform any given exercise. I realize that this can be a bit difficult to picture, but our bodies are wired to perform movements in a certain way. There are a multitude of reasons why it doesn’t move correctly at times, and that is worthy of another article on its own.
I would like to focus briefly on a theory that I have subscribed to. Paul Chek (1) (world-renowned rehabilitation and exercise specialist) hypothesized in his book "Movement That Matters" that human beings moved in what he calls Primal Patterns. In fact, he developed a system of assessment for rehabilitation of his orthopedic patients called the Primal Pattern System. He believes that "selective pressures of evolution must have resulted in human anatomy that was specifically designed to meet the demands made by nature". He also proposed that if one could not perform the basics of these patterns, then chances of survival would dwindle.
Paul Chek proposed that there are six main primal patterns – 1) twist pattern 2) pull pattern 3) lunge pattern 4) bend pattern 5) squat pattern 6) push pattern. In fact much of the functional training craze that has hit the gyms the last 5-7 years has stemmed from these basic movement patterns.
But the control of the muscles comes from the brain. Schmidt (2) proposed that the brain stores "generalized motor patterns" and that each motor program can be used for groups of movements that have the same relative timing. So, how does this science relate to your workouts? It means that we basically all have the inborn ability to perform many of the tasks asked of us in the gym. It is sometimes just a matter of putting it in the right context that the brain will understand.
For example, if I asked you to perform a squat and if you have never heard the word, you may not be able to perform the exercise correctly. But, if I asked you to sit down in a chair, you would automatically put your hips back and sit down. The same applies to the lunge movement. If I asked you to perform a lunge, you may have trouble doing so correctly. But, if I put a small block on the floor and asked you to step over you would do so without hesitation. This tells us that the brain stores patterns in different ways. Depending on what we have done in the our past and what activities we currently do, that knowledge will help to determine the best way
to teach or learn a particular movement pattern .
Along that same vein, the brain stores movements in what are called n-grams. It takes several thousand repetitions of a movement for the brain to store that pattern as an n-gram. You can see why we strive so hard to get correct movement established early and why we always say 1 repetition done with correct form is far superior to several done with incorrect or faulty form.
Till next time,
Narina Prokosch, RN CPT
“Monitoring, Mentoring, Motivation”
(1) Chek, P. Advanced Program Design, correspondence course. A
C.H.E.K. Institute publication and production, 1998
(2) Schmidt, R.J. Motor Learning and Performance. Champain, KL:
Human Kinetics, 199.
C.H.E.K. Institute – Corrective High Performance Exercise Kinesiology