Locomotion: The Master Component Of Athleticism

 In Best Of, The Everyday Athlete

Does a movement system exist that is accessible to everyone and if you did that and nothing else you would not only tick all the boxes of human movement but increase your ability to do just about anything? I think so. Read on.

What is Locomotion?

Modern humans are the result of millions of years of evolution and adaptation to our surroundings. The human brain consists of hundreds of billions of nerve cells, which are the transport system for tens of millions of simultaneous electronic impulses. These impulses not only make up our thoughts, memories and consciousness, they also coordinate physical actions and regulate our conscious and unconscious bodily processes.

They are the master control for organizing all the other systems within our body and making them work harmoniously and synergistically enabling us to move, digest, reproduce, heal ourselves and survive. Despite the huge advancements over the past century with regards to our level of understanding of the brain and how the subsystems orchestrate with each other, we’re still at the bottom of the learning curve.

The human body is designed to move. If we fail to move, every other subsystem is negatively affected. Click To Tweet

However, we do know that the human body is designed to move. If we fail to move, every other subsystem is negatively affected. We are born with an instinctual desire to locomote and explore the world around us. We creep and crawl on the floor until we build enough strength to stand.

Through locomotion, we find our food, build our shelters, discover our mates and relocate to other areas. Of the seven fundamental human movement patterns, locomotion is the master quality because without locomotion we can’t survive. It is particularly important to address this movement pattern considering today’s seated culture. Locomotion means traveling in motion and includes the following real life movements:

roll, creep, crawl, get up, walk, lunge, tumble, swim, skip, hop, run, bound, climb, sprint, jump, carry things, push and pull things.

Why are we not very good at locomotion?

Around six years of age, we can do most of the above with grace and relative athleticism. Conversely, many modern adults struggle with most of the same movements. We know that all of the subsystems are intrinsically linked, so by reducing the ability to locomote our bodies, other abilities diminish such as digestion, learning, reproduction and spatial awareness. According to various sources (including Dr James Levine and Dr Kelly Starrett), the primary cause for this devolution is too much time spent sitting in a chair.

When I worked as a remedial massage therapist in London I was continually faced with injuries caused by running or other sporting activities (or so my patients claimed). In fact, the root of the cause in almost all of the hundreds of cases I treated was that the body had adapted to sitting in a chair. Chair-shaped adults attempting to perform youthful locomotive movements at speed, without having the ability to perform them slowly, almost guarantees injury and failure.

Moving is a skill. Running, sprinting, changing direction at speed, leaping or jumping are all tasks we should be able to perform with grace and efficiency. These movements should not pose a huge risk of injury and should be performed with a robust confidence up to old age. However, almost all of us have been subjected to the modern seated lifestyle and words like “sprint” and “leap” may, quite rightfully, instill fear of injury. Or, even worse, one may not even recognize the risks and boldly sign up for a sporting event in the name of health and fitness and then end up needing rehab.

'Locomotion is missing from many people’s training plans and lives, especially in the strength industry'Click To Tweet

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that locomotion is missing from many people’s training plans and lives, especially in the strength industry. We drive to gym, do squats or hip hinging (deadlifts, swings) and maybe some upper body and then drive home. Does that sound familiar? How many steps have you walked today? A daily minimum for adults of all ages should be no less than 10,000.

How do we get better at locomoting our bodies?

As far as I’m aware, all physical skills have a learning continuum. By that, I mean a full spectrum of step-by-step progressions that anyone can follow to acquire a given skill. Of course, our brains are unique and we have individual responses to different stimuli and cues. Nevertheless, there’s a step-by-step process that takes a complete beginner to a reasonable level of competency in just about anything physical. Learning to walk, run, jump or sprint is no exception.

Below is the full continuum of locomotion, with the most basic first.

