What makes movement “good” or “bad”? What are criteria for “good” movement? In physical therapy and athletic training, we work with our clients to improve their functions and movement. We tend to focus more on objective and quantitative criteria (range of motion, strength, flexibility, etc) and less on subjective and qualitative criteria to measure their improvements. With today’s emphasis on evidence based practice (EBP), we tend to rely on biomechanical research for ideal human movement. Anything but biomechanically ideal movement is considered sub-optimal movement. Now these findings become criteria for “good” movement and “bad” movement. We (trainers, practitioners) often prescribe our clients exercises which we believe will “correct” their faulty movement patterns (muscle/joint imbalances) and improve their movement.
So let’s talk about objective and quantitative measurements. ROM, strength, flexibility are commonly used objective and quantitative measurements. While they provide valuable information about physiological states of the body, these measurements are not necessarily relevant to functions and movement. Is tightness in one particular muscle or weakness in one particular muscle causing someone to alter their movement? Or did that muscle become tight/short or weak because of the way they move?? While structural changes such as fractures, sprain/strain can alter movement, it’s more often that structures change over time based on functions. If that’s the case, can we improve movement by simply addressing objective and quantitative measurements?
What’s missing in objective/quantitative measurements? How can we measure the quality of movement? Here are some qualitative criteria I look at:
1. Distribution of movement and effort
2. Initiation of movement
3. Timing and Sequence of movement
4. Coordination of antagonistic muscles
5. Timing of breath
I will talk about these criteria in another blog later. One thing all good movers have in common is the fluidity in movement, which you can appreciate from the criteria above. Their movements look curveliniear, circular, and spiral rather than straight lines with sharp angles. One reason why their movements look such way is that they include and integrate more parts in their movements. When we start to look at movements by joints and muscles, we tend to isolate and compartmentalize our bodies and apply it to treatment and training.
What’s still missing?? Who is the main controller of movement? The Brain! It’s not trainers/therapists who control their clients’ movement. It’s their own brain that controls the movement. Our heavy emphasis on objective measurements often leaves the main controller as if our bodies function the same way as machines. It’s not like we can drop off our body at a body shop, and we can pick it up when it’s all fixed up. Unfortunately, this is common mindset. It’s ultimately only you who can control your own movement. Why not include clients in the process from the beginning? While trainers/therapists assess their clients, clients are often excluded from the process. When assessing ROM for example, are your clients aware how they initiate movement? or how evenly or unevenly they distribute movement? Directing their attention to certain body parts and sensation associated with them by asking questions is a way to improve proprioceptive-self awareness, which is a huge subjective criteria often missing. You can’t learn the quality of movement that good movers have by doing repetitions of strengthening exercises or mimicking instructor’s movements. I think this quality cannot be achieved without self exploration with internal senses.