3 Ways To Improve Your Movement Quality

Human Movement

Whatever you do, from high end computer programming to gardening and everything else, quality matters.

Movement is no exception.

As Dutch sports performance and motor learning expert Joep Joosten says:

Movement quality is hard to measure objectively, due to inherent differences between human anatomy, physiology and psychology, that the best we can do is quantify, and compare to norms.

However, if you ask any lay person watching anything involving human movement, from artistic dance to fast running, they will be able to tell you what looks “better”, or more easily, what’s not good.

My colleague, top sports physiotherapist Greg Dea, has this to say on movement quality:

There are certain things that leaders in the area of human movement agree on, and one of which, is that certain movements are fundamental to humans. These include:

  • Squatting
  • Bending
  • Rolling/twisting
  • Pushing
  • Pulling

We also intuitively understand that our movement quality can be compromised over time (1), be it due to factors out of our control like ageing, disease or injury.

But we also need to realise that our movement quality is very much affected by factors that are within our control, such as our environment, occupation, hobbies and our physical activity, to name a few.

Whatever you do, it is always a good option to try and move with more quality. Why? Movement is both an action and a stimulus. Each time you move, you are stimulating your brain. The better your movement, the better the stimulus, and thus the better the learning experience for your brain. (2)

So how do you move with more quality?

Make It Easier

This stems out of a training quote “sometimes you have to regress to progress”, but it applies across all forms of movement in life.

Sometimes, what you are doing, or attempting to do, is simply beyond your current capabilities.

If this is the case, you are performing at, or near, your “threshold”. Around this threshold we see survival strategies kick in, which impair movement quality.

To borrow from Greg again:

Survival strategies are great in times when survival is threatened.

They produce extra stability and rigidity, which in turn allows the expression of more power, strength and endurance than you normally would be able to produce otherwise.

In the short term, this is perfect. If a bear is chasing you down, you want to be able to run or climb to safety, it’s not so great if you are in the gym or on the tennis court, trying to enjoy yourself and be the best you can be, because then you can potentially do more than your body can safely adapt to, which is termed an injury.

If that is the case, making the movement easier by “regressing” it can allow your brain turn off the survival mechanisms, and you can execute movement more effectively.

Regressing can be done in few different ways:

  • Making the task easier
  • Doing less of the task
  • Breaking the task up into smaller chunks, and taking longer breaks between chunks

The cool thing about our bodies, is that they adapt to stimuli, so over time, you will get better and be able to do more anyway,

This is universally applicable, from sports to housework.

Stimulate Your Senses

Movement is an output of the brain. Once again, Greg puts it simply (maybe this should be an ode to Greg):

Outputs = inputs + processing. – Greg Dea

Most of the time, when someone wants to improve their movement quality, they focus on executing the output more, and perhaps changing the processing by thinking about certain cues (think stand tall, arch your back, lift your knees etc).

Very few people focus on the inputs aspect intuitively, but this is one of the biggest areas where you can have success in improving your movement quality.

Pictured above, osteopath Phillip Beach is discussing the sensory homonculus, which is the representation of the physical body within the brain. You can see how certain areas are quite big – these areas have the richest sensory nerve supply and are ripe for stimulation.

Now, obviously, when it comes to movement, we are probably not going to worry about stimulating our face or genitals, but how many times have you paid attention to how your hands and feet interact with your environment?

By stimulating your senses to a higher level, you drive increased brain activation, which facilitates better movement.

An obvious place to start, is with the feet. Encased in shoes for most of the day, by performing movements without shoes, you automatically get a richer sensory stimulus. This isn’t always practical, so a good rule of thumb is to spend as much time at home, both indoors and out, barefoot, and when you are exercising, try and perform your warm ups, or at least part of them, barefoot as well.

When it comes to your hands, whether your in the gym, gardening or riding a bike, you need to weigh up the benefits of protection to the costs of decreased sensory stimulation when wearing gloves.

The other aspect of increasing sensory stimulation is in relation to sensory input from within the body. If function at a joint is compromised, then the sensory input of that joint to the CNS is also compromised. However, compromised sensory input also impacts function. It’s a negative vicious cycle.

We can use osteopathic techniques, stretching and other self-mobilisation techniques to change the function at a joint, in order to improve it’s sensory input. Remember the equation Input + Processing = Output?

Change Your Environment

By modifying your environment, you can almost immediately change your movement.

What do I mean by your environment?

Almost everything. From the physical environment, all the way through to the social environment.

Let’s say you are a recreational runner, and your best 5 km time is 30 minutes. If you started running with 23-25 minute 5 km runners regularly (a change to your social environment), do you think you would get faster over time?

If you are a district level cricket player, and you get the chance to play a match at the MCG, do you think you would be more focused or less? Would you perform to a higher level or lower?

There’s not a clear answer to either question.

Some people rise to the occasion and others are crushed by the pressure. Either way, there is a change in their performance.

To improve your movement quality, you need to experiment with your environment to find the conditions that let you be at your best.


Improving your movement quality isn’t all about performing specific exercises or using a certain technique.

By understanding that movement is a complex brain output, that is based on many contextual factors, you can aim to change your movement by changing the contextual factors.


Nick Efthimiou Osteopath


This blog post was written by Dr Nick Efthimiou (Osteopath), founder of Integrative Osteopathy.

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.


