Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shoulder Dynamics - Observation & Mimicry: Part III in the Shoulder Series

Still here in NZ and taking a quick moment to try to append the blog and finish this discourse on the shoulder. Since I'm trying to do this in between running out & doing touristy stuff, teaching, and God-knows-what-else, I'm doing this sorta piecemeal, so please forgive the briefness of these posts.

Human beings learn through one or more of 4 basic routes of input - visual, audio, tactile, or conceptual. Let's define each of these as they apply to functional movement, strength, and potential dysfunction.

Visual means that you see a movement, and you mimic it based on what you saw. This is perhaps the primary means of learning for the vast majority of people... Thus the phrase, "monkey see, monkey do". I don't say that disparagingly, however. Sight offers us perhaps the quickest means of making a "rough copy" of someone else's movement pattern.

Unfortunately, sight relies on our brains to take the information we saw and comprehend it as completely as possible almost instantaneously. Once it's comprehended, then the actual motor neurons and muscles have to interact properly for the observed movement to be reproduced correctly and effectively. If it wasn't this way, everyone would be Bruce Lee after watching Enter the Dragon.

However, I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone try to reproduce a motor pattern after seeing it and managing only the crudest sort of facsimile. In my own experience, I must've tried countless times to imitate Agassi's forehand, Becker's canon-like serve, Sifu James Lin's unstoppable throws, Grandmaster Arthur Lee's thunderous hand speed, Prof. Roy Harris's BJJ positional controls, or Kenneth Jay's pressing technique. Yet more often than not, even after repeated practice, I fall well short.

It's in falling short yet trying stubbornly to achieve the same results that I've often found myself afterwards dealing with some sort of injury, usually due to strain.

So... the easiest way to change the likelihood of injury is to change the focus or redefine the goal. We can see an example of this very clearly with the kettlebell swing. Instead of trying however to get the kettlebell to swing up high and to keep it moving in "Malcolm X" style (i.e., "by any means necessary"), the goal gets redefined to create a swing with a Hard Style Lock at the apex, a symmetrical and pain-free Deep Squat pattern at the bottom, and a well-timed backswing that loads the hips and unlocks the hips and knees only at the last possible millisecond.

That combination of attributes, especially when focused on one bit at a time, creates a process through which we can learn more effectively and safely. The audio cues we get from more advanced movement experts, such as our coaches, masters, and instructors, help us more completely comprehend the facets of movement that need to come together to create ideal technique. Tactile feedback, whether as simple as a smack on the head to remind a fighter to keep his hands up or as subtle as Gray Cook's Reactive Neuromuscular Training methods, help further reinforce the total learning process. With input from the visual, audio, and tactile routes, the conceptual "fermentation" process becomes more rich, and the actual applied skill improves dramatically.

With shoulder specifics, this deals a lot with awareness. At the outset of learning, there's no real depth of awareness that's going on... just crude mimicry.

For example, a pitcher might wind up his arm too far, a tennis player may over-relax the stabilizing muscles needed during a powerful serve or overhead, a martial arts student may lift his shoulder up towards his ear before throwing a punch, and a kettlebeller might swing the kettlebell up so high that his or her neck becomes the core instead of the midsection.

The awareness and understanding of what constitutes proper form (in this case, when stabilizing the shoulder via the lats while in motion) is a HIGHLY necessary step in the process of learning movement that should be emphasized more than upping the number of reps, adding weight, or increasing measurable output. The last thing we should be doing is "adding strength to dysfunction" as Gray Cook would say.

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