by Jessica Hill, DPT, MSPT, CSCS
I was reading an article on BBC written by a genetic epidemiology professor named Dr. Tim Spector who went to live with a hunter/gatherer tribe, the Hadza, in Tanzania. He was studying the link between what we eat and the diversity of the microbiome of our digestive system. In the course of 3 days, Dr. Spector’s gut diversity increased 20% by eating foods outside of his daily regimen including local plant life and porcupine. Our guts contain trillions of bacteria that are at the core of our metabolism and immune system, and a growing volume of data suggests that greater diversity of bacteria in the gut provides improved health and a lower risk of disease. 20% of trillions is a lot of bacteria! It is clear that adding a little diversity to the good doctor’s diet resulted in an impressive return in health for a short-term investment.
So what does a diverse gut signature have to do with movement? Multiple branches of science have shown time and again that what is good for one system in the body is often good for the others. A diverse gut biome is needed for optimal immune health, and a diverse movement biome is needed for optimal neuromuscular and musculoskeletal health. It is easy for us to get locked into our regular gym, rehab, and training routines and lose sight of the importance of movement diversity to optimal function and injury resistance.
Mitch previously revisited the importance of working transverse plane motions in addressing foot/lower leg pain. He offered some great examples of ways to use tape and exercise both diagnostically and therapeutically to work the functional and spiral lines of the body in the clinic and gym. This got me thinking of ways to ensure a diverse transverse plane movement biome that takes a step beyond the clinic and the gym. What are ways to ensure we keep movement diversity in a sports culture that increasingly favors specialization and inherent pattern repetition?
Let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of transverse plane motion. Below are illustrations of the Functional and Spiral Lines of fascia from Thomas Myers’ text Anatomy Trains. Force is produced and dissipated along these lines of myofascial continuum. You can quickly appreciate the interconnectedness of structure and function of the hips and shoulders as well as the entire lower body down to the feet.
We use tape, exercise, and correctives to help patch holes in our foundational movement capacity and to restore basic movement competency. In order to really own these gains in three dimensions and at speed we need to give the nervous system time to hone and incorporate new capability through challenge, trial, and error. We can contribute to authentic movement and stabilization patterns the same way we acquire basic movement competency and skill as children. We can create an environment that provides the opportunity for thousands of low threshold repeats from which the nervous system can adapt to produce efficient and precise movement, stability, and eventually power and speed. In the case of the transverse plane, we are looking for activities that simultaneously shorten one side of the functional/spiral lines while lengthening the other allowing for whole body patterning and utilization of pre-tension and recoil built into the system. An element of play makes the activity engaging, variable, and more apt to encourage movement exploration as patterns improve. So what sorts of activities meet these criteria and lend themselves to brilliance in the transverse plane?
Punching/striking and kicking, come to mind immediately. These are activities that readily activate and repeat cross-body reciprocal upper/lower quarter activation and stabilization in the transverse plane – they connect the entire chain from the neck/shoulder girdle to the contralateral hip girdle and foot through the functional and spiral lines. When rotation occurs in these motions, it occurs at all levels.
For athletes with more “leg dominant” sports such as soccer, consider developing the more upper quarter “dominant” punching/striking activities. For athletes with more “arm dominant” sports such as basketball, consider adding kicking activities. Think low intensity, high repetition movements initially, like kicking/footwork with a soccer ball against a wall at short distance for rhythm and control. Increase speed and intensity with practice. The same goes for striking/punching work – air boxing for form and patterning prior to actually hitting something, and then building speed and power after movement proficiency is achieved. Keep an eye out for the tendency toward pattern dominance and encourage increased attention to the harder side. We are looking to teach clean, efficient, and complete patterns, so it makes sense to have proper instruction in form for these activities if they are not familiar ones.
I’ll finish on a personal note with an N=1. Last summer I took up Kenpo Karate – lots of kicking and striking! I had to discontinue my strength program at the gym for ski season preparation as the two together were too much for my 42 year old frame to handle while working clinic full-time. I took a break after 10 weeks and returned to the gym. I found that all my weights and tolerances had moved upward significantly without addressing any of them specifically. Stability and mobility were my rewards for learning and mastering new patterning, and I was stronger on my skis that season than I had been in years. As an added bonus, those weird pains on the sides of my feet that matched up with the spiral line and had been giving me trouble for 2 years ceased to be an issue. You were right about feet and the transverse plane, Mitch, and looking at the fascial lines and how the nervous system learns it is clear to see why. Including whole body, repetitive, variable activity that uses patterns outside an individual’s norm is a great way to build diversity into the movement biome and unleash previously untapped potential and resilience.