If you feel so compelled, please stand up. 

Now, kindly do me a favor … please dorsiflex your left ankle, extend your left knee, extend your left hip, extend your lumbar spine, extend your thoracic spine, extend your cervical spine, and flex both your shoulders. 

I likely agree with you, this is way too much. 

Instead, I should ask the above to happen subconsciously by providing you a conscious task, such as: Please lunge forward with your right foot comfortably and swing both your hands up and back comfortably. Perfect. Now, kindly do that again with your eyes following your hands. Great stuff!

Movement creates motion at joints. The above movement (“Right Foot, Anterior, Lunge with Bilateral Hands, Posterior @ Overhead, Swing”) facilitated all the motions that I wanted (left ankle dorsiflexion, left knee extension, left hip extension, lumbar extension, thoracic extension, cervical extension, and flexion of shoulders). The beautiful thing about those motions is that you did not have to think about them. All you had to do was think about the movement (a conscious task) and let the body / joints react (subconscious reaction). 

In this blog entry, we take a deep dive into the Functional Movement Spectrum. Specifically, we focus on Task, which is included as a principle / truth in the Biological Sciences. In “The Introduction” to this Functional Movement Spectrum Series, we identified the following descriptors for Task: Subconscious Reaction (functional) vs. Conscious Reaction (non-functional).

One of the principles in the Functional Movement Spectrum is TASK, and the terms that represent the two ends of the spectrum are conscious reaction and subconscious reaction. But before this differentiation is addressed, this blog will consider Task Specificity. During functional movements it is difficult to assign a role to an individual muscle. Muscles do not act in isolation. Muscles contribute to a synergy, a temporary organization of multiple muscles. Each task requires a different synergistic organization of muscles forces. The specific synergy must be organized to complement the physical forces such as gravity, ground reaction force, mass, and momentum. Therefore the synergy, and the activation of individual muscles as part of that synergy, cannot be determined separate from the task and the environment in which the task is taking place.

So the tasks that movement specialists choose in their training programs, rehabilitation plans, and injury prevention progressions are critical to success. At Gray Institute®, we always strive to choose tasks that create a subconscious reaction, rather than a conscious reaction. Let’s use the example of selecting a squat to increase the activation and workload to the gluteal muscles. A conscious task would be to tell the patient / client to “activate” his / her gluts when he / she squats. A subconscious reaction of glut activation occurs when the patient / client is asked to squat. If more activation of the gluts is desired, then a practitioner of Applied Functional Science® would tell the patient / client to reach forward during the squat. The reach creates more hip flexion that requires more activation of the hip extensors: THE GLUTS! So the motion of the joints and the activation of specific muscles is not conscious. Rather it occurs as a consequence of the task chosen: squatting with a forward reach. Our patients / clients are conscious of the task chosen to create the subconscious reaction in the body.

Humans never, when executing a functional task, focus on the individual joint motions or the specific muscle activations. Task consciousness rests at the level of “catch the ball,” “pick up the box,” or “close the door.” Therefore, the most functional movements are actually the desired activity itself. But very often, individuals seek our services because the actual tasks they desire to perform are difficult. This is where the “skill” of the movement specialist is critical. Being able to design and then tweak movements, as taught in the Certification in Applied Functional Science® (CAFS), is a foundational skill set. For many years Dr. Gary Gray has used a poignant example to elucidate creating and tweaking a task to elicit the desired subconscious reaction.

Here’s a scenario: The patient / client is a 70 year-old healthy female who has undergone a right total hip replacement. Her pain is almost completely gone. After rehab, her function is much better, but she realizes that her gait is not symmetrical, and she fatigues easily when walking. Her goal is to return to playing golf, but she recognizes that her hip is not ready. Watching her walk clearly demonstrates that when the right foot hits the ground the right hip seems stiff and her trunk leans markedly to the right. Chain Reaction® Biomechanics tell us that her right gluts (hip extensors, abductors and external rotators) must decelerate this loading motion and accelerate the center of mass of the body back to the other side. Should we use a conscious reaction? “Make sure you turn on your hip abductors once your foot hits the ground to accept your body weight and decelerate the pelvis slide to the right.” That seems rather silly and not likely to produce success. Dr. Gray would suggest positioning the patient / client with her right side a few inches from a wall and giving her the task of sliding the pelvis into the wall. This creates the subconscious reaction of hip joint adduction that activates the hip abductors muscles. With success, the task is tweak to “slide your pelvis, but don’t let it hit the wall.” This promotes deceleration of the motion. Then one of CAFS’s Observational Essentials (rate) is used to create more momentum that needs to be decelerated. Dr. Gray would then tweak the task again by instructing, “Now envision that the wall is very hot, so you want to go close to the wall but move away as quick as you can.” This tweak to the task promotes the subconscious reaction of transforming the deceleration of the load into the acceleration in the opposite direction.

The progression of the tweak is based on success of the present task. The patient / client is never instructed to think about specific joint motions or muscles activations. The desired joint motions and muscle synergies are a result of the task execution. If this approach to training and rehabilitation appeals to you, consider what you will learn through becoming Certified in Applied Functional Science® (https://www.grayinstitute.com/courses/cafs).

Our job as Movement Professionals is to facilitate the desired Chain Reaction® throughout the body, for the individual, for a purpose. Our understanding of movement – and the variables of movement – becomes vital, essential, and empowering. We use conscious tasks to then facilitate the subconscious reactions!