Buried somewhere in one of the hundreds of photo albums that fill the drawers of my Mam’s house is one of 3 year old me with two of the nastiest, blackest eyes you’ve ever seen; Worse than Christian Bales “The Dark Night” makeup. When I say it was bad, I mean it was real bad.
Unfortunately, I don’t actually have a digital version of the photo to show you guys, but the truth is that those big panda eyes were totally self-inflicted. Here’s the story…
At the time, our living room was set around the dining table, the shape of which was such that little baby Shane could easily run around and under all the chairs, which was not only a fun way to burn off steam, but also helped avoid capture during tag games with my parents!
Turns out, for whatever reason, I stopped running under the table for a few months, just long enough to add a few inches to my tiny frame. Then, during a typical game of chase with my parents, I decided that the table was once again a great sanctuary to take and made a B-line right for the middle of it.
BANG. My nose took the brunt of the hit, quickly bringing on a flood of tears and immediate swelling and bruising.
In the end, it all worked out because I got ice cream, cuddles and a bad to the bone Facebook profile photo!
We often refer to our ability to move and balance ourselves through day to day life as coordination. As we progress through our childhood years this coordination gets better and better. Even as adults we can improve our coordination through training and exercise and hopefully avoid accidently not running under a table and giving ourselves two nasty black eyes.
This is just one kind of coordination however, a type that I like to call External coordination. As you’d expect, this is paired with another form that I refer to as Internal coordination!
Internal Vs External Coordination
Simply put, external coordination is our bodies ability to manipulate itself with regards to the environment around us. Knowing how to control our hands to open the door; knowing just how far to turn to avoided walking into a wall; being able to balance ourselves through movements like running, walking and jumping – All things that I classify as external coordination.
Internal coordination on the other hand is a measure of our bodies ability to effectively fire our muscles in the order that will minimize injury risk and maximize our efficient use of energy.
It’s easiest to think of an example where someone is recovering from an injury like a broken leg. After being in a cast for 10 weeks, Jeanie realized that she didn’t really know how to turn her foot in and out anymore, something she could do without issue before the injury. Even with considerable mental and physical effort, her foot just didn’t move the way it used too.
In this case, Jeanie’s internal coordination with regards to moving her foot was severely impacted due to her having to keep it immobile with a cast. Of course, with time and good rehabilitation this motion should come back and she should be good as new in no time!
Internal coordination is a measure of how efficient and effective the pathways the signals our brains send our muscles take and whether they are the best paths for the job!
How to Improve Internal Coordination and Why You Should Care
Our internal coordination is constantly being affected and impacted by everything that we do. Those “roads” that our neurological signals take get more and more embedded as they get used, meaning commonly used pathways become easier and easier to take and ones we use more infrequently become dead in the water.
This is why when Jeanie broke her leg she had issues doing a movement that should be simple – those pathways had just become unused and it took a lot of work figuring out what muscles need to fire to get the job done.
Our neurological “map” is constantly changing and evolving, making our bodies more efficient and effective at doing the movements we do most often so that when danger comes about we can quickly get ourselves to safety without needing to spend considerable effort.
Initially, this sounds awesome, and it is. So awesome. But it comes with a serious caveat – what if those movement patterns are suboptimal? Ones that place excessive stresses on joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments that they were never designed to take?
Well, our bodies don’t really care about that. It still beds in those bad pathways and makes it easier to move in those suboptimum ways, meaning that as time goes on it becomes more and more difficult to correct and revert back to our correct ways of moving.
Ever hear of someone developing low back or knee pain as they age, despite never having an injury? More often than not that is a sign that something is awry with our internal coordination and that we are putting excessive stress on muscles and joints that should not be taking it (Knee pain, as an example, could be a sign that we aren’t effectively using our hamstrings or that our hip flexors may be excessively tight!) While it may not be as much of an issue when people are younger, years of extra stress on joints just make them get aggravated and painful.
This puts a different spin on the risk vs reward of powering through to get those last few reps in the gym or pushing past ‘the wall’ to make those last few kilometers; We all know these actions increase our immediate risk of injury, but rarely do we think about what patterns we are ingraining as fatigue sets in and form takes a back seat!
The movement patterns we take as we train also come into play into our daily lives as we do the groceries, play with the kids or go off on a weekend hike. If incorrect movement patterns are ingrained, people are at increased risk of injury in both their workouts and their daily lives. They are also putting excessive stress on joints which could lead to chronic day to day pain.
We all know the obvious dangers of training with bad form. It doesn’t matter if you’re a runner, swimmer, or powerlifter; correct form and technique is something that will minimize the risk of immediate injury and maximize your sports performance, allowing you to get better, faster!
But the often forgotten element, one that is rarely considered, is the impact this has on our movement patters when it comes to our day to day life! Making sure that correct form is something we always think about, when we exercise and in our daily activities will maximize our neurological internal coordination map, making us less susceptible to developing aches and pains later on in life and allow us to be active as we age!