Primary movement / exercise Associated advancements / progressions
Roll bilateral, segmental
Creep contralateral, ipsilateral
Bird dog contralateral, ipsilateral, plank variations
Commando crawl multidirectional
Baby crawl multidirectional, leopard, crouching tiger, add load (pulling chains, say)
Get up from the floor holding a cup of water, holding something heavier (kettlebell, say)
Walk up and down hills, uneven terrain, loaded carries (farmer, waiter, rack, overhead), pushing or pulling something (sled, vehicle)
Swim float assisted, doggy paddle, breast stroke, front crawl, butterfly, underwater swimming, diving, free-diving
March march in place (AKA cross crawl), march in motion
Lunge multidirectional lunge patterns (lateral, rotational, contralateral, etc), varied upper body position, lunge with reach, lunge with load, lunge with speed
Tumble roly poly, shoulder roll from kneeling, crouching, standing, walking, running, dive over hurdle
Climb basic bouldering or tree climbing to advanced rock climbing
Skip skip in place, skip in motion, jump rope
Hop small distance, precision hop, multidirectional hop, distance hop, hop to various depths and heights
Run variable speeds and directions
Leap / bound variable distances, vectors and loads
Sprint corrective drills, cutting

In your first few years of life, your body has already learned perfect movement. Relearning how to run is not like learning a new language from scratch. The neural pathways may be a little rusty, but they do exist. You just have to put your body in a position where it can remember—and that means get on the floor.

Before you can sprint, you have to be able to run. Before you can run you have to be able to walk. Sounds obvious, right? Here’s the bit that might be hard to swallow: in order to walk well you have to be able to locomote your body well on the floor.

I have worked with many desk-bound employees between 30 and 50 who had performance-based goals, such as competing in a Tough Mudder or triathlon. The look of frustration on their faces when tasked with performing a simple baby crawl was all too common. To run efficiently and without the risk of injury, one’s contralateral oblique slings need to work harmoniously with each other. In order to rewire your nervous system and help your brain remember how to move well, you need to get down to the floor and start rolling, creeping and crawling.

The Elephant In The Room

In theory, any able-bodied person of any age should be able to fit somewhere into the locomotion continuum and progress from there. However, it’s not that simple. If an Everyday Athlete is to increase their overall athleticism it’s critical to address the one major contributing factor that has slowed down their progress (and possibly caused pain) in the first place: time spent in a chair.

“Chairs kill your ass, your psoas and your soul.” —Dr Perry Nickelston

According to the World Health Organization, over the last 20 years, sitting has catapulted to the top of the charts of factors that cause health to deteriorate. Dr James Levine of the Mayo clinic said, “Sitting in a chair is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. For every hour we spend in a chair we lose two hours of life.” For a lot more about the damaging effects of sitting and other very smart guidelines on how to combat them, I can’t recommend highly enough Dr Kelly Starrett’s book Deskbound.

Parting advice from yours truly

In my world, the question is often asked, “If there was one movement or exercise practice you could do exclusively forever and be in the best shape possible until the day you die, what would it be?” My answer? The Original Strength system.

Investigating and scrutinizing the many movement practices available and posing that question to each of them is subject for another blog. These include yoga, Pilates, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, triathlon training, Primal Move, Ground Force Method, jogging, Hardstyle kettlebell, GS kettlebell, Indian clubs and maces, Juggernaught training, Feldenkrais, Krav Maga, Jiu Jitsu, Gymnastic Strength Training, CrossFit, ballet.

Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert looked at the way we develop pre- and post-birth and formed a complete movement system out of it. In 2013, I bought their book Original Strength and was so impressed with its effectiveness that their work formed the basis for much of my own work with clients. People of all abilities and ages would benefit greatly by reading this book and making the system a part of their lives. I don’t think this can be said for many of the other movement systems listed above. It promotes good movement in all movement patterns and is written in a way that we can understand. I have no professional affiliation with the creators of OS, just a huge amount of respect.

In a nutshell, your body was designed to move. It thrives on movement. All of the functions that you can perform—consciously or unconsciously—rely on movement. Drastically reduce the amount of time you spend in a chair. Get onto the floor and roll, rock, creep and crawl your way to unlocking your full locomotion potential.

Your body was designed to move. It thrives on movementClick To Tweet
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Locomotion: The Master Component Of Athleticism
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Locomotion: The Master Component Of Athleticism
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The human body is designed to move. If we fail to move, every other subsystem is negatively affected. Find out why locomotion is such an important part of athleticism on the Everyday Athlete Blog.
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Strength Matters
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