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Is Movement Self-Organized?

You might think, what does this mean, movement is self-organized? Well, let me explain this to you and why an understanding of this concept is important. I have personally said this over and over again, “the body does not care how it moves, it just wants to get the task done.” Now, some movement patterns that occur when we complete a task or movement such as picking up a dumbbell off the floor can be done correctly or incorrectly, but that is a whole other discussion in itself. What I am referring to is that more and more research demonstrates that movement just happens naturally – we move without thinking about how we move. Let me give you an example: if I drop a pen in front of 20 people and I ask each of them to pick it up, we would see 20 different movement patterns to accomplish this task. Now, some of their patterns may look similar, but if we do a detailed analysis of their movement patterns, they would all be different. Now, why is all this so important? In the last couple of years I have seen a great influence of using corrective movement patterns in the world of exercise and healthcare professionals. I do not mean that is bad as my own Kinetic Integrations Exercise Professionals (KIEP) methodology includes a corrective exercise method to resolve movement dysfunctions  but I think the pendulum has swung to far – a lot of people operate as if all movement is bad, thereby all movement needs to be corrected. My Kinetic Integrations (KI) methodology also respects self-learning – in other words self-organization and I think we all should allow this natural phenomenon to occur so people can learn to move more naturally.

A more and more popular system that is based on this concept of self-organization is called the Dynamic Systems Theory or sometimes called Dynamic Pattern Theory. The Dynamic Systems Theory fans (including myself) argue that most motor program theories fall short in explaining complex movements as well as in  demonstrating the relationship between the mover and it’s dynamic environment.  It is pretty easy to explain how  simple movements occur such as the biceps curl. Through a hierarchical manner, the brain’s command center  issues instructions that are carried out by the limbs and muscles – a simple process. From a Dynamic Systems  Theory model things change though when movements are complex like when a baseball shortstop jumps over a  sliding-in base-runner while at the same time making an accurate throw to first base – not such a simple  movement process isn’t it?. This theory proposes that a movement pattern emerges out of self-organization as a  function of the ever changing environment. Think about it, do you really believe that shortstops practice an  immense variable pattern of jumping-throwing over a base-runner? I don’t think so. In other words, the  arrangement of a movement pattern will be the result of responding to the task imposed by a given situation rather  than being generated by a motor program.

Please consider this when you are working with your clients when teaching them a new skill or retraining a skill through rehabilitative therapeutic exercises.

Gleick J. 1987: Chaos: Making a new science. New York, Viking Penguin.

Kelso J. 1984: Phase transitions and critical behavior in human bimanual coordination. American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology.

Kelso J. & Scholze, J. 1985: Comparative phenomena in biological motion. In H. Haken (Ed.), Complex systems: Operational approaches in neurobiology, physical systems, and computers. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Shapiro D, et al. 1981: Evidence for generalized motor programs using gait-pattern analysis. Journal of Motor Behavior

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