Everyone knows how important it is to work on building strength, so there’s a good chance that’s a part of your current routine. And if you have flexibility limitations, maybe you’ve been working on that too.
The other important pillar of fitness that’s often forgotten about is motor control—how well you can control your movements, as well as the strength and flexibility you have. We’ve talked about control in other articles (here’s a good one to check out), but there’s an aspect of working on control that I can almost guarantee you haven’t focused on in your training.
…because no one does.
Transitional movements are the “in-between” movements that happen between two positions. Barely anyone trains these movements, but that’s a big mistake. In this article you’ll learn:
- why these movements are important
- how they can protect you from injury, make your life easier, and accelerate your training progress
- the best ways to make transitional movements a part of your routine.
What are Transitional Movements?
So, what are we talking about when we say “transitional movements” or “transitions”?
The simple definition is any transition between two static positions, which can be as simple as moving from the top of a push-up to the bottom, and vice versa. Of course, with more complex skills or positions, the transitions also become more complex.
This can mean shifting positions quickly, or rotating your body in awkward ways. And sometimes, it may refer to how well you can react to stimuli, transitioning appropriately. In this video, Ryan will talk a bit about what this means:
To put these ideas in a more concrete context, here are some examples of this in your daily life:
- When you get out of bed in the morning, you have to go through many transitions—perhaps rolling onto your side, bending your knees, using your hand to press yourself up to a seated position, and finally, shifting from a seated position to standing.
- Pulling a tricky sweater over your head can require a fair amount of flexibility, but you also need good coordination and control over all those awkward positions you have to squirm your body into to extract yourself from your woolen enemy’s stubborn grasp.
- If your hands are full of heavy grocery bags as you rush into your house during a rain storm, you’ve got to be able to carefully maneuver your body so that you can use your legs to help you get through the front door without dropping your precious cargo.
All of these day-to-day actions can require a particular kind of coordination (that we rarely think about).
Of course, this transitional coordination and control comes up in sports all of the time too. For instance, in soccer, you have to be able to quickly shift from one direction to another to stay on top of the ball and distract the other team’s players.
And, despite what you might think, there are ways to work on these sometimes unexpected transitions.
3 Reasons You Should Be Spending More Time on the “In-Between”
There are countless benefits to focusing on improving how your body responds to transitions, but since you’re probably pretty busy, we’ll just start with three 😉
Injuries can happen in all sorts of ways (we’ve got a whole article on different types of injuries), but often, when there’s a traumatic injury, it happens during transitional movements.
And that’s true of sports/training injuries, just as much as regular-life injuries.
When you don’t have good control of how your body moves between positions, a lot can go wrong. You can twist your ankle as you run around the corner to catch the bus if your body mechanics are off as you shift direction or speed. Or you can tweak your shoulder when you go to do a pull-up, if you don’t have good control over how you move your body from a hanging position up to the top of the bar.
On the flip side, when you do have good control over these transitions, your body will be well conditioned to handle those awkward positions that are often necessary for moving from one position to another. As a result, you’ll be less prone to those types of injuries.
We all know that movement tends to get more challenging as we get older. But typically, unless someone has a more advanced level of disability, linear movement (like walking) stays relatively easy for a long time. What can become more difficult, even at a pretty young age, are those transitional movements we have to do countless times in our daily lives.
Things like squatting down to reach for something that rolled under your bed, quickly changing direction to avoid getting hit by your neighbor’s sprinklers, or even pivoting a heavy couch up a narrow staircase, can all be a lot less challenging if you’ve built up a good amount of control over those transitions.
Regardless of your age, those transitions take a lot more energy and coordination than you might think. Getting your body used to moving that way will make all those day-to-day activities a lot easier.
Whether you practice a specific sport, or you’re a recreational fitnesser, the transition is often the sticking point in your progress.
Let’s say you’re working on the muscle-up. For the vast majority of people, the transition from the top of the pull-up to the bottom of the dip is the hardest part, and working on that transition is what’s necessary to achieve the skill. (That’s why our muscle-up tutorial focuses so much on that part of the technique).
If you’re a climber, you’re probably already quite strong, and you’re probably working on your flexibility already since it can make such a difference in your performance. But working on controlling your transitions as you climb will take your performance to the next level.
And that’s true no matter what your training looks like. By drilling down your control over these transitions, you’ll start to see serious improvement in your progress.
How to Train Transitional Movements
How do you put this into practice?
Well, the first step is a shift in how you think about your training, and what exercises “should” look like.
When you go into a gym, or even if you’re watching people do calisthenics in the park, 99% of what you’re going to see is linear movement—exercises that either move in an up/down pattern or a side/side pattern.
And there’s nothing wrong with those exercises—we teach a lot of them too!—but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing out on essential movements for keeping your body safe and agile in every area of your life. Because life is not linear!
Here are some places you can start getting your feet wet with more varied movement patterns:
- Hand/Eye Coordination Games—These may not look like “exercises” per se, but incorporating some of these kinds of games into your routine can have a big impact on how well your body responds to those unusual positions transitions put us into.
- Learn to Play with Movements—Bringing a sense of play and exploration to your training will help you get used to transitioning through movements more smoothly and with control. And this can even be applied to those more “linear” exercises you probably spend most of your time on.
- Introduce Complexity into Your Training—Rather than always working with the same exercises over and over, learn how to introduce varying degrees of complexity into your training. This will make you better able to handle complex transitions when necessary.
“Okay, but where should I start?”
I’m glad you asked 🙂
Transitional movements play a big role in our approach to training, and we’re actually coming out with a new program that’s all about these kinds of movements—stay tuned!
If you want to find out when this new program is available, join the GMB Posse (it’s free!) to get on our list. (You’ll also get a 1-week kickstart program to get you started, and you’ll get 1-2 emails per week from us with helpful articles and tutorials).