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(1) Performance on the Functional Movement Screen in older active adults

(2) Neural Correlates of Motor Learning, Transfer of Learning, and Learning to Learn


Brain Training That Works

Brain Training

Brain training has become popular in the last few years, but does it live up to the hype?

No. (1)

Unfortunately, playing games on your phone doesn’t do much for your brain, aside from make you better at playing those games. (2)

Does that mean you are doomed to suffer from declining cognitive function as you age?

Not necessarily.

There are activities which have demonstrated positive effects on both brain structure and function.

Despite what advertisers tell you, these are not found in your app store.

So what can you do to “train your brain” and make it (and the rest of you) healthier?

Learn A Language

Learning a language is one of the best things you can do for your brain, and your life.

Learning a language opens up your world, from business to social and travel opportunities.

The added bonus is that it reshapes your brain, improving both the structure and function, and potentially helping stave off Alzheimer’s. (3, 4)

In this case, apps can be helpful, but nothing beats engaging in conversations – you are challenged to think in a different language, which is fantastic for cognitive function.

What’s great is that whilst becoming fluent is great for the brain (and your life), the act of learning a language, even if you struggle, still yields improvements.

Learn an Instrument

Learning an instrument has similar effects on the brain to learning a language.

Both the structure of the brain as well as the function are affected positively.

It seems that in the case of musical instruments, the longer you have played them, the better. (5, 6, 7) This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother if you are “older”, it simply means, once you start, keep it up, the benefits are well worth the effort!

One of the more interesting findings made by researchers, is that playing an instrument can help mitigate hearing decline due to ageing as well!

This occurs because we “hear” with our brain. Our ears translate vibrations of the air to electrical impulses that our brains decipher as sounds, and it is thought that playing an instrument helps enhance “meaning” associated with sound, allowing better function when hearing.


Exercise is probably the best brain training activity of them all, because it offers so many benefits not only to your brain, but body and soul as well.

It makes sense that moving is so good for our brain, given how much real estate in our heads is allocated to performing and controlling movement.

The list of studied effects of exercise on brain training includes:

  • Structural growth via increased signalling of various growth factors.
  • Improved memory and cognitive function.
  • Delayed onset of neuro-degenerative diseases.

So what’s the best exercise for your brain?

There is research on cardio exercise (running, cycling, walking etc) and strength training, but not much on complex functional movements.

I would hypothesise, that the best form of exercise for your brain is a circuit style workout that challenges you to move in 3 dimensions, pushing, pulling and carrying different loads over different levels – from the ground to standing.

Crossing midline (imagine a line vertically through your body, cutting it into two halves) movements are super charged brain boosting exercises (they use low level versions of these movements in neuro-rehab).

Examples of movements that cross midline:

  • Crawling
  • Skipping
  • Juggling (8)
  • Alternate single leg/arm movements
  • Rolling
  • Rotational movements

Of course, if this sounds too much, just get some vigorous walking in, the research is still positive – move it or lose it (brain function that is).


Meditation has been getting a lot of attention from scientists lately.

Research is showing positive changes to brain areas involved in stress and pain, along with global improvements to brain structure and function.

A while back I wrote an article on mindfulness for pain management – the principles described in it are relevant to brain health too.

Whether you do focused meditation, pray or simply spend time quietly contemplating, it is a fair assumption to say that inward focused practices can all have a positive affect on your brain.

Drink Coffee

Not everyone responds to coffee positively, but if you respond well, enjoy it or are addicted to it (not the greatest thing mind you), then there is some positive news.

Drinking u coffee a day can be neuroprotective (9).

I’m not sure it makes your brain better, but it can help stave off neurodegenerative diseases, which I guess, makes your brain better simply by virtue of not getting worse.

Of course, coffee has adverse effects that are more pronounced in some people, so exercise good judgement when deciding whether coffee “works” for you.


Brain training apps don’t work to make you smarter or improve the structure and function of your brain.

In fact, not much can make you more intelligent, as psychologists have been trying for almost 100 years to do, with very little success.

There are many things you can do to improve your brain health and potentially protect yourself against neurodegenerative diseases.

Like all biological cells, the brain responds to stimuli, and if you use your brain for challenging stimuli, it responds positively, growing new neural connections, increasing in density and improving in function.

Ideally, you will have a coffee before you exercise with your trainer who speaks to you in a new language, followed by an evening meditation before you play your instrument of choice.


Nick Efthimiou OsteopathThis blog post was written by Dr Nick Efthimiou (Osteopath), founder of Integrative Osteopathy.

Integrative Osteopathy is an osteopathic practice located in the heart of Fitzroy North, within the reputable Healthy Fit gym. With a focus on education, manual therapy, and active rehabilitation, Integrative Osteopathy offers individual solutions to various painful problems.

If you liked this article, and would like to learn more about maintaining brain and body health throughout your life, call 0448 052 754 to have a chat with Nick, or, to make an appointment online, click here.

This blog post is meant as an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a qualified and registered health professional.






(1) Consensus on Brain Training

(2) Putting Brain Training to the Test

(3) Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow

(4) Growth of Brain Areas After Foreign Language Learning

(5) Effects of Music Lessons on Aging Brain

(6) Brain Structures Differ Between Musicians and Non-musicians

(7) Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development

(8) Juggling Enhances Connections in the Brain

(9) Neuroprotective and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Coffee