THE NEUROSCIENCE BEHIND BASEWORKS

This page is constantly under review.
Last updated on October 12, 2022

Most exercise methods focus on targeting muscles, which are the end effectors in the 3-step process of movement production (1-Plan, 2-Program, 3-Execute), leaving Steps 1 and 2 to the subconscious brain systems, limiting the possibility of learning and relearning.

The Baseworks method formulates the movement task goals in a way that makes Step 1 more conscious, allowing for more effective modification of motor programs at Step 2, leading to more effective learning and relearning.

Baseworks considers the neurophysiological mechanisms of motor learning and through its original applications works to increase sensory and spatial awareness, develop better control and more detailed repertoire of basic motor programs, strategically stimulating neuroplasticity. It also teaches intensity modification techniques that change one’s perception of stress, self, and interpersonal interactions. Its applications in attention allocation also have been reported to improve spatial cognition and short-term memory.

Table of Contents

If you are interested in any form of collaboration, or if you would like to point out an inconsistency or suggest a better way to articulate any information in this page, please feel free to contact us.

Stages in producing purposeful movement

(1) Plan

  • WHAT TO DO – identify the goal and come up with a plan how to achieve the goal
  • Brain regions supporting the circuits: Cortical areas – Prefrontal Cortex, Supplementary Motor area, Premotor Cortex
  • Degree of conscious accessibilityConscious access, but relies on preconceptions and memory from past experience 

(2) Program

  • HOW TO DO – the nervous system is computing how to perform the movement
  • Brain regions supporting the circuits: Basal ganglia, Posterior Parietal Cortex, Primary Motor Cortex
  • Degree of conscious accessibilityUnconscious

(3) Execute

  • DO – the muscles contract and relax according to the Program, specified at Step 2 to produce the actual movement
  • Brain regions supporting the circuits: Primary Motor Cortex, Cerebellum, Spinal motor circuits
  • Degree of conscious accessibilityUnconscious

Approach to teaching “movement”: Baseworks vs most exercise methods

Most exercise methods:

  1. Conceptualize themselves as targeting muscles, which are the end effectors in this 3-step process of movement production and are primarily operated from “muscle memory,” which is mainly unconscious.
  2. Erroneously pre-assume 100% understanding of the movement goal by both the student and the teacher.
  3. Do not consider the mechanisms of creating, accessing, modifying, and executing the motor programs.

  4. Do not consider the degree of sensory input available for conscious access.

  5. Prioritize the importance of external feedback (basically, to compensate for learning losses due to the reasons in the points above)

Baseworks method:

  1. Conceptualizes itself as targeting the only really conscious step in movement production – movement planning.
  2. Explicitly defines movement goals to avoid ambiguity based on preconceptions and prior experiences.
  3. Considers the mechanisms of creating, accessing, modifying, and executing the motor programs (basal-ganglia-related circuits) and targets them with various applications.
  4. Increases the degree of sensory input available for conscious access with its various applications.
  5. Prioritizes the importance of internal sensory feedback (associated with somatosensory and parietal cortices) and targets proprioceptive and spatial awareness with its various applications.

...as a result...

Most exercise methods:

  1. Unless one already has an established athletic background (trained from a young age) or has a particular mindset and resources to be able to put a lot of energy to figure things out,
  2. for an adult without a competent personal trainer/coach,
  3. it is challenging to get into and make significant progress in movement practices.
  4. Most often, people end up using their daily movement vocabulary trying to achieve poorly formulated exercise goals.
  5. Movement practices are experienced as difficult, and exercise as boring.
  6. Maintaining good posture and enjoying physical activity becomes difficult,
  7. Negatively impacting health and the quality of life

Baseworks method:

  1. A person from any athletic background,
  2. even without a competent personal trainer,
  3. can learn to understand their unique body step-by-step.
  4. Movement goals are clearly defined from the start, making it obvious that the person cannot simply apply their daily movement vocabulary.
  5. The person develops body awareness and control necessary to effortlessly maintain good posture and learn new movement skills.
  6. Movement (both athletic and daily tasks) and simply being in space become intrinsically rewarding and enjoyable,
  7. Leading to improved health, wellbeing, and quality of life.

