The body is a system. It is a system like no other. It is a completely open system that is highly adaptable. The whole of the actions that the body can achieve is greater than the sum of its parts. When the body needs to solve a movement problem it is almost magic what it can do. Never sell the body and its capabilities short.
If you want to understand function, start with walking gait. Gait seems very basic but is actually incredibly complex when you put it under a microscope. Gait is the basis of function. The legs and arms move in opposition and the shoulders move in a counter rotation to the hips. There is constant loading and unloading from toenails to fingernails in response to the ground and gravity. Running adds another degree of complexity because of the flight phase, but the principles are the same. Learn to look at movement with new eyes. Look at gait as the basis of throwing, jumping and freestyle swimming.
Searching for symmetry is contrary to how the body is constructed. The body is fundamentally asymmetric. The heart is on one side, one lobe of the brain is slightly larger than the other, there is a dominant foot, leg, arm, hand, eye, and ear. Because the body is smart this fundamental asymmetry is proportional and has no negative effect. Today, because we are able to measure more, there has been a tendency to look at these asymmetries as something that must be corrected. In fact, these perceived asymmetries may actually be what makes the athlete able to perform at their best, injury free. We must also remember that as an athlete accumulates training age in a particular sport that the body will adapt and favor a limb or a side of the body.
To understand function in the body and how to train it, don’t forget to look under the hood. You must understand muscle function which in most cases is significantly different than what is taught in traditional anatomy courses. We do not live in an anatomical position; we move all joints through multiple planes of motion heavily influenced by gravity and the ground. The brain does not recognize individual muscles, it recognizes muscle synergies and patterns of motion, therefore it is futile to isolate individual muscles. Isolating individual muscles results in neural confusion. Train the linkages and connections and the links will take care of themselves. The goal in training movement is to link, connect, sync and coordinate muscles to produce efficient flowing athletic movements.
The solution is quite simple – take advantage of the bodies wisdom and construction to train and rehab movement using multiple joints, working through multiple planes of motion in a proprioceptively enriched environment. Never lose sight of the fact that each athlete is a case study of one and will respond slightly differently so it is important to base training on principles that can be adapted to each individual.
Hopefully this post has raised some questions and will stimulate thought and discussion. The longer I coach, the more I am in awe of what the body can do. Just like I present movement problems for the athlete to solve, each day as they solve those movement problems raises more question about what I need to do to make the athlete better. It’s a process!