The Rookie Road

If you have managed to unshackle yourself from the confines of traditional gym based workouts, your perception of exercise has probably shifted from laborious training into practice and fun.

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This is a beautiful place to be in, as it exposes you to the potential of your Mind and Body with regards to movement. It is also however a huge abyss of possibilities without much traditional structure. If the end goal is an air flare, aerial cartwheel or a single arm handstand, the long road ahead of skill acquisition can seem quite daunting and the slow progress can be disheartening.

 That is why it is important to understand a few things about the process of learning so that your enthusiasm doesn’t start working against you.

The End Goal : Flow

There is a growing body of research and interest in something that has been termed ‘flow‘ or ‘flow state‘.

‘Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychological concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields. Wikipedia;  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper & Row.’

High level tricking and improvised breakdancing are excellent examples of the kinds of complex movement patterns we promote at AMN and lend themselves perfectly to achieving the flow state.

To better understand the neurophysiology of flow we want to look to the work of Arne Dietrich who describes the flow state as ‘a transient state of hypofrontality’.

So what the hell does that mean? Well, the frontal cortex (or frontal lobe) is the brains CEO, it controls and mediates loads of different functions like preventing inappropriate social behaviour to solving mathematical problems to facilitating motor skills like controlling fast eye movements.

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The prefrontal cortex accounts for approximately half of the frontal lobe in humans and is involved in ‘executive functions’ including processing of perceptual information, planning and strategising for appropriate behavioural responses and instructing the adjacent motor cortices to carry out the physical actions via the motor system, our muscles.

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Hypofrontality and the flow state, therefore refers to a short term inhibition or quieting down of this part of the brain. Essentially, in a state of precise, focused and near perfect performance which is often described as somewhat effortless, you’re really not thinking, you’re just doing.

In his explanation of what happens in the brain during these near perfect displays of performance Dietrich also makes a distinction between explicit and implicit information processing. “The explicit system is tied to conscious awareness and contains higher order knowledge representations. This system is rather slow but flexible. The implicit system on the other hand is unavailable to consciousness and contains skills and experiences that cannot be verbalised, but can be observed during task performance. Therefore this system is very fast and highly efficient in its very specific context.

Dietrich concluded that the flow state would be a period during which a highly practiced skill that is represented in the implicit systems knowledge base and is implemented without interference from the explicit system.” 2012 Stefan Engeser, Advances in flow research. Springer.’

Fumble Before Flow

So how do we work towards achieving this state of performance and connection with our bodies. Well, at first we have to learn and we learn the most through failure. As we work to achieve a new movement skill we must emphasise the explicit information processing systems. The following is a skeleton description of the AMN practice model that shall explain in a bit more detail the concepts that we believe expedite the learning process:

1. Identify and remove performance barriers:

– Fear

– Joint restriction

– Soft tissue adhesion

– Immobility

– Poor flexibility

– Muscle inhibition

– Reduced sensory awareness

2. Build fundamental strength and awareness 

It’s important to be able to roll before you flip, to lock and maintain straight arms before performing handstands and to learn a cartwheel before an arial. Fundamental strength and awareness are the scaffolding on which complex skills are built.

3. Precise practice 

– Display appropriate attention and engagement with the task

– Utilise short duration ‘practice windows’ to play and fail with the new skill

– Monitor fatigue via observation and biofeedback techniques

– Facilitate the explicit information processing systems with specific AMN Precise Practice Neuro Drills in between practice windows, specifically for the Dorsolateral Pre Frontal Cortex and Cerebellum

– Utilise high frequency practice on a weekly basis

– Practice appropriate respiratory techniques

– Utilise mental rehearsal of the skill/visualisation techniques

– Promote consolidation of motor learning: Sleep & Repeat!

Seems like a lot of detail?!

So why not just work out what movement skill you want to achieve and just hammer away at it until you get it? Well, as children that is how we did things, as adults its not quite that easy. Pretty much all of the factors described above in ‘Identify and remove performance barriers’ don’t exist in uninjured kids. They don’t fatigue in the same way and aren’t carrying 20 years of poor movement practice, injuries and restrictive ego. When working with adults, its a different story!

B-boy Windmills and Guitars

Motor learning, whether fine motor control, such as learning to play the guitar or gross dynamic movement such as learning to windmill like a break dancer is essentially the same process.

To learn to play the guitar you first need to learn how to hold the instrument, to have an idea of how you want it to sound, where to place your fingers and how to coordinate your two hands. It’s a very involved process that requires a lot of attention. Learning the basic finger positions to play chords provides the brain with a basic framework on which to build more complicated motor patterns.

Anyone who plays an instrument will tell you that when learning to play new, more complicated and unfamiliar pieces of music, practicing for hours on end can be counter productive. You repeatedly try and fail, sometimes to the point that you become frustrated and annoyed. This does not expedite the process. Practicing slowly and precisely for a short period of time, say 15 minutes, then putting the guitar down for a while and coming back to it later, always enhances your ability to play the piece you’re trying to learn upon the following attempt. Each exposure and practice consolidates the last, and you learn faster without fatigue or frustration.

The same is true with learning the windmill or any other complicated movement sequence. Do it for too long and you get tired and annoyed at your incompetence. If you have the foundations in place and you practice in the way I am describing, you avoid the brain states that make you want to quit and are working with your neurological circuitry that lets the process happen instead of taking 2 steps forward and one step back.

Neurology Is the governing process of everything we learn and experience. Understanding how to work with our brains and nervous systems allows us to optimise the learning process. Practicing movement skills irrespective of this knowledge is a slower process.

