If you move well, you have a greater likelihood of being pain-free and reaching your fitness goals. And yet, modern life doesn’t allow for much ‘moving well’. Unless you create it. This week, I invited my friend Bert Massey to teach you more about one movement pattern that pays big benefits but is often missed in modern life. You’ll be able to start incorporating what Bert is sharing into your next workout, so without delay, over to Bert to give you the lowdown!
Contra-lateral movement is the learned pattern of moving the right and left sides of the body simultaneously in order to promote and maintain balance during human biomechanical movement.
If you’re looking to relieve your pain, improve your coordination or balance, or are an athlete, you will benefit from improving your contra-lateral movement pattern.
When your contra-lateral movement pattern is not working well, you’re more likely to trip and fall, your power output will be throttled in every movement you attempt, and your base of support and stability will suffer as well.
You began learning the contra-lateral movement pattern very early in life.
Until babies learn to crawl they move in a homolateral pattern. This means that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body. This causes the right hand and foot to move at the same time. When a child learns to crawl it activates the contra-lateral pattern of movement and they begin to move the left hand at the same time as the right leg and vice versa.
This learning pattern continues to advance as you age and become more coordinated via walking, running, swimming and throwing.
Children and young kids often practice these movements and sharpen them without even knowing it. Children run, jump, play, climb trees and throw rocks, or baseballs, or anything they are strong enough to pick up.
This cross pattern of movement effectively builds a bridge between the right and left sides of the brain allowing electrical impulses to travel freely between the two sides.
The brain then stores these patterns of movement and they become responsible for governing your nervous system, spinal muscles and coordination.
Unfortunately when the body suffers a shock, the nerve impulses get damaged.
If you suffer an injury, like an ankle sprain or an ACL tear, you’ll need to relearn the proper contra-lateral patterns of movement. This can be taught in physical therapy, through proper strength and conditioning coaching, as well as in frequently practiced contra-lateral movement like running or swimming.
Sadly though, there isn’t much space for practicing to improve your contra-lateral movement in the modern world, other than walking.
Most day-to-day movements require arm movement without the legs, or require your thumbs and fingers to be the sole movers. Think of how you only move your hands to use your computer, and you only use your arms to interact with a store clerk during a checkout.
Many adults go years without sprinting, powerfully throwing a rock, or even bouncing from their right to left foot. In the past when we lived a more physical lifestyle all of these things would have been required or practiced as entertainment.
Teaching your brain and body to work together
To fend off the diminishing effect that the “not much movement required” modern world supplies, I’m going to share with you three movements that will get you moving contra-laterally.
If you have ever felt that you lack coordination, or consider yourself clumsy – these movement drills are a great way to start eliminating those conditions.
Remember, contra-lateral movement creates improvements in coordination, balance, power, and helps to align the fascia that runs throughout the body.
This impacts every part of your fitness – from improving your workout-quality, leading to better results from those workouts, to improving your day-to-day life, meaning you don’t feel the aches and pains that so many adults feel today.
Of course, there are thousands of ways to practice and improve your contra-lateral movement. Any athletic endeavor that involves running, changing direction, throwing or swinging will help to start improving your contra-lateral movement pattern.
But to narrow the focus and get right to the heart of the contra-lateral movement matter, there’s one simple drill: Begin crawling every day.
To help get you started with your crawling, I’ve got two contra-lateral crawling movements and one standing contra-lateral movement you can begin incorporating immediately into your day.
This is one of my personal favorites: the leopard crawl.
- Get on all fours with the knees lifted off the ground.
- Your weight is on your hands and toes, the knees are bent but they are off the ground.
- Then slowly crawl contra-laterally – meaning the right arm and the left leg move together – and do it without moving or shifting your core or hips.
The leopard crawl emphasizes and highlights a major point in quality movement: the ability to freely move the limbs while maintaining and stable core and hips.
Next up, a crawl that’s a bit more challenging: the lizard crawl.
Where the leopard crawl was about hip and core control, the lizard crawl is about creating well-organized movement.
- You still crawl on all fours keeping the knees off the ground, just like the leopard crawl, but in this one you want snake the body back and forth to the right and left each time you move.
- While doing this, emphasize range of motion on each joint – so really stretch the movement out, but keep your focus on controlling the body throughout the movement.
Lastly, a great scaled-back contra-lateral movement: the contra-lateral stepping row.
This move is a great way to get glute contraction and hip extension with people who have past injuries or have a very difficult time with any hinge motion like a deadlift.
What you are doing is engaging the glute of the stepping leg at the same time as the contralateral latissimus muscle.
- Hold a cable handle or resistance band in the right hand and pull it in until your hand is even with your chest.
- The movement begins by simultaneously stepping forward with the left leg and releasing the right hand out of the row.
- Once this is accomplished, pause momentarily, and simultaneously push off the heel of the left leg and return and row the right hand back to its starting position.
Have fun with your crawling! And remember, there are no rules other than each movement has to be contra-lateral. Reclaim your coordination, power output, and body control by going back to your roots and developing your contra-lateral movement pattern.
Bert grew up in Brownwood, Texas where he played and loved all sports from an early childhood. Bert played football, baseball, and powerlifted while in high school and attended the University of Texas and received his bachelors degree in History in 2006.
For several years Bert pursued a career in law and politics, but in 2011 realized his passions were fitness and sports so he changed directions in life.
Over the past 3 years Bert’s passion and hard work has helped him to become a CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) allowing him to pursue a career in what he truly loves.
Want to understand, once and for all, how to start feeling good and moving well?
My book, The Movement Manifesto, will help you get started on the right foot.