In the previous post in this series, we looked at how adhering to a particular rhythm, in that case running at 180bpm, can trigger the natural spring in the body and give you insight into “stuck spots” in your body that won’t move at the right pace.
Now we want to explore the practice of changing rhythm deliberately as part of your movement practice. The value for sports or martial arts, where the ability to change speeds gives you a competitive advantage, should be pretty obvious. What might not be obvious is the value for “real life” and even less obvious is the method for systematically training speed — which you can do joint-by-joint.
The Importance of a Single Joint
For a little background on the issue of mobility and speed, I recommend you check out this article by Z Health trainer mc schraefel. In the article, she reviews a study on the effects that deliberately-induced knee pain have on gait. Here are some of the highlights from the study and her detailed review.
The design of the study was to fatigue the muscles around the knee in a precise way and measure, joint-by-joint how this fatigue (referred to as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness) impacted range of motion in the knee and in other joints. The authors of the study observed two different things. At slow speeds, they saw the decreased flexion in the knee — which makes sense, right? Your knee is sore, so you move it less. At faster speeds, though, the knee looked like it moved normally, but you know what else they saw? Even though the knee looked like it was going through normal range of motion, the ankle, hip and pelvis all took on distorted movement patterns to apparently compensate for the fatigued knee. The basic effect of poor ankle movement was that study participants took a wider stance during gait, indicating compromised balance. The increased anterior tilt in the pelvis that was also observed puts more strain into the lower back.
mc points out that these changes were almost immediate. She then asks, “What happens when we move from an acute pain bout to something more chronic, and those adaptations become more chronic too? Those adaptations are going to stick around and cause their own compensations.” Great question!
Whenever someone comes in complaining about a “bad knee”, I ask them, “when was the last time you saw a knee walking down the street all by itself?” Now I have a research study to back me up! In all seriousness, though, the takeaway from this study is that the incredible interconnectedness of the body in motion means that you should seek out immobility anywhere and work to get it moving.
The Metronome Mobility Experiment
Here’s my favorite way to simultaneously test and train my mobility at different speeds. To do this exercise, you need a metronome. You’re going to set the metronome to something like 60 bpm and pick a body part. I recommend you start with something that’s easy to move in a circle, like your arm from the shoulder, or a finger, or standing on one leg, the ankle of the foot you’ve lifted off the ground (use a chair or the wall for support, this isn’t a balance drill yet).
First, make a circle at a consistent, comfortable speed. Count the number of beats it takes to make the circle and repeat that count-circle 3 times in each direction. This is going to be your “normal” speed.
Next, you want to be able to slow “normal” down to half and half again. Half of normal will be your “slow” speed and half of slow is “super slow”. When most people go to slow and super slow, the circle starts to get choppy or flat. Discovering these rough parts is huge. If you can begin to smooth out the rough parts in your circle, you are building strength, coordination, and control. Work on a perfect super-slow circle at each joint.
Finally, when you’ve got a good handle at working on a joint at super slow speed, you should go back and double your normal speed. This approaches what we refer to in Z Health as “sports speed”. Becoming fluent with controlled movements of individual joints at faster speeds tends to unlock faster compound movements too.
Now that you have four speeds to work with, you can incorporate the speeds into your regular training in a few different ways. To build coordination or more fluid movement, work movements in slow and super slow speed (tai chi, anyone?). To build strength and range of motion, take it up to sports speed. Experiment with the Z Health practice of training individual joints in sports-specific positions, working through a range of speeds. But don’t just think “sports” here. Another Z Health tenant is that everyone is an athlete — we all do similar squats, lunges, twists, and bends to different degrees and to get through life smoothly and with abundant energy, we need a fluent movement vocabulary as much as the professional athlete does. So if you sit at your desk all day, you’ve got a sports-specific position to work in. Make sense?
If you think about mc’s study review, it was one under-performing joint that was altering the entire gait cycle. You need to go back and find those stuck joints in a systematic way. By getting comfortable at different speeds on a joint-by-joint basis, you are helping your body be more responsive to fatigue and soreness ahead of time and preparing yourself to move through life at all its different speeds. Happy Training!