My purpose is to help the running (and by default, walking) world; to work with those who want to help me spread ideas, thoughts, words, actions, connections … 

“I am glued to your book every morning for my quiet reading time, and there are so many light bulbs going off, so much recognition of all the bits I’ve been coaching, teaching, thinking and doing. But the way I’ve been doing things is like learning a language; knowing a lot of vocabulary, and can muddle a disjointed sentence together, but not quite binding it all together to make a language. And now reading your book I see the complete language laid out in front of me!” – Rebecca

This was so beautifully expressed … and so interesting to me that Rebecca used a language analogy to express where she felt her ‘missing links’ were, and successfully encapsulated the problem in two sentences!

It’s ALL ABOUT THE WORDS.

The goal of The PFM Way to Efficient Running is to shift the running industry away from ‘methods’ and towards ‘self-knowing’, through understanding movement efficiency and unearthing personal movement restrictions.  This needs WORDS to connect to the FEELINGS of the ACTIONS.

And it needs SIMPLE WORDS.  In the movement industry as a whole, there are many voices using different terminology to say the same thing, there are voices prioritising ‘this’ over ‘that’ and there are gaps/relative silence about certain concepts.  This can be confusing.  My goal is to keep things simple and accessible, and to use visuals and metaphors to bring the information to life; stories you can relate to tend to stick in our memories more readily than sterile facts.  LEGO and the structure of trees feature heavily, so let’s look at one conceptually here.


LEGO

Imagine your brain as a house with three levels: basement (brainstem), first floor (basal ganglia) and top floor (frontal cortex).  

You move into the basement when you’re born, and find Lego there, seemingly scattered randomly around the floor.  If 30-odd pieces is to be considered a ‘full set’, you have 30-odd different colours, shapes and sizes, all with the knobbly bits on the top to help you piece them together.

Born as a bit of a ‘helpless blob’ physically, you are wired with curiosity, driving you to move and pick up and play with each piece.  

And the Lego isn’t ‘scattered’ at all; in fact, it’s specifically laid out in a way that dictates which pieces get played with first; the order of play develops movement along a DNA timeline-driven, predictable and predetermined path.

Consider the knobbly bits on the top of each piece of Lego as a sensory-motor reflex pattern: a stereotypical, automatic movement response to a stimulus.  A certain movement creating a certain shape.  It’s easy to feel the knobbly bits, with their numbers and layout giving instant information about that piece.  

The ‘game’ is to play with each piece of Lego long enough that you can recognise it viewed from all directions; you know it from its knobbly bits first, but then you get to know it from its shape, colour and size too.  Once at this stage, that piece of Lego is allowed to be stored in the box and is no longer a reflex, no longer a stereotypical, automatic movement response to a stimulus.  Whilst its shape remains, you can now use it in any way you want: upside down, back to front, orientated to the left or to the right.  When more than one piece of Lego is stored safely in the box, you can start connecting them together to create even more shapes.

Each time a piece of Lego has been played with enough times for it to earn its right to live in the box, the movements connected to the play have strengthened the muscles.  When you progress to connecting boxed pieces of Lego – creating different physical shapes and movements – the action both strengthens the muscles and speeds up the rate of connection.  

The more pieces of Lego stored safely in the box, the more variety of shapes available to be made.  Many pieces of Lego are ‘shapes’ with balance skills and some are ‘shapes’ with acuity, creating the ability to hear, see and think accurately and clearly.  You are progressing from ‘blob’ to balancing on two little feet with the ability to organise both your body and your mind.  When all 30-odd pieces are in the box, the lid appears to show you the whole picture: the development of human movement and thought.  Body and brain.  Physical movement and mental movement.   

At about 7 years old, you have developed the strength and movement co-ordination to access the first floor (basal ganglia), where you can play with your box of Lego with a better view: you can now walk, run, gallop, skip, jump, roll, climb, swing, wrestle, play hopscotch, dance and have some degree of hand-eye co-ordination and foot-eye co-ordination.

The better view encourages you to move more, thus getting more and more skilled at balancing your precious brain on top of an increasingly longer body, continuing to strengthen the muscular-skeletal system and the speeds of all the motor responses.  Taking the stairs to the top floor (frontal cortex) opens your movement world to the learned higher skills of particular sporting activities, requiring greater mobility, balance and motor response speeds. 

But what if you missed a few pieces of Lego?  What if they never made it into the box in the basement?  Your basal ganglia will do its best with whatever you’ve got:

You might not have found the piece of Lego which drives your arms to support your torso, so you‘ll have skipped through the crawling stage; whilst your upper body might not have the strength and co-ordination it has the potential for, you can still manage, albeit in a somewhat slouchy kind of way.  

What if the ‘turn left’ piece of Lego was tucked in a corner of the basement, out of reach?  No worries.  You’ve got your ‘turn right’ to fall back on … until perhaps you start writing at school and keep getting told off by the teacher because you don’t start at the left-hand margin … or until you sprain your right ankle, which as far as your Lego set is concerned, is the only one that‘s ready, waiting and willing to connect with the other shapes in the box.

Maybe one foot is still ticklish; a particular piece of Lego prompting big toe extension probably didn’t make it into the box.  It’s still kicking around on the basement floor, and you keep standing on it (literally).  The sensory element of the knobby bit (reflex arc) stubbornly remains along the outside of the foot.  Your central nervous system has options: it can default you to walk on it, squashing it hard and locking you into ‘high arches’ and/or endless inversion ankle sprain cycles; it can send you in the opposite direction, avoiding the outside of the foot entirely and gifting you the label of an ‘over-pronator’; and it can go with the flow – allowing your big toe to ping up endlessly, breaking through the fabric of socks and even shoe uppers in the process.  

And if your glutes are ‘sleepy’ no matter how many crab walks and bridges you‘ve diligently repped out, you’ve got to wonder if the piece of Lego pulling the tail-bone out from its original ’tucked’ position, ever saw the light of day. That piece of Lego is probably still in the basement …

Let’s say that all is well, the full set of Lego is happily boxed, and you’re moving confidently between the first and top floors, with co-ordinated generalised movement and the capacity to overlay fresh movement skills as you discover new sporting activities.  And then, an accident.  Your head gets a good bash, and whilst you don’t lose consciousness, you’re told you have a minor concussion.  

Within 1-3 months, one or more symptoms – headaches, dizziness, attention difficulties, visual tracking, memory loss, nausea – have eased, but you don’t feel the same.  Somehow you’re not as co-ordinated as you were before your brain bounced against the inside of your skull; perhaps your balance seems less controlled or your reaction time slower.  Concussions can shake one or more pieces of Lego out of the box; they’re back on the basement floor, where those knobbly bits of ‘motor reflex patterning’ are throwing the timing and muscle tone regulation ‘off’.

Of course, you may have already realised that the beginning of this piece was describing what is commonly understood as ‘infant development’.  And – I feel passionately – that’s the problem: the label.  Labels can be helpful and concisely descriptive, AND they can be unhelpful, because they present limiting characterizations.  Just because initial Lego play happens whilst we’re very young, does not mean the young have the monopoly on it.  

Let’s portray the limitless narrative: 

LEGO is Movement Development, which is non-ageist and offers life-long opportunities to explore movement with the goal of finding ‘MORE’ and ‘BETTER’ in the context of sensory-motor and motor co-ordination and postural control.

No matter our age, once we’ve identified which piece of Lego isn’t in the box, we can go and find it, play with it and organise it.  Tidy up our basement floor.  

Never forgetting that it can’t be that difficult … after all, a baby does it … 

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