Incorporating Movement Variability into Your Exercise Routine
by Crystal Watson, MA, BKin, CSCS
Traditional workouts are comprised of exercises that require us to push, pull, bend (flexion/extension), hinge and rotate. While these foundational movement patterns aid us in building strength, they do not fully represent the wide array of movements that our bodies’ perform on a daily basis.
For example, consider the position of your body as you reach up to grab a jar off that top shelf, shovel snow, or change the laundry. During daily tasks such as these, it is rare that our bodies are in a good anatomical position. So although we work hard, and are often hyper-aware of our body position as we complete exercises in the gym, often the same thought and care does not transfer into the other 23 hours of the day.
This is not permission to simply turn your brain off while working out, nor a suggestion to give up exercising all together. Rather, recognizing this disconnect between our ‘traditional workouts’ and our daily activities emphasizes the need to incorporate movement variability into our exercise routines.
So what is movement variability?
Fitness expert, Pete McCall, defined movement variability as “the concept of performing a variety of different tasks, movement patterns or exercises in order to prepare muscles and elastic connective tissue to generate force in almost any situation”. Accordingly, incorporating movement variability in our workouts can enable us to develop better movement patterns, while also improving our body awareness, strength and coordination. As such, incorporating movement variability isn’t only good for our workouts, these benefits will also translate into the multiple contexts that we participate in on a daily basis.
How can I incorporate movement variability within a core (or ab) workout?
When you think of ‘ab’ exercises, do images of sit-ups, bicycle crunches and back extensions (superman’s) come to mind?
While these seem to be staple ‘core’ exercises, to improve the effectiveness of your workout you will want to add some movement variability. To do this consider including locomotion (crawling, walking, rolling, bounding) and stability (anti-rotation, anti-flexion, anti-extension) exercises in your workout. For example, you could use inchworms or farmer walks for locomotion exercises and bird-dogs, glute bridges and planks for stability exercise, all of which still target and strengthen your core.
Incorporating locomotion and stability movement variations allow our exercise routines to better align with the wide variety of daily movements that we perform. During our daily activities we aren’t simply laying on a mat, activating a single muscle group, instead daily life involves activating multiple muscles groups simultaneously as we travel across uneven surfaces and have uneven external loads acting on us (such as carrying kids and/or groceries). Therefore, incorporating movement variability into our workouts, through the inclusion of stability and locomotion exercises, enables us to become more efficient and stable in our daily activities.
And of course, locomotion and stability exercises don’t have to exist as two separate entities. If you’re looking for an extra challenge, or find yourself short on time, try combining these two movement principles by performing exercises such as bear crawls, asymmetrically weighted walking lunges, or mini-band lateral walks. Not only will exercises such as these stimulate training adaptations, they can also enhance your motor control. This means that the next time you are unconsciously performing a daily task, your body will be better at adjusting itself to be in a more efficient and stable position.
Fitting it in
Movement variability exercises don’t just ‘belong’ in the gym, so try incorporating them in your daily routine. For instance, next time your brushing your teeth, challenge your stability by standing on one leg. Bringing groceries in the house? Load them on one arm and engage your core to maintain proper posture. Going to the storage room? Why not crawl!
Now it’s your turn… share the creative ways that you’ve incorporated movement variability (including stability and/or locomotion) into your daily life by commenting below.
McCall, P. (2017, September 11). 5 Benefits of movement variability during exercise [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://petemccallfitness.com/exercise- science/5-benefits-movement-variability-exercise/
Mukherjee, M., & Yentes, J. M. (2018). Movement variability: A perspective on success in sports, health, and life. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 28 (3).
Mullins, K. (2018). Programming the General Population for Optimal Fitness—10 Important Movement Patterns. Personal Training Quarterly, 5(2).