The best novelists I know have an uncanny ability to weave the most interesting of stories and yet, when I finish a good book, I can’t help but think, “I should have seen that coming.” This phenomenon, I think is partly due to the expert use of foreshadowing. The adept author sprinkles his or her tale with enough subtle clues to create a plausible and coherent story, but yet keeps from unveiling the entirety of the plot in one chapter’s time.
In many ways, I have been noticing that the ideal way to learn or teach movement is an approach in which there is adequate foreshadowing. Hear me out: the idea is that the end goal of movement in many cases is much more complex or nuanced than it may appear at the outset. The expert movement coach knows what the end goal is without revealing it all at once. Instead, movement practice is doled out in reasonable and progressive, “bite sized” pieces if you will. Additionally, feedback fits the session and is used in succinct ways. A student/client can only pay attention to and integrate so many cues at one time. More is not always better when it comes to feedback and instruction.
Learning a handstand. One movement that I am currently enamored with is the free-standing handstand. This is a movement demanding coordination, strength, and balance. Through the progression of trying to learn this movement, I have found that one of the most important aspects has been to focus on drills that create “foreshadowing” effects for when I am practicing the actual handstand itself. That is, working on parts of the movement in isolation serves to improve those components without becoming overwhelmed by all of the concurrent demands in balance, strength etc. Ultimately, the goal is to integrate those pieces of muscle activation, form, and balance into the movement pattern of the handstand.
Two drills that I have found particularly helpful:
Back body line drill
Front body line drill
Performing these static holds in a less challenging position (supine- face up, or prone-face down) reduces the strength demand of the movement so that I am able to actively hold a better “line” or body position. Also, the balance demand reduced as my “base of support” is contact along my trunk and not just in my hands as when I am inverted.
The amazing thing to me is how much this work actually translates into the ability to execute the subtle body corrections needed to balance in a handstand (still a work in progress!). It also helps to groove in the movement pattern of what it “feels” like to activate the appropriated muscle groups to hold a good body position. With this same idea in mind, I can’t help but think of the famous Russian strength training coach, Pavel Tsatsouline who wrote, “Strength is a skill.”
Physical Therapy Movement Progressions. A good physical therapist evaluates a patient’s limitations in movement and then initiates treatments guided by the collaborative goals that have been set by patient and therapist to improve function. Some of these goals may be longer term goals and here is where I think the capability to foreshadow movement is so important. A bed bound patient may have the goal to be independent in walking around his or her house again. It might be unrealistic (and perhaps detrimental!) to practice walking in the first physical therapy session. However, the physical therapist will always be building components of the goal of walking independently into the progression of movements. Depending on the current level of function of the patient, a progression to walking may look something like:
ROLL IN BED UNILATERAL SCOOTING SITTING MARCH STANDING MARCH WALK
Though the patient may be unaware of the value in learning to roll or scoot, the therapist understands that the progression to walking must include core/trunk control and reciprocal movement patterns (i.e., legs moving opposite from arms) that will be trained in these different progressions.
As a physical therapist or movement coach, how much are you coaching in the moment and how much foreshadowing are you doing to improve more complex movements to come?