Your Body’s Movement Software
Body Maps: The Body’s Movement Software
Have you ever tried to do a new exercise at Force and felt totally awkward – and then complained to your trainer that there are no mirrors in the building? “If only I could see what I was doing…grumble…mumble…” I hear you. And I may have a solution for you – it’s called a body map. And don’t worry; it’s not what you think.
Body maps are an important but little known concept in understanding human movement. Body maps can be thought of as the blueprints of our physical selves stored in our brain. The brain accesses these “blueprints” in order to help us navigate through our environment – i.e. move.
The more precisely these maps have been drawn, the better we are at movement and adapting to different situations. We won’t always have a barbell evenly weighted to pick up in a standard grip and stance – if we are more aware of our body position (i.e. have a detailed body map to work with), the better chance we have to lift the object safely and effectively. On the other hand, the more out of focus our body maps, the greater potential for dysfunction and pain.
Imagine a person who is slowly losing their eyesight. As things around them become fuzzier, the harder it is for them to perform precise movements, such as picking up a penny off the floor, until they can no longer perform the movement at all. We can also imagine that this process would be quite frightening!
The brain works in much the same way. If it can’t “see” the body part, it won’t use it well and might be a little scared of the idea, letting us know in the only way it knows how to get our attention – pain.
Since we all want to move well and avoid pain, how do we improve the “detail” of these blueprints and activate them better?
First, we can activate different body maps through touch. In my opinion, this is one reason why foam rolling has been so successful in our warm ups! It gives us the opportunity to “wake up” our bodies, and also helps the brain collect information on areas of the body that are normally “blind spots” in our daily lives.
In a recent study, patients with low back pain who looked at their back in a mirror everyday were able to reduce pain significantly! (How often do you see or touch your back? Do you have a clear image of what it looks like and how it moves? Try rolling your T-spine and see how this affects your awareness of back position.)
Second, we can work on improving mobility. Mobility is directly tied to proprioception (our “sense” of where each body part is in relation to each other and how much effort we are putting into a movement) in the brain.
For example, if we have limited mobility in our ankles, we have reduced functionality. That reduced functionality will affect mechanoreceptor (a sensor that responds to pressure in the joint) activity, which in turn will effect how detailed our body map of that area is. So if we can improve mobility and restore function, we can improve body maps and help reduce pain!
Third, it has been shown that non-painful, novel, and exploratory movements are much more likely to cause permanent changes in our body maps. Meaning when we go slow and learn new movements, things change! One thing we know is that the brain avoids pain like the plague. It will do anything it can to compensate for it. That is why in the FMS, Funcational Movement Screen, any pain results in a score of 0 – because even if the movement looked “normal”, there is no way to trust the “software” (movement pattern) that has developed over faulty hardware (our physical body). Novel and exploratory movements are key because they allow us to not only activate different parts of the body, but we can form new neuromuscular pathways as we are, in essence, creating a new software program.
By improving body maps, we can develop new motor pathways, learn more quickly, and navigate our environment more efficiently and gracefully. These things are already built into your program at Force, but pay special attention to the following:
- Foam Rolling – take this time to pay careful attention to how different parts of your body feel. If your attention is elsewhere, chances are you’re not drawing very detailed “maps”.
- Warm Up – don’t be afraid to add variety! If you do lunges in your warm up, try stepping out at different angles, or even stepping backwards. Talk to your coach about ways to mix it up!
- Functional Movement Screen – make sure you get screened by your coach and follow the correctives to help you restore function and mobility to your weakest link. This is the quickest way to seeing improvement.
- Specialty Workshops and Classes – Keep an eye out for specialty classes and workshops (such as the recent Mobility workshop) that allow you to explore different types of movements than you might normally see.
- New Programs – celebrate new programs like Christmas! Not only are you going to continue to make progress towards your goals, but you are also giving your brain new info to work with in building our body maps.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to talk to me next time you are at Force. I’d be happy to help!