How Somatic Education Can Improve Fitness Training

I'm preparing for a series of upcoming presentations, each one to a different audience. I will be speaking and teaching to military personnel, fitness and strength trainers, people with back pain, and rehabilitation specialists. The terminology I use may be tailored to the audience, but the focus will be the same for all: the basics of Hanna Somatic Education:

  • Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and why it's one of the most important conditions to understand, when addressing muscle pain and dysfunction.
  • The Three Stress Reflexes that all humans respond with in regards to stress, and how they cause muscle imbalances and pain.
  • Pandiculation is the safest, most effective way to reset muscle function and length for pain free movement and optimum muscle control.

Fitness training can benefit from Somatic Education by incorporating a basic understanding of the simple points cited above.

Fitness training is sensory motor movement training.

Programming your brain is more important than strength training and aerobics. Central nervous system programming must never be neglected at all stages of training.

— Mel Siff

In the above quote, Mel Siff is talking about somatic education: the ability to train your brain to sense and control your muscles and movements. It's about more than just performing a movement with strength and power; it's about quality of movement. If your brain isn't in control of your muscles and movement, it doesn't matter how strong you are; your movement won't be effortless and efficient. Aerobic strength is important - but if your brain is recruiting muscles it doesn't need for a specific movement, because certain muscles are involuntarily and habitually contracted (Sensory Motor Amnesia), you'll be working too hard.

Sensory Motor Amnesia is the result of habituated adaptation to stress reflexes.

The brain and nervous system respond to everything in the environment - accidents, injuries, surgeries, sudden falls, long hours in a car or 40 hours a week on a computer. The brain teaches the muscles, due to continuous stress, to contract and adapt, altering the way in which you move - often without your even realizing it.

What your brain is no longer aware of can negatively impact your athletic form, "movement memory," and ability to recuperate from injury. This also creates postural imbalances (pelvic imbalances, leg length discrepancy) that can result in injury.

Training functionally "amnesic" muscles can, over time, result in chronic muscle pain and structural damage.

Stress reflexes occur in full body patterns of muscular contraction.

When stress occurs suddenly (accidents, falls) or over long periods of time (emotional stress, seated work), the brain contracts the muscles in a pattern - a kinetic chain. It's never just one muscle causing an imbalance or movement problem. A fitness trainer who is able to spot a full body muscular imbalance through proper assessment before training begins can help prevent injury and improve form and quality of movement.

Look at the weightlifter in the photo at right. Notice the slight imbalance in the center of the body: his waist muscles on the right are slightly shorter than on the left. The bar isn't level. Being able to see these slight differences and teaching an athlete to regain balance can keep him playing for a long time.

Slumped shoulders, overly contracted abdominals, over-arched back muscles and hips that don't move easily are all signs of sensory motor amnesia.

Pandiculation is more effective and safer than stretching.

Most people find stretching unpleasant and painful. Muscles that have learned to stay contracted must learn to release and this can't be done by stretching. Learning the subtle, but very important difference between pandiculation and stretching will set you apart from other fitness trainers. Your client will learn to reset their muscles - without strain - something they can also learn to do it at home with somatic exercises. As Mel Siff advises, they'll be training their brain to make their movements smarter.

Pandiculation uses all aspects of a muscle's ability: eccentric, isometric and concentric - all in one, slow intentional movement. Pandiculation increases one's awareness of the muscles involved in the movement pattern (envision a cat or dog "stretching" upon getting up from rest) and gets the nervous system ready for action. A trainer can learn to pandiculate any movement - from the "butterfly" to the "L" sit to the "woodchop." No matter the action pattern involved in your sport, you can pandiculate it.

Hanna Somatic Education simplifies things.

If you can see patterns in your clients (and yourself): flexion, extension, side bending, and rotating, and teach them to regain symmetry within these patterns, your clients' muscles will balance out, and their quality of movement will improve.

In Hanna Somatics, less is more. Slower is better for regaining muscle coordination. Then it's on to ballistic, quicker movement. And this is the territory of the fitness trainer.

Visit the Essential Somatics® store for our Pain-Free DVD series.

Contact Martha to find out how to bring her to your fitness center to conduct Somatics for Fitness Trainers workshops and clinical sessions.