Winter base training and the approach of a new race season is a good time to consider how efficiently your body moves and how this affects you sporting skills.
Functional movement is key to teaching and learning a new exercise, particularly one that is fundamental to learning a new skill.
We have to experience a movement, feel it, so that our proprioceptive system can give us feedback, enabling us to learn what it should feel like. Following words and pictures are not enough. This is where hands on interaction and correction are essential to ensure that the movement is performed correctly.
New skills are learned slowly and step by step, gradually becoming automatic so that they can be stored in the brain and recalled upon without effort. It takes practice and repetition for a new skill to be stored as motor programs that can be used on this way.
If we move in suboptimal ways often enough, the brain will store this faulty pattern of movement as a motor program which is called upon automatically. Unlearning a suboptimal pattern can be tricky- because the brain recalls this faulty program and feeds back to the body that it should still be moving in this way!
Moving in suboptimal ways does not always present with immediate obvious problems. The human body is very clever and can work around limitations without us realizing that this is happening. However this is usually a very inefficient way for the body to work because it results in increased energy expenditure and increased stress and strain on other parts of the body. Again we may be unaware of this and continue to move with what is termed poor form, for some time. Eventually microtrauma can develop as a result of these stresses and strains resulting in injury. This is exacerbated with increasing training loads/frequency, when over training is solely blamed for the onset of symptoms. But as we can see it is the underlying faulty movement patterns that are at fault rather than the training itself. For example a runner with a lack of hip extension may compensate by hinging through the lower back - the body will compensate well and this suboptimal movement pattern will be stored by the brain as a motor program and drawn on automatically. An increase in milage could eventually lead to back symptoms because the forces subjected to the back increase- this is because the body is not moving optimally- not just because of the amount of miles run.
Sometimes athletes can continue to achieve good results despite faulty movement patterns, but it should be noted that they are still inefficient compared to optimal patterns which use less energy. The end result of this scenario is that the athlete will become fatigued more quickly.
A skill can consist of a sequence of movements, some of which occur concurrently, and therefore new skills can be difficult to learn. Breaking a skill down can help with learning, but it is not always obvious from reading or looking at pictures, how to break it down or how to perform it correctly. This can result in incorrect movements bring performed repetitively, resulting in a faulty motor program. This is especially the case if an athlete presents with a limitation to functional movement e.g a lack of control, which contributes to incorrect movement itself.
There are several factors that can influence functional movement- e.g. flexibility, control, strength. Functional movement lies at the root of every skill and should therefore be the first stage of improving a skill to make it more efficient, conserve energy and reduce the rusk of injury.
One of the commonest mistakes athletes make is to concentrate on skills e.g. Speed, rather than prioritise basic function I.e. Correct movement. It is a gross misconception to expect your body to move faster when it is not moving well.
Having your movement analysed can help detect issues. These can then be worked on to improve the efficiency of movements. Without this correction performance and skill are always affected. It is therefore important to spend as much, if not more time working on movement rather than relying on your body to work around faulty patterns. Stretch tight muscles that limit range of movemt, strengthen weak muscles, feel how you should be moving and repeat this time and again until the correct movement becomes automatic. Only after this should you work on skills such as speed.