Focus on the Principles of Physical Movement

How do we learn to harmonize our conscious thought with the feeling and reactions within the body?

Coaching cues have been a way to treat living, breathing people as machines. To cause someone to move a particular way, we’re taught to give them a specific set of commands to get a reliable outcome. But the scrape is that people are not machines and providing an input doesn’t always get you the desired output.

Coaching cues have been a way to treat living, breathing people as machines. To cause someone to move a particular way, we’re taught to give them a specific set of commands to get a reliable outcome. But the scrape is that people are not machines and providing an input doesn’t always get you the desired output.

There’s been this open-ended deliberation among coaches, trainers, and physical therapists as to what cues are best. One side argues that internal cues are best while the other argues for external. The neverending discussion continues to support more of the minutia in each category.

If you haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, good because it doesn’t matter. And I won’t give it fuel by discussing it more. I’ve come to believe that if you learn movement according to these rules and think within these constraints, you will limit the freedom and individualistic development. If you eliminate those constraints, it enables you to feel in your body and how your body feels during movement.

A coach’s responsibility is to guide their lifters to feel what it’s like to move their bodies efficiently and effectively. But beyond using tools and techniques to train people to do squats and deadlifts with proper technique, how do we learn to harmonize our conscious thought with the feeling and reactions within the body? And how do we increase this baseline of perception?

Fall In and Out of Movements

If you’ve been lifting weights or taking group exercise classes for two or more years, you should have very competent control over your body. But this isn’t the case for many. You see people with experience sloppily doing their exercise or movement practices without any control. They don’t have enough awareness to sense and adjust their movements to improve internally.

You can observe this in someone who can imitate movements in their sport according to how they were taught but is incapable of moving fluidly with other fitness practices. Yes, everything requires training. If they are incapable of making small adjustments as they move on different planes, it’s a tell that they never developed a proper understanding of their bodies.

The technique in their practice is about pointing body parts at certain angles and the dos and don’ts. It’s trying to make poses and shapes rather than feeling balance, sensing their spines stretch long, loading a stretch on their muscles. They never learn again how to move their bodies in play and adjust things with as little instruction as possible, as a healthy, active kid would.

Unravel the Motion

I’ve very recently been practicing more yoga than I ever have. I used to think of yoga only as a restorative tool to help keep balance and alleviate injuries from weightlifting. But now that I’ve been practicing it more regularly, I see it as a means to learn a different quality of movement.

This quality doesn’t mean new stretches or poses; it means the sensation of slower, deliberate motion. I’m learning to better feel the gradual unfolding of every vertebra and also the control of tension from tendon to muscle.

The movement I’ve practiced for many years has been violent, jolting, and explosive in Olympic weightlifting and strenuous in powerlifting before that. Yoga has given me a way to explore the other side of the spectrum of my capacity for control and sensation within my body.

Given my background and somewhat limited experience with yoga, I can follow along well and do most any pose with flexibility, strength, and athleticism. But, even though, I can outwardly demonstrate competency in a yoga class, inwardly I’m experiencing a new layer in internal attention.

I’ve gotten pretty good at feeling efficient movement and awareness at explosive speeds and even how to alter it slightly. This awareness is something you need to progress in Olympic weightlifting.

You develop a capacity to keep the barbell so close to your legs without touching them that only sweat can fit in between as you pull from the ground to your shoulders. You develop the ability to push harder and more thoroughly into extension with your quads than you thought possible at the very top of a pull in a snatch or clean.

But unraveling segments of body and movement paired with patterns of breath with a controlled, slower pace is a new area of perception for me. It got me thinking and reinforced ideas I had about how vital increasing awareness and sensations in your body is and how it should be worked on deliberately. If you’re a powerlifter or ultra-marathon runner, here are some ideas for you to get out of the cues and into your body.

Wake Up and Move Everything

You don’t need to take up yoga or have a memorized daily routine of poses and stretches. However, you should take some time every morning to move every joint, every segment, and every muscle through a full range of motion.

There’s something magical about the morning. The things you do soon after waking are essential. Thought patterns and physiological changes seem to be built more easily during this time. Do whatever you feel like doing in the morning but make sure to move.

Breathe through the stretches or movements and stay present with all of the feelings. Find a rhythm and a free flow while doing your stretches and a pattern to your breathing. Start the day with movement and being present in your body.

Meditation helps tame the mind and improve the focus and mindfulness for the entire day. Taking 5-10 minutes to train a better awareness of your body will enhance your proprioceptive baseline.

Try New Disciplines

When you dedicate yourself to one physical discipline, try allowing short periods to go through the new movement. If you’re a competitive bodybuilder or figure athlete, you may not be able to play basketball when you’re eight weeks out from a show.

But, in an offseason period, you can shoot a ball and run around a court for 20 minutes. For someone who lifts weight in a very linear plane, moving their body from side to side will give them a very different physical feedback.

However focused you may be on improving your craft or being a top competitor in your sport, still be sure to budget some time to play with different kinds of physical practice and movement. Pick activities that are as dissimilar from your primary practice in structure and form as you can manage. The idea is to struggle but struggle the right way.

Challenge yourself to connect your mind and body and lay down new patterns of instruction as your body moves in different directions under different balance. When you return to your training or practice, you will be more efficient because your body has developed a more vigorous capacity.

Take a Walk, Mindfully

I recently spent five days at a center for holistic studies in upstate, New York, where they held organized meditation and yoga twice daily. While there, I discovered walking meditation. While we walked, we were told to focus on our breathing and the visceral feeling of every step. A rigid structure isn’t necessary if it’s not your bag.

I’m not necessarily advocating trying to meditate according to any rules or walk a certain way focusing on your breath if you don’t want to. Instead, go out for a walk and:

Doing this does much more than it sounds. People develop a pretty sizeable sensory disconnect between their feet and the ground as they age. We’re put in shoes as kids and have very few daily opportunities to take them off and feel the ground beneath us. Rebuilding this perception alone can go a long way to building better total awareness of our bodies and our movements.

Be in the Flow

Part of connecting to your body is sometimes disconnecting the thinking mind to nourish a consciousness in your body. One that reacts instinctually as your body follows patterns and your mind drifts along aware of everything but not dwelling on any one thing. You’ve probably heard this called being in the flow, in the zone or on your game.

To get to this state, you have to be practicing your primary sport or discipline. You need to be proficient in something to react and move according to habit and pattern rather than thought. You need to have dedicated the necessary time to practicing it, and practicing it correctly.

I’ve had days when I practiced Olympic weightlifting where I came to the gym with a clear plan on what I was going to improve that day and how to act on it. On these days, I needed to keep my mind engaged and think through my training. On other days, I put my phone away, clear my schedule, clear my mind of all instruction and self-criticism, put on music, and train.

These days, all my thoughts go away, my responsibilities and concerns about work on for my development as a weightlifter fade, and I move. I move wildly without worry or limiting thoughts. I adjusted my movement based on instinct and feel rather than an inner narrative of self-instruction. And these days, I always leave the gym with a greater understanding of my body.

Become Whole

These suggestions and ideas may not help you lift more weight the next time you max out or improve your mile time. But practice becomes part of us, and any attempt at improving your conscious connection to your physical feeling will improve every bodily practice.

If you’re interested in how focusing on principles of movement like this can teach you how to squat, or squat better leave your e-mail for the simple guided steps to a squatting video. Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. Read more of his work on his website.

Leave a Comment