Brain areas that participate in volitional movement production and their roles

Below we briefly describe the 3-step process of movement production (1-Plan, 2-Program, 3-Execute), reducing its complexity to 8 elements. Although very simplified and not without inaccuracies, this model is still much more detailed than most exercise methods have in the scope of their consideration (typically, 1 to 3 elements).

PLANNING

  • When we want to move, the movement goal is formulated in the prefrontal, premotor areas (#1). Movement goal contains the minimally necessary information to achieve the goal. All other details will be filled in by the lower processing structures in a way that requires the least mental and physical effort during the execution.
    When a goal is formulated, it has explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious) components:
    • Explicit: “Drink from this cup”
      Implicit: do not drop the cup, do not bump it against the teeth, do not spill the liquid
    • Explicit: “Lift the right arm”
      Implicit: bring the right hand to a point high above the head and allow the right arm, the right shoulder, the upper body to move to accommodate the change of the position of the hand
    • Explicit: “Move the right shoulder back in such a way that the pelvis does not move at all, but the dynamics of the movement resemble the shoulder being pushed by an external force” (a dance move)
      Implicit:[more or less the same as the explicit goal, because the goal is formulated not in the terms of daily habitual tasks]
    • Note: deep implicit goals such as “don’t hurt yourself,” “don’t fall in the process,” “keep the head relatively upright because it’s the best condition for the eyes to continue scanning the environment” are also always running in the background.

PROGRAMMING

  • The basal ganglia (#2) put together a sequence of actions that need to be performed to achieve the movement goal. Each “action” can itself consist of a pre-learned sequence of action.
  • Thesomatosensory cortex (#3) provides conscious information about the current position of the body in space, which is represented in the Posterior parietal cortex (#4).
  • The basal ganglia (#2) receive only consciously treated cortical information about senses and position.
  • When an action is selected for execution by the basal ganglia (#2), the competing actions involving the same muscles are inhibited.
  • Conscious representation of the body in the somatosensory cortex (#3) is only as detailed as required by daily movement needs (a professional athlete has very different daily movement needs compared to an office worker).
  • Because the somatosensory cortex (#3) communicates with the motor cortex (#5) (the output of movements), the ability to consciously sense certain body parts is closely interconnected with the ability to consciously control them.
  • The movements are defined in terms of how specific points of the body are moved in space. The most typical points are – the head, the hands, and the feet. Special training is usually needed to be able to effortlessly define movements in reference to other points.

EXECUTION

  • The motor cortex (#5) contains the “movement vocabulary” of well-learned movements. Each “word” in this “movement vocabulary” is held “on a leash,” controlled by the basal ganglia (#2). The basal ganglia (#2) “decide” when and which leash to let go of to “release the movement.”
  • This letting go of a leash sends orders to the motor neurons in the spinal cord (#7), which are directly connected to the muscles (#8). The spinal cord (#7) contains local circuits that allow smoother communication between contracting and relaxing muscles.
  • A copy of the program is sent to the cerebellum (#6), which constantly compares the intended movement with the actual ongoing movement based on the unconscious direct sensory information from the muscles (#8) and helps smoothen the movement and coordinate proper timing of muscle contractions..

Note about the Conscious / Unconscious distinction

When we move, it feels like we are the agents of the movement. However, most aspects of the movement are programmed by subcortical structures without any conscious awareness, based on the lifetime of past experiences and pre-existing motor skills. 

For example, in open-brain surgery electrical stimulation experiments, the patients report that the stimulation of the primary motor cortex (#5) feels like the muscles “want to move on their own.” In contrast, the basal ganglia (#2) stimulation results in movements that feel volitional.

Although we are not claiming that the ultimate source of “I” resides in the basal ganglia, these subcortical structures are much closer to the sense of being in control of the movement than the primary motor cortex.

Baseworks applications, their outcomes, and mechanisms

Read about Baseworks Movement Principles here.

Baseworks Applications in the table below are combinations of various Baseworks movement principles.

Baseworks application

Distributed activation (DA) + Micromovements (MM)

Description

  • Using combinations of movement patterns which result in simultaneous isometric contractions in as many muscles as possible at the same time.
  • At the same time, making low-amplitude slow undulating movements with various body parts.

