Do you know what Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) is? Do you care?

When I began a motor control course last spring, my answer to both questions was a resounding “No.” However, it turns out the course offered some pretty cool insight about how we learn and refine movement patterns. In this article, I will explain why you should care about DST, and how it can help you improve your powerlifting total.


What is Dynamic Systems Theory, as it pertains to movement?

DST is based on a few important principles about movement:

  • Movement patterns emerge from the interaction of multiple systems. They can’t just be viewed as a computer program or “command” that is sitting in your central nervous system
  • The control of movement must adequately account for a ton of stuff, all at once. Consider limb lengths, internal forces, external forces, synergy between muscle groups, the surface/environment, individual muscle weaknesses and tightness, and the specific task requirements, to name a few. For this reason, it’s best to focus on a few “major” movement cues, rather than trying to consciously consider a million details at once
  • When we are learning a movement, we experience a period of “instability,” in which our movement is inconsistent and inefficient. The process of refining that movement brings us to a period of stability, where our movement becomes efficient and repeatable
  • The way to transition from unstable to stable conditions is to “explore” the movement by trying and practicing different movement strategies to identify which are most effective and efficient

This article isn’t an in-depth dissection of DST, so if you’re a motor control purist, cut me some slack. Rather, I’d like to broadly discuss how the basic themes of DST relate to powerlifting. Think about the complexity of something like a deadlift. All at once you need to manage a thousand different factors, such as coordination between numerous joints and muscle groups, activation of just about every muscle between your feet and your ears, a moving load, and a constantly changing back angle. DST helps us understand how our body is able to turn this massive and variable influx of information into efficient movement, and why powerlifting technique isn’t “one size fits all.”

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