What are Movement Compensations?

Movement compensation on crutches

Movement compensation on crutches

Since I started to learn Karate when I was 7 years old, I have consciously or subconsciously been trying to improve the way I move.  I have learned that if I want to put my body in a certain position, there are loads of different ways I can do it.  But I have also learned that some ways are better than others.

Movement Compensations are when one part of your body doesn’t (for whatever reason) play it’s part fully when you try to do a movement.  In order to put your body in the desired position, a different part of your body has to do more than its fair share, or maybe change its role entirely, or “compensate”, in order for you to complete the move. A classic example is if you get your leg in plaster and have to use crutches.  In this case, your leg is not working properly, so your arms, shoulders and other leg take over, compensate and support your bodyweight on the crutches so you can walk.  Another common situation is that many people these days have stiff or immobile hips (hence my mini series on hip mobility recently).  With the hips not moving fully, the spine has to compensate by bending too much and this can lead to injury (click here for more on this). In my series of “How To:” articles, most of the “bad” examples show classic Movement Compensations, where movement at the hips/shoulders is reduced, while movement at the spine is increased. I’m sure all of you recognise the general situation from your working life.  If you are working in a group or team, and one of you is a bit rubbish and not pulling their weight, then to achieve deadlines or targets, the rest of the group/team has to do extra to make up for the slacker.  It is obvious this working situation is far from ideal, and the same goes for the body. But our bodies are so good at compensating for weaknesses, it is often the case that we don’t even know that we have a weakness that is being compensated for!  And without this knowledge, we don’t do anything about it and this can lead to:

  • The weakness is never corrected.
  • The weakness gets worse.
  • The compensating bodypart is chronically overloaded.
  • The compensating bodypart is injured.
  • Another bodypart has to compensate for both the original and new weaknesses.
  • …and so on…

So now we know what Movement Compensations are, how do we avoid them?

  • Maintain or increase mobility of your hips and shoulders.  If we can move these major joints easily, then we are more likely to move them instead of others.
  • Strengthen all muscles that move the hips and shoulders.  It takes strength to move these joints through their full range.  If we find it physically hard to do this, we are less likely to keep it up.  And notice I said strengthen all the muscles, not just “tone up the sexy ones”.
  • Apply it to every aspect of your life.  If you only do it for a couple of minutes a week during training sessions, you are less likely to do it in real life where it really matters.  Make proper movement a habit and it will become second nature.  Make it part of your background activity.

Follow these points and your joints will thank you!

It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it.