Benefit

Increases:

  • Perceived strength
  • Blood circulation
  • Sensations in the muscles
  • Relaxation in the muscles after contraction
  • Control over the muscles

Mechanism

  • A continuous flow of sensory information makes it more available for awareness.
  • Conscious movements overwrite residual muscle tension.
  • Co-activation of many muscles simultaneously “hacks” the basal ganglia’s inhibition of competing movements so that motor programs can be more easily modified.
  • “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Although a very unnatural way to activate muscles, DA helps create a state when neurons fire together, leaving it to unconscious mechanisms to figure out the firing patterns that are sufficient to produce a certain desired movement.

Baseworks application

Fix-Separate-Isolate (FSA) + Gridlines/Symmetry (GS) Principles

Description

  • The movements are defined in terms of multiple points simultaneously (including many points on the trunk and spine)

Benefit

  • Easier control over movements.
  • Separating complex actions into simpler building blocks makes it easier to recombine them into more complex action programs.
  • Better spatial awareness.

Mechanism

  • Training to move different reference points within the PPC (#4) space.
  • Combined with DA, GS movement instructions are very easy to understand conceptually.
  • By defining goals through many points, we force the brain to create conscious commands for movement elements typically handled by various segmental rotation reflexes and other unconscious movement patterns.
  • Applying DA during FSA+GS movement execution allows to more easily create a new program in the basal ganglia because it reduces the BG inhibition.
  • Similar to how infants train to reach towards certain points in space through “circular reactions”, by applying FSA+GS, combined with DA+MM, the person trains to “reach” into space with points other than hands, re-mapping the internal representation of space to more easily compute complex movements.

Baseworks application

Intensity modification

Description

  • (1) Keeping the breathing/heart rate relatively normal,
  • (2) Avoiding sensations of compression and pain,
  • (3) Defining motor goals in a way that considers the range of motion of each joint and performing movement in only one joint at a time.

Benefit

  • Maintaining normal sensitivity.
  • Maintaining high focus and training attention.
  • Better understanding one’s body’s limitations.
  • Increased self-acceptance and self-esteem.
  • Increased resilience to stress.

Mechanism

  • High-intensity activity hyperactivates the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA axis, leading to endorphin release, which numbs conscious sensations. Therefore, reducing the intensity reduces the SNS and HPA activation.
  • Breaking down complex movements makes it easier to understand them.
  • The sensation of compression in a joint signifies it is at its limit. Learning to notice these sensations helps avoid joint compression and injury.

Baseworks application

Distributed activation (DA) + Gridlines/Symmetry (GS) Principles

Description

  • Many movements require bringing 2 body points as far away from each other as anatomically possible, creating a straight line.

Benefit

  • Improved posture
  • Core strength
  • Increased height (typically for about 2 cm)
  • Improved lung capacity

Mechanism

  • Straight line, conceptually, is very easy to understand. But there are almost no straight lines in natural movement. Therefore, defining movements as moving 2 points away from each other is a very simple strategy to achieve great results in terms of reducing compression, spinal extension, finding symmetry etc.

Baseworks strategically supports neuroplasticity

The word “neuroplasticity” is often used very lightly without explaining how a particular type of training is supposed to support neuroplasticity. It is often implied that simply “doing something new” = “more neuroplasticity.”

In Baseworks, we acknowledge the difference between “experience” and “learning experience.”

Based on the Principles of Experience-dependent Neuroplasticity, as described by Kleim & Jones, 2008, we uniquely put emphasis on the principles of Repetition, Salience,Transference, and Interference.

Principle

4. Repetition matters

Description

Induction of plasticity requires sufficient repetition.

Baseworks application

With highly detailed and consistent instructions, we ensure that the exercised movements are indeed repeated, avoiding substituting them with unconscious “fillers” that do not result in learning.

Principle

7. Salience matters

Description

The training experience must be sufficiently salient to induce plasticity.

Baseworks application

We bring awareness to sensory signals and define spatial goals in a way that supports learning and avoids mindless mechanical repetition of everyday well-learned movements.

Principle

9. Transference 

Description

Plasticity in response to one training experience can enhance the acquisition of similar behaviors.

Baseworks application

We have strategically selected movements for exercising that can be transferred to a wide variety of daily and athletic movements.

Principle

10. Interference 

Description

Plasticