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Movement Quality: The Basis of Athleticism
Hardly a week goes by without a story in the sports press about some burly 250lb NFL star learning yoga, or ballet, or the tale of the baseball star who does T’ai Chi. Aside from a reputation for being paradoxically un-masculine, what do traditional dance, Hindu devotional movements and a ‘high’ traditional Chinese martial art have in common?
Attention to movement quality. T’ai Chi focuses on the precision and quality of movement to a very great degree.
Two years, focusing on movement quality.
Want to know another activity where participants focus on movement quality?
How about Olympic weightlifting? Oly lifters are some of the most explosive athletes on the planet, and while they might not be as strong as powerlifters they are usually significantly strong. Yet one of the most famous and successful Olympic weightlifting coaches of all time, A. S. Medvedev, recommended that newbies to the sport spend their first two years lifting weights no higher than half bodyweight, with technical proficiency being their only goal.
Let’s find another… how about Brazillian Jui Jutsu?
BJJ is a part of every MMA fighter’s arsenal now, ever since the first UFC where the then-bright star of Brazil’s Gracie family wiped the floor with a range of fighters from striking disciplines by pulling them to the floor and choking them unconscious with an ease that made the martial arts world blink and sit up. We don’t have to swallow the claims made for BJJ that it’s the most effective martial art in the world to observe that it works.
Yet this highly effective system, full of moves designed to break people’s arms and strangle them, is full of one and two person drills designed to improve movement quality in BJJ and even has its own exercise system, Gynastica Natural (natural gymnastics), designed to improve movement quality generally.
So that seems like wide agreement: training that focuses on movement quality is training that produces results. What does movement quality consist of?
What Is Movement Quality?
Movement quality is produced by interactions between the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Consider an Olympic lifter performing a snatch. If you aren’t familiar with this movement, a snatch consists of lifting a barbell off the floor to shoulder height, rapidly squatting under it with the bar held overhead and then standing erect. I’d go and spend a few minutes on a video site checking out people doing this, for an awe-inspiring display of athleticism, if nothing else.
Good. Now, the snatch is a good contender for the fastest movement in professional sports. Get it wrong and you could drop a barbell on your head. It requires a big range of motion, great stability, great strength, power, speed… great movement quality.
They take the movement apart and work on strength by doing back squats and overhead squats. They learn it as sudden transitions between set positions, and get fast in the transitions and stable in the positions.
The first time you try to overhead squat, one of two things happen: you don’t get anything like all the way down, or you fall over. The combination of stability, strength and mobility it demands is daunting. But with constant practice it becomes second nature, a position that can be held easily. That familiarity is key to developing movement quality.