by MIKE CAISSE|DPT
As athletes, as weekend warriors, as normal functioning humans we rely on motor control. What is motor control? The simple explanation:
- It’s the brain’s ability to communicate with and manipulate the body throughout space. Think running, jumping, swimming, rowing, grappling, yoga, burpees, kipping, snatching, cleaning. Or even twerking if you’re into that sort of thing.
Why do we need motor control? Based on neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert’s research the only reason we have brains is for producing adaptable and complex movements (Wolpert, 2013). Thankfully, as humans we’ve evolved from requiring such movements and motor control to capture prey/avoid large saber-toothed animals to requiring them to avoid injury and improve our body’s capabilities.
A reflex arc is the simplest and most primitive form of motor control. Please take a look at this simple model:
Mechanical receptors in your joints, muscles and skin help you gather information to perform movement tasks (you have other senses, however, for simplicity I’ll use these three). As you perform movements that produce positive outcomes those movements are stored in the brain as a motor pattern for later use. Those movements that produce negative outcomes are inhibited. Your brain has been building a database of movement since you were born to make your life easier. The reflex arc shown above demonstrates rudimentary motor control of the knee joint and thigh musculature. A stimulus produces a sudden stretch in the quadriceps and they contract as the hamstrings relax. This level of motor control does not even have to travel up to your brain, it’s a reflex- it’s so old that it is hard wired into your spinal cord to respond the same way every time.
These aforementioned positions are not ideal and not congruent with the design of the body and it’s capacity to move. You can get away with moving like this for a while…until you can’t. Over time the tissues will fail when repetitively exposed to these load cycles while in poor positions. Dr. Kelly Starrett/K-Starr calls this “spending your genetics.” Most of us have been moving like this for the majority of our lives because no one told us it was a problem.