Many individuals lose awareness of how to move their bodies properly. I was one of them. A couple years ago during chiropractic school, I was goofing around on a buddy’s longboard trying tricks I had no business trying. This buddy is now owner of High Country Muscle & Joint Clinic in Golden, Colorado. He is a functional chiro trying to spread a similar message about proper movement strategies. But long story short, I ended up falling off and dislocating my elbow. I find myself very fortunate to not have broken anything. During the rehab phase, I spent time thinking through my fitness goals and expectations. I was a very active individual going to the gym lifting weights and focused on programming “functional” exercises; it was therapy for all the school work. But this incident changed me. Thinking about my programming after the accident, I realized I had no idea how to fall properly; such a silly thing. How does someone not know how to fall properly? Especially someone who viewed themself as “functionally” fit.
So after rehabbing the elbow, I started messing around with rolling patterns and quickly learned I had an issue. When I was younger, I remember crawling around doing somersaults and cartwheels like any active child. However, one day I was in the gym focused on improving my deadlift form, and decided to perform some cartwheels in-between sets. One direction I did almost flawlessly, the other direction I hit a mental block. My brain would literally not let me do a cartwheel. This was a humbling moment. Many might think a cartwheel is simple and if you wanted to perform one, both directions, then you could. I challenge you to try this. For many of you, there will be a difference between the two directions. I definitely had. There are several good videos via YouTube that go through progressions with rolling patterns. Especially if you type in "parkour rolling patterns," these are fun progressions.
What I learned the hard way
When there is a block between your brain and your body, performance will always be limited. This moment was my personal eye opener. We all have eye openers in different categories of our lives. This was mine for lifting, body awareness, and performance. So, I started adding rolling patterns and cartwheels into my warm-up routine. Even with simple, on the ground, rolling patterns I had to concentrate extremely hard; especially with my left arm leading. This was extremely frustrating for me, so I had to regress some and incorporate simple rolling drills.
What shocked me the most after incorporating these rolling patterns was not just my awareness of my body, but largely my strength gain with deadlifting and squatting. My numbers started improving quickly! I was slow to realize that the biggest difference in my programming was adding in awareness drills such as rolling and cartwheels. What I learned the hard way is that if the body has different awareness levels from right to left, then performance of tasks, such as deadlifting requiring both sides of the body simultaneously, will be not be maximized. When it comes to fitness performance, you are only as strong as your weakest link. My weakest link was something called "brain smudging" and many people are unaware but it may be yours too. So I challenge everyone who reads this to try to perform a perfect cartwheel in both directions. If you have a difference from side to side, then there is a strong chance that your brain has “smudging” and you too should include awareness drills into your programming.