Our central nervous system (CNS) drives all physical movement. Your nervous system acts as both the individual musicians and the conductor of a large, beautifully harmonious orchestra. Fluid, athletic movement requires our individual parts—down to each finger and toe—to perform like finely-tuned musicians while maintaining perfect coordination and harmony. This system requires constant feedback to maintain form. Physical sensation (touch, tension, stretch, temperature, pressure, etc) is your nervous system’s primary feedback mechanism.
Gross movement is the outcome, but sensation is the only language that your body speaks.
When learning a new movement or skill, we can watch and try to mimic; we can attempt to piece things together by listening to cues and direction; but our body only truly learns through sensation. Many people can learn by simple mimicry, but sensation causes the new skill to stick.
Those who learn well through mimicry and direction have very intimate relationships with their bodies. They bring a heightened awareness to their physical sensations and learn to recreate the sensations that they felt during successful attempts. In other words, they still learn new physical skills the same way as everyone else, they are just capable of completing the process mostly alone and subconsciously.
Most everyone else needs vigilant practice and creative coaching to reach similar athletic prowess. Their bodies require a more detailed and nuanced description to get the message. This message needs to come in the only language that the CNS speaks: physical sensation. We can speak directly to the CNS with creative use of drills and tools. We can recreate the specific sensations to demonstrate what the body should feel in specific stages of a new movement. This gives our bodies the tools to learn a new pattern. They simply need to recreate that sensation, just as the CNS was designed to do.
For athletes less in touch with their physicality, visual cues and mimicry are like building a skyscraper from the top down. Smooth and fluid-looking movements are built on a foundation of physical sensations. We might require a visual demonstration first to find the basic position, but we fully come to understand a position through feeling the proper sensations. Any physical coaching that neglects to demonstrate (or at the very least discuss) what the athlete should feel will largely stall progress.
Beautiful-looking movement is a downstream effect of beautifully-felt movement.
Movement proficiency grows through intention. We ensure proficiency when we set our intention on a specific location in our body or on creating a specific sensation during a movement.
I believe the pinnacle of any fitness journey is to become your own coach. To develop such a finely-tuned sense of how you move, what type of training you need, how to nourish your body, when to push, and when to back down. You can achieve this through individual exploration, or bolster your road toward self-mastery by working with a coach like me. In the spirit of self-coaching and sensational movement, I would like to share some sensation-based drills and cues for three fundamental movements: the squat, the push up, and the kettlebell swing. Check out the video below.
The best coaches will teach you until you don’t need them: