By Coach KB

(If you are new to the POINT Gym and Kitchen blog and want to learn what the Movement Minute Challenge is all about, check out the introductory post here.)

“If you watch novice runners running, you will see them doing a lot of idiosyncratic things - the way their foot is swinging or their limbs are swinging - but if you watch elite athletes move, you will see much less variation in their movement.”  

-Todd Hargrove, author of A Guide to Better Movement and creator of

This quote is meant to illustrate that it is often not strength or power that is lacking in our movement; it’s efficiency. Novice movers use a lot of unnecessary muscular tension, from moving an area of their body that is not involved in the particular exercise or grimacing their faces during a difficult exercise. Good movers don’t have a lot of unnecessary movement or tension - they make it look effortless!

This is due to advanced motor control. Motor control is an amazing (and mostly unconscious) feat of our brains that separates us from even the most advanced robots. A robot can be built to be as smart as we are but one has yet to be built that can move as well as we can. It can be deduced that our brain, in large part, is really designed to move us around. Consider that we have so many different muscle groups that are each broken down into different motor units that can contract and relax separately… and that the nervous system dictates which ones to contract and relax and when. It’s an amazingly complex system that requires a ton of information processing and intelligent decision-making.

A skillful mover has trained this system to become very efficient at this decision-making. Consider how effortless it is for you to open a door or pick up a head of lettuce, put it in a produce bag, and place it in your cart. These are complex movements that you have done hundreds (thousands?) of times - so frequently that you don’t even have to think about what you are doing - your unconscious brain has taken charge of those tasks. But think about how hard you have to concentrate when learning a new movement pattern, like skate-skiing or doing a power clean. This goes back to that unnecessary muscular tension. Skillful movers have practiced moving in so many ways that, even if they have never skate-skied or power-cleaned before, they are able to inhibit that unnecessary tension easily, contract and relax the appropriate muscle groups, and learn those activities much faster.

This brings me to this week’s Movement Minute challenge: If you want to be a skillful mover you have to practice. Since we discussed contracting and relaxing different muscle groups the challenge for this week is to spend at least one minute each day going up and down your body and see if you can flex one arm and completely relax the other arm, or scrunch up one set of toes and completely relax the other foot. If you notice that your shoulders or your jaw or another body part also tenses up you need to practice until you can recruit one area without another one.

*This Movement Minute was inspired by Episode 25 of the Liberated Body podcast.