Whether you train and play at a gym, a dojo, or outdoors, there are probably people you watch and think, “Wow.” Even in hard situations, they’re smooth, efficient–they make it look way easier than it is.
And yeah, part of it might be that they’re stronger or more flexible than you are right now. But there’s something else, too. They move like they have a sixth sense or an athletic intuition, like they were born with something special.
And maybe they were. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn it, too. Because that special thing they have isn’t a secret. It’s body control.
For some reason a lot of people think that body control is a “you either have it or you don’t” kind of thing. But actually, it’s very learnable.
We’ve seen thousands of clients learn it. With the right sort of practice you can substantially improve your awareness and precision–the building blocks of good body control–so you can move more smoothly, efficiently, and with more confidence in every activity you enjoy.
Alongside strength and flexibility–the most common physical attributes fitness programs focus on–we emphasize motor control as an essential element of our teaching methodology. Lots of programs and systems can help you get stronger or more flexible, but without sufficient motor control, you won’t be able to apply your strength and flexibility in the most effective ways.
In this article, we’ll first look at how motor control translates into efficient movement. Then, I’ll show you how to assess your own motor control, and how to improve it.
Better Control Means More Efficient Movement
Motor control, at its simplest, is the ability to perform an action with precision and accuracy, along with a sensation of ease. It’s what makes efficient movement possible, and developing it will put an end to the jerky, forced movements that waste your energy and lead to injury.
We’ve all seen this in action at some point.
It’s not just an athlete performing well that catches our attention, but also a waiter that seems to move without wasted motion, or even a woman on the street that walks with a graceful gait. And perhaps it’s not something we consciously think about at the time, but just a sense of knowing when a person is moving well.
Here’s a clip of Ryan demonstrating how better control allows for efficient movement:
So, how does this work? Isn’t this just something some people are naturally better at than others?
Well… yes and no.
Sure, we’re all born with different innate talents and abilities, but motor control is not something we usually master by accident. It stems from practicing novel movements in various ways, which creates new neural patterns and helps you learn to move better.
Good control of the body emerges from a feedback loop that includes your perception, neural signals, and body movements. These work together to help you create precise movements.
Precision means that all your energy is spent on moving your body the way you want to, and not on extra movements that increase your chances for injury.
Motor Control Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum
It’s impossible for someone to have a high level of motor control without also having a combination of other attributes.
Motor control necessarily includes coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility, and is the ability to control those attributes in concert. Here’s a good example of how this works in action:
It’s clear that Kirsty has high levels of strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, but the way she effortlessly moves in and out of these positions demonstrates the control she has over those other attributes she’s build.
You may never have the need to move like Ryan or Kirsty in the videos we just saw, but everyone can benefit from having better control.
One client of ours, Dana, has Multiple Sclerosis and learned to manage her symptoms by improving her motor control.
Another client and trainer of ours, Stephen Stern, described the benefits he experienced from going through our motor control course. He said, “There’s a sense of peace that comes from feeling competent in the body.”
That competence comes from gaining full control over your body. So, let’s look at how to build that.
Do You Have the Motor Control You Need?
We don’t all need the same amount or types of motor control. Even looking at the videos above, it’s clear that strong motor control looks quite different depending upon the application.
The level and type of motor control you need for your own life may not be the same as what I need, but assessing your particular needs is important for figuring out what limitations you need to address. Assessment plays a big role in all of our programs because if you don’t know your starting point, how will you ever know where you want to go?
Our favorite way to assess motor control in particular is through locomotive exercises.
Here’s how this basic assessment works. This will help you determine your current levels of motor control:
- Bear Assessment–Start in an A-Frame (or “downward dog”) position, with your hands pressed into the ground and your butt up in the air. Walk your right hand and left leg forward at the same time, then do the same with your left hand and right leg. If you have trouble coordinating your limbs like this, or you can’t keep your torso from rotating, this indicates trouble with motor control.
- Monkey Assessment–Start in a deep squat with your hands on the ground in front of you. Move your hands to the right of your feet and press into the ground as you hop your feet over to the right to meet your hands. Repeat to the opposite direction. Your control may be lacking if your feet drag along the floor or if you can’t rotate your body properly into the movement.
- Frogger Assessment–Again, start in a deep squat, this time with your hands directly in front of you on the ground. Press into the ground as you hop your feet forward to meet your hands. Relying on momentum or speeding through the movement is a good sign that you need to work on your control.
These assessments will give you a general idea of where you could use interventions. Of course, you may have some specific limitations in your flexibility or strength, but the applied coordination of strength and flexibility is the missing link for many people.
Improving that takes mindful practice and consistent repetition of the principles I’ll show you next.
How to Start Moving With Ease and Control
The most direct way to improve body control is to perform the movement in mind, over and over again, until you improve.
It’s pretty obvious that, if you want to get better at something, you have to practice again and again, and when you think you’ve practiced enough, practice some more.
This is laborious and can be very frustrating, but it does work… just not for everybody.
For many people, motor control doesn’t come easily and this repetitive method likely won’t yield the best results. In fact, going through the motions can be pretty harmful when working toward improving control over your own body.
That’s where novel movements come into play.
1. Challenge Yourself
Try incorporating motor control challenges into your routine, to break yourself away from the way you’ve been doing things.
Here’s a quick challenge to try:
- Stand up and place something on the ground behind you.
- Pick the item off the ground behind you without moving your feet. You may have to twist in ways you’re not used to, or find creative alternatives to your usual way of doing things.
- Play around with placing the item further away from you and coming up with different ways to reach the item without moving your feet.
That challenge may have been easy for you–if so, great! But either way, you can probably see that improving motor control doesn’t have to mean doing fancy or complicated exercises. You just have to start incorporating some movements that are new to you, so that you can create new neural patterns to build better control.
Find ways to challenge your typical way of doing things, and you’ll start to gain control in unique ranges of motion.
2. Practice Locomotive Exercises
Let’s come back to the Bear, Monkey, and Frogger movements we used for the assessment above. These positions help assess your current condition, but they also help you improve your control in planes of motion you need in your daily life.
At first glance, you may not think of Bear, Monkey, and Frogger translating into daily activities, but here are just a few examples:
See how those movements correspond with positions and movements you likely find yourself in at some point in your day-to-day life? Developing motor control (along with strength, mobility, and coordination) in these planes of motion helps you do the things you want and need to do in your daily life.
Those three locomotive exercises are novel for many people, and help improve motor control in ways that apply to everyday life. That’s why they feature prominently in our foundational program, Elements.
You can work on each of these movements as much as you like, spending extra time on those you feel you need to work on most.
3. Move in Whatever Ranges of Motion You Have
The concept of “use it or lose it” definitely applies here. If you don’t move your joints and ligaments in the ranges of motion you have, you won’t be able to move as easily in those ranges. The good news is, the more you move in those ranges, the easier it becomes.
With this in mind, I like to work on “random” movements that take my body into the whatever range of motion I have (which may be different on different days).
In the video above, you can see how I’m moving my hips randomly, not following any particular “exercises.” This can be applied to any joint or way of moving. The important thing with this approach is to work within ranges that are comfortable for you. Never move yourself into painful positions.
You CAN Learn to Control Your Body
Some people are of the opinion that “motor morons” (those who struggle with motor control) are stuck being “klutzy” for life, but motor control and coordination are trainable, just like anything else.
Exposing yourself to different stimuli, exploring new patterns, and figuring out what idiosyncrasies within a movement work best for you will help you develop your skills practice and learn to control your body in different ranges.
We designed our Vitamin course to give you a structured approach to unstructured movement.
By practicing novel movement patterns, you’ll develop better control over your body, which results in gaining the confidence that comes from knowing your body will come through for you, no matter what life throws at it.
Gain Control Through Novel Movements
Vitamin introduces you to different stimuli and ways of moving your body, so that you can build control and confidence for your daily life.