Muscle Confusion and Somatic Differentiation

"Muscle confusion" is marketed as a new, cool, breakthrough discovery that is the outstanding characteristic of P90X, a very popular fitness routine/method. I've discussed this concept before, and it bears repeating: "Muscle confusion," is a bit of a misnomer. When you mix up your routine with different kinds of ballistic movements, you're not actually confusing the muscles. You're disrupting the circuits in your brain, and giving the brain new and different feedback and stimulus. Your brain actually teaches them to become smarter through increased sensory feedback. The biggest benefit of this kind of training is increased sensory awareness and motor control. A more accurate word for "muscle confusion" is "differentiated movement." This term was coined by Moshe Feldenkrais, creator of the Awareness Through Movement exercises and Functional Integration. Feldenkrais began to see in his own work how breaking down patterns of movement into little seemingly unrelated sequences brings an almost instantaneous improved coordination and range of motion in the muscular system.

One of the best example of differentiated movement is the somatic exercise called the "seated twist." It is a profoundly effective exercise for relieving neck and shoulder pain by breaking down all the movements inherent in a full spiral twist of the body.

In this exercise you learn to differentiate the head from the trunk, eyes from the neck and head, upper body from the lower body for increased movement and freedom of restriction of the neck, shoulder girdle and trunk. Increased range of motion and rapid pain relief occurs not through force, but through intelligent sensory integration and re-patterning of muscles that had forgotten how to move properly.

Other examples of differentiation and "muscle confusion" are brushing your teeth with your left hand (if you're right handed), walking backwards, or running, then stopping to do 5 jumping jacks, then running again. You're essentially distracting the brain from its habitual ways of sensing and moving. Current studies on brain plasticity tell us that "mixing it up" and creating a challenge for your brain helps the brain adapt and grow new neural connections. This is what creates the "big results" of P90X.

Somatic Exercises before your workout will create even smoother, more intelligent and coordinated movement.

If you want to take the results touted by P90X to an even higher level, add a short routine of somatic exercises before and after your workout.  Somatic exercises are - for most athletes - profound differentiation. Why? Because these exercises are done SLOWLY, with attention to the end range of the movement - something few athletes, with the exception of dancers, do when preparing to move. What, you may ask, is there to learn from moving slowly if your sport involves ballistic movement?

Slow movement "wakes up" the muscles safely and allows the brain to accurately sense what is happening in the body. Athletes learn to compensate due to accidents, injuries or over-training.  This can create an imbalance in the somatic center and accumulated muscle tension that gets in the way of smooth, efficient movement.  The end results of such compensatory patterns is one of moving like a car with the emergency brake still on.  Somatic Exercises teaches you to eliminate this kind of accumulated muscle and movement tension so the brain can recruit only the muscles necessary to get the job done.

Any sport or vigorous workout like P90X requires balance, muscle coordination, and mastery of specific movement patterns - flexing, extending, side bending, twisting, rotating. The more "body smarts" you have, the less likely you are to get injured from overuse or carelessness. Somatic Exercises are a missing link in athletic training that can help you differentiate yourself into improved coordination, muscle function and movement you never thought you could do.