From the very onset of our lives there has been movement. Even the waves in the embryonic fluid produced from our mother’s walking resulted in our gentle responses of rocking. As our experience to these waves and other stimuli build these small primitive movements gather in strength and co-ordination. Eventually it is possible to make spontaneous and reflex based responses.
Repeated movement helps to strengthen the highway of nervous tissue that makes up our hard drive. The nervous system runs between the brain and the body and this network is what allows us, as individuals, to communicate and interact with our outside world. The better the hardware the easier we can engrain the software programs of movement.
When compared to other mammals, humans are born at a relatively premature stage of movement development. Our large brains compared to our mother’s pelvis and the associated need to pass the baby before their brain / head is too large and therefore unable to move through are to blame for this.
As such, it takes us up until 9 months post delivery before we are on par with the movement efficiency most other mammals possess at their time of birth.
For humans, this post birth period is when most of the connections are formed between the higher and lower centers of our brain. These are the connections required to build the muscular strength and neuromuscular control to resist gravity. This achievement in development can be seen grossly in the stages as a child learns to roll from their back to their front and front to their back, lift their head up when on their stomach, or while on their hands and knees, crawling, kneeling, in a lunge or a squat, or performing a dead lift to stand.
While we perceive these gross skill categories as individual successes in movement there are, in reality, thousands of new motor patterns being developed. We just perceive specific, easy to identify, achievements as being unique and separate from the others. If you think about the hierarchy within the Animal Kingdom Classes our movement development really does mimic each of the following Fish, Reptilian, Mammal, Primate and then Human bipedal movement.
If you observe the following images you can observe more visually these similarities.
Fish: Fetal pose: An infant begins life within the womb in an aqueous environment where movements are more similar to fish than that of an adult human
Reptile: Rolling, Army Crawl: When a child first begins to challenge and move against gravity the rocking, rolling and army crawling is very similar to those seen in reptiles with the alligator’s roll and walking being great comparisons.
Learning head alignment is first instigated when a baby is placed on their stomach and they challenge gravity. In this moment we learn how to hold and move our head by gaining control of our neck muscles. This then forms the basis of upper trunk control and eventually normal distribution of muscle tone throughout the body irrespective of our head position. The mastery of head control is fundamental to the development of balance, posture and co-ordination. However, if you look at many, if not most people around you, they have a faulty sense of head position and if you look closely you will notice tilting, forward carriage or other aberrant position and this leads to the increases and decreases in muscle tone experienced by the individual often leading to what they perceive as unrelated muscle or joint pain.
Learning proper head alignment provides the balance mechanism located deep inside the inner ear with a reference point from which it can direct other muscle groups and systems to work together in order to maintain balance and postural control. This mechanism is further enhanced in the infant as they raise their head while lying on their back and then again while rolling from stomach to back and from back to stomach.
Mammal: all fours, crawling: some of my favourite exercises to use with my players are bear crawls and other quadruped exercises and you can see how some of these postures 1st developed by the infant resemble the mammal postures.
The cross crawl patterns so essential to our lifetime of movement are significantly grooved during our time practicing quadruped motion. Don’t rush your children out of it and don’t hesitate in returning to it when patterns have become dysfunctional.
Primate: Partial Get Up, kneeling lunge, squat: Once the child is able to get up on their hind legs but still require their arms and hands to maintain balance their movements become very similar to primates
The mammalian movements of crawling and primate movements of squatting and standing further this head alignment improvement thus allowing balance to become more stable and a greater efficiency in muscle tone.
Human: deadlift (Hip Hinge), Lunging (cutting) and running
Walking; initially each step is performed to prevent us from falling over and the hands are used to allow our centre of mass to be maintained within our base of support. Once postural control is improved we can use our hands for exploration and development. The same holds true for modern day training of rehabilitation patients and high end athletes. When an athlete is asked to perform a new skill set that involves altering their body position in some form they will often require the use of their arms and hands as a counter weight to allow balance and upright posture be maintained against gravity. They require this counterweight mechanism because they have not yet developed the most effective recruitment and body positioning to perform the exercise.
As they practice, and their neuromuscular system improves, they will no longer require the use of their hands for balance and will instead be able to use their hands to perform tasks of exploration while still performing the original skill.
Final thoughts: In the second part of the Vestibular System: Move to Live and Live to Move will focus on the sensory organs within our head that allow us to perceive gravity and alter our movement to improve our response to gravity.
Take home points:
- Humans are born at premature stage of movement compared to other animals and we must develop these skills in our 1st year after birth;
- Our movement development mimics the other animal classes including fish, reptile, mammal, and then within the mammals it mimics quadruped animals and then primates.