We value our freedom and our right to choose. As free thinking adults, if you take those liberties away, you’re stirring the hornet’s nest looking for trouble. Do our children share those liberties? When it comes to dessert, hopefully not too much. But when it comes to movement, their bodies are liberated!
When we observe how kids move and play, they usually move pretty well. They can jump and run and skip and climb and fall down and bounce around and bend and twist with reckless abandon. In short, they have a high degree of motor choice.
Motor choice can be thought of as the ability of one’s body to assume a position in space—to form a shape—and move into another one. If we were to look at a skeleton, each joint has a degree of potential range of motion available to it. The only movement limitation of our skeleton is when one bone bumps into another and prevents it from going any further. But our skeleton must be held together by something to prevent it from collapsing against gravity’s pull so it is held together by muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia, which is all neatly wrapped up in a bag of skin. But all of those tissues holding our skeleton aloft is soft tissue. Which means it is pliable. Or at least it should be.
Children move well in part because their bodies have not yet had time to “settle.” Children don’t stay in the same posture for extended periods of time. They move around frequently. They wiggle. They change shape. They explore their environments which means their bodies explore end ranges of motion. Muscles and connective tissues adapt to the shapes we expose them to and to the demands we place upon them. As we age, we begin to assume less dynamic shapes less frequently than we did when we were children and this progressive deviation of exposure to end ranges of motion compounds over time so that our bodies begin to “settle” into shapes that are more rigid and less compliant. Tissues become weakened and dehydrated. They become long-and-tight (think of a rounded “computer posture”) or they become short-and-tight (think of a tight groin), all of which compromises kinesthetic freedom. In other words, we begin to lose motor choice. And we have nobody to blame but ourselves, darn it!
Our motor choice should be, for the most part, limited only the potential of our skeletons. For example, I could argue that every person’s anatomy has the capacity to perform the splits, or get pretty dang close. Our hip joint is a ball and socket joint that, left to itself, can easily achieve that range of motion. But most of us cannot do the splits because we stopped reminding the soft tissues of our hips and groin that that range of motion is allowed. So those tissues adapted to shorter positions to accommodate the ranges that they were most often exposed to.
But therein lies the exciting thing! Our bodies are alive! They can adapt. If our soft tissues can adapt to become weaker, they can adapt to become stronger. If they can adapt to become shorter, they can also adapt to become longer. Progressively exposing our bodies to more shapes can enhance the ability to assume those shapes. Allowing time for the soft tissues to first achieve and then become strong in progressively longer positions and controlling transitions from one shape to the next will yield adaptations. We can regain our motor choice through patience and consistent practice. Move well.