What is physical literacy? According to Physical Literacy for Life (Canada), "Physical competence refers to an individual’s ability to develop movement skills and patterns, and the capacity to experience a variety of movement intensities and durations. Enhanced physical competence enables an individual to participate in a wide range of physical activities and settings...Knowledge and understanding includes the ability to identify and express the essential qualities that influence movement, understand the health benefits of an active lifestyle, and appreciate appropriate safety features associated with physical activity in a variety of settings and physical environments."
Physical Literacy is mostly a consideration for children in their developmental years, but you will be hard pressed to see much documented information on the physical literacy in adults. Could that be because we assume that adults are physically literate by default since learning fine and gross motor movement patterns was part of their upbringing? If that's the case, there are flaws in that concept. The first flaw, is that even if a child was taught and mastered movement patterns to live an active life, that doesn't mean they continued that lifestyle once they became adults. Think of how many adults who played sports all through high-school/college are now not exercising or participating in any deliberate movement at all. Many of those adults have forgotten proper movement patterns through their inactivity and sedentary lifestyle. The second flaw is that schools haven't had a great focus on developing gross motor skills in children for decades and the result of that is a large amount of young adults who were not exposed to running, jumping, skipping, climbing, swimming, throwing, kicking, hopping on one foot etc. These motor skills that were once the benchmark of development in kindergarten, are now an afterthought or not addressed at all.
Here's the thing. An adult who has no working knowledge of whether or not they have healthy movement patterns, likely does not have healthy movement patterns, nor do they know the difference between healthy movement and poor movement. Even adults who participate in only 1 activity such as running and who don't incorporate a variety of movements on all planes and in all directions, into their daily activities are often not physically literate, however they believe they are because they run every day. (I use as an example only and understand that many runners cross train).
Why is this a big deal? The biggest problem with a lack of Physical Literacy in adults is that it puts them at great risk of injury. Not just risk of injury during exercise, but they are at great risk of injury performing the tasks of daily living. Something as simple as cleaning a house or tending to a garden requires squatting, lifting, pulling, pushing and twisting. We perform these movements during every day chores without even thinking about them. A person who is not Physically Literate, performs those tasks poorly, with weak muscles, compensations, and a lack of body awareness that often leads to "freak injuries" that most will chalk up to "old age".
It doesn't have to be this way. It's possible to move well and efficiently well into adulthood and senior years. But first you must gain an understanding of what proper movement patterns look like and feel like. If you've recently started working with a Fitness Professional to "get in shape", that Trainers first area of concentration should be on assessing and correcting your movement patterns. Depending on your history of movement, you may be in this phase of learning the correct patterns (without load) for quite some time. Everyone learns at different rates. The first order of business is to correct the improper patterns, help you gain an understanding of what proper movement patterns look and feel like, to be able to self-identify when you are performing a movement incorrectly and make necessary adjustments to correct. Once you have physical literacy, you will make your own adjustments before your trainer can get the cue out of their mouth. This is how your trainer will know you have developed a Physical Literacy. It takes time to get there, so be patient. The process is important as it will lead to a stronger, healthier, happier and more active you!
After reading this, you may be wondering if you possess the ability to move properly. Do you know what a squat, push up, plank, row, or pull up is supposed to look like? Are you sure? Do you know if you are performing these movements with proper form? Are you sure?
I'd love to know where you think you fall in the continuum of proper movement patterns. Feel free to comment below after asking yourself the above questions.
Melanie Redd is owner of Power Glow Fitness, Certified Personal Trainer with a focus on Functional Movement.