Bodybuilders and those who perform blood flow restriction training will most likely have heard the term “movement pattern” before. These movement patterns can refer to a wide variety of exercise-related themes from “proper running gait” to “proper lift techniques.” The phrases seem simple, but perfecting these movement patterns can take many years. Trainers, coaches and physical therapists alike all focus on movement patterns to improve their clients’ abilities and range of motion. Correct movement patterns are also necessary for reduction of injury or pain.
If you have had trouble with changing how your body is accustomed to moving, you are not the first. One of the most commonly targeted movement problems is known as knee cave (aka knee valgus). Knee cave is a movement that most physically active individuals have been told to correct by a therapist or a personal trainer while performing lunges or squats, where the knees tend to cave inward so you compensate by pushing the knees outward. Another common problem is back pain caused by improper breathing. Again, these things appear to be simple, but it can be a very long time before the corrected motion becomes fully automatic.
The Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor
Is there something we are all missing? How come the “practice makes perfect” motto seems ineffective when applied to the correction of a movement pattern? There may be another solution that makes it easier to make these changes.
The brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, can help your body retain the memory of the correct movements for things like occlusion training, thereby decreasing the time it takes for you to internalize the steps. BDNF is a protein that occurs naturally in the brain of humans and animals. It is crucial in the process of re-creating areas of the brain that have been damaged and in learning new things. The technical term for this “re-wiring” ability of the brain is neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity enables you to learn something new such as playing a musical instrument or to re-learn something such as how to walk again after having a stroke. When you are young, your brain is more plastic. For this reason, children can generally learn new things much faster than adults. Increasing the production of BDNF improves your ability to learn new things related to blood flow restriction training. The Reactive Maximal Effort Warm-up is one excellent way you can raise the levels of BDNF in your brain.
BDNF is increased by two main stimulants: novelty and intensity. So instead of jogging on the treadmill, which your brain is used to and no longer challenged by, try doing a dynamic warm up that integrates the muscle groups you’re about to train.
For example, try doing barbell clean and presses with light weight on a pushing day. Or jumping lunges on a lower body day (which is a great way to also ignite the nervous system to prepare it for strength).
Spiking your BDNF levels for occlusion training is not the magic bullet to muscle and strength. However, the increase of BDNF levels in your brain will help make perfect form second nature to you, while helping you build the foundation for maximal strength output.
To your gains,
Kusha Karvandi, PES, CES, CSCS