7 rules to learning that exercise you can't yet do!

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As an exercise professional, it is the most poorly done thing in our industry. The teaching of a new movement or skill. You may have an idea of a new exercise you want to try learn – a handstand, a muscle up or whatever it may be – today we explore some keys to unlocking your true movement learning potential.

I was taught the way we learn through multiple subjects at university. It was simple, we learn the rhythm, the feeling of a movement pattern through different means – visually from seeing others do it, from trying it, and being given small, simple amounts of feedback of what to correct. This feedback may have been in the way of simply seeing yourself do it in a mirror or someone giving you one piece of simple feedback. It’s the case of how did we learn to walk as children? We often can’t understand our language by the time we walk but yet learning to walk is a much more amazing feat than learning to squat. Think about it, the learning of walking requires using muscles that have never been utilised in even similar ways before. Small intrinsic muscles of the feet have to learn how much to contract or relax to stabilise the foot, and then the intricate neuromuscular connections up through the knee and hip, the co-ordination of the torso, arms and head to maintain a centre of gravity and all start working in a harmonious movement sequence. It really is truly amazing. So then tell me – if we learnt this without vast amounts of feedback and cuing why do we see these instructional videos or hear these trainers cuing every exercise so heavily – and more often than not – the squat.

We don’t learn through a set of instructions or rules. We learn as I said, through learning the feeling and the rhythm of the movement and making self-corrections from small amounts of extrinsic feedback.

“neutral spine! Knees can’t go past your toes! Put your weight into the heels of your feet, brace your abs, shoulders down and back…” 

Do you think you could squat thinking about all of those cues? Or would you just feel like a pencil about to snap in half? As human movement coaches in whatever sense that may be, we should be teaching people to learn these motor movements not the rule book to fake it. Here are some quick rules to abide by when learning a new skill;

1.     One cue every few repetitions – because we can only focus on one new piece of information at a time. If you are coaching yourself, identify one thing at a time to work on and find the feeling of it. It doesn’t have to be perfect first time – in fact if it’s not perfect it means you are about to learn a great deal.

2.     External feedback is best. Don’t think about the anatomy of your body, ie don’t put the weight into the heels of your feet. Screw your feet into the ground. It seems trivial but when we learn to move in our environment not just within our body it’s amazing how much more naturally we can begin to move. Use mirrors or video yourself to get more external feedback.

3.     Don’t fall into the rule book conundrum. Many trainers will teach you the rules – learn the feeling.

4.     Learn the rhythm – for new movements try humming a rhythm when you watch it being done. As you attempt it hum the same rhythm. The rhythm is a great tool to start to learn the general idea of a new movement pattern. You might look like an absolute nutter – but it works!

5.     Slow the speed down – learn at a slower speed and get the rhythm of it. Progress this by gradually increasing the speed. A skill will transfer to a higher speed. It’s just doing the rhythm faster.

6.     Occasionally you may find you are lacking a flexibility or strength component to your skill. Don’t be turned off by this. Take a step back and work on these areas with other exercises that replicate the loading of the exercise. Alternatively, you may be able to modify the exercise so you are assisted and you can slowly decrease the help.

7.     Watch videos of good people doing the exercise. Don’t watch perfect people doing it – watch good people doing it. We learn a lot from watching others correct the intricacies of an exercise. When it is perfect we can become deterred pretty quickly when what we do looks more like a rendition of the worm dance rather than a pirouette.

Either way good luck with it, and focus on the feeling and the rhythm. Start slower and build up speed and see how you go. You will also notice that when you learn the skill, it is far less likely you will forget how to do it because you won’t forget the rules – you already know the feeling!

If you'd like help with your exercise, training and learning, please give us a call at The Biomechanics, Footscray - We'd love to help you!