At high levels of performance our ‘thinking’ brains become quiet but to learn in the first place we have to emphasise its involvement and avoid the performance pitfalls along the way.

By David Fleming
Creator and Co-Founder of the AMN Academy.
David Fleming is one of the worlds foremost authorities on
Movement Neurology. After well over a decade in the fitness
industry Dave has learnt from some of the brightest minds all
over the globe and is currently the only Personal Trainer to have
ever been accepted to study at the Carrick Institute. He’s a total
geek and is affectionately known as the Jedi Master for his ability
to fix peoples chronic pain when all other avenues have failed.
He’s travelled internationallyto coach many PT’s and Therapists
on his unique system and is a guest lecturer at the worlds first
Brain Summit. Having said that, it took him until he was 30 to
pass his driving test, but his mum’s still real proud of him.
He’s also a total boss of a Dad.

What is Applied Movement Neurology and what has it done for me lately?

Applied Movement Neurology

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AMN is a comprehensive Personal Training system of strength, health and wellness that acts to functionally drive the nervous system to relieve pain, promote optimal respiration and increase complex motion skill via brain based drills, gymnastics, hand balancing & martial arts movements.

 Sooooooooooooo………..Why the brain? 

Quite simply our brain and nervous system are in charge of everything that we have ever or will ever experience. Understanding the governing system of the body affords you a vastly increased accuracy to your rehabilitative or performance enhancing interventions. Understanding how to allow the nervous system to thrive, drives health & performance to levels that are otherwise unobtainable.

 Survival 

The primary objective of every human brain on this planet is that of survival. While extremely high levels of performance and skill are obviously possible, we are primarily wired to survive.

Survival is based on two simple concepts;

Fuel and Activation

The term fuel encompasses two things:

A constant supply of glucose to the brain 

A constant supply of oxygen to the brain

If either of these compounds are withdrawn from the system we shall either suffer a slow or quick death, either way our survival coding will be overridden. Each of these components can be optimised. In regards to respiration there is a common pattern that will promote health in all individuals. Normal diaphragmatic function and balanced O2/Co2 ratios.

In regards to fuel it gets a lot more complex. To optimise health via nutrition we have to accept that every single nervous system is completely unique. Peanut butter may be one persons favourite snack, while it may kill someone else. Blanket recommendations on nutrition over and above avoiding processed foods and a continuous influx of high sugar foods are tenuous at best. We must test an individuals physiology if we wish to accurately describe what is healthy for them or otherwise.

Activation

Activation refers to the information that the brain and nervous system receives over the course of a lifetime and it is also something we can choose to optimise.

We may assess a persons neurological function via observation of their ability to perform certain movements and tasks. Balance, eye movement, joint motion, coordination, awareness of sensory touch such as hot/cold, light, vibration, pain, sound, smell, vision, strength & mobility each help to build a picture of an individuals activation state.

AMN brain based drills act to provide the specific activation necessary to promote or enhance an individuals survivability. Directly driving the brain is the fastest & most effective way to clear compensations. Being cognisant of the need to promote balance within the nervous system simply allows the organism to be normal. Normal is a good starting point to work towards optimal.

Movement

Different kinds of movement promote different adaptations. Moving at a slow to moderate pace in a cyclical fashion (cardio) will promote an adaptation called angiogenesis. This is the proliferation of new blood vessels from existing ones. Linear based strength training promotes what is known as synaptogenesis at the level of the spinal cord. Synaptogenesis is an increase in structure of & number of connections between neurons that fire our muscles to contract. Complex/acrobatic training promotes synaptogenesis at the level of the brain, specifically within the cerebellum & frontal cortices.  A complex strength sequence such as performing a muscle up in to an L sit, forward roll & back in to a top support on the olympic rings will promote positive adaptations at the level of the tissues, the spinal cord & the brain.

If your goals are strength, muscularity & high levels of movement skill as well as enhanced health & wellness, the combination of neurological re-patterning drills, gymnastics, martial arts & hand balancing skills is hard to beat!

Emotional buy in 

There’s no doubt about it, learning complex skills like handstands & throwing tornado kicks is fun, challenging & cool. It takes months to gain the strength to hold even some of the basic gymnastic progressions. When you achieve these skills there is a huge reward that follows. As one of my clients put it after nailing a handstand;

“You’re so right, you don’t get that buzz lifting metal!”

There is no reason that people shouldn’t be crawling, rolling, kicking, climbing ropes, performing handstands & muscle up’s in commercial gyms, parks & training studios. Exercise & personal training can encompass so much more than relentless sets of walking lunges & bicep curls & its a real added bonus that people have fun trying.

 The nutshell

We are wired for survival. To promote the experience of health & wellness we must promote optimal fuel & activation. Complex movements that require strength, balance & coordination activate the cerebellum & brain & thus optimise activation.

Training becomes practice & practice is fun

Very simply, the brain & body will get better at what it practices or is exposed to the most. Practicing squatting with heavy loads will make you better at squatting heavy loads. Bodybuilding will make you better at moving in isolation & directing glycogen storage to each muscle group. Sitting slumped over a computer for 10 hours each day will make you better at using a computer & slumping, practicing a negative or positive attitude will improve performance of either one.

AMN offers the ultimate corrective exercise & pain relief as well as the movement progressions that integrate & strengthen the governing system of the body.

We want to spread our philosophy on exercise around the world and to help as many people as possible to explore and enjoy their potential for movement. 

We have a free AMN starter course being released shortly, please help us spread the word by sharing our philosophy with as many people as you can and sign up for our free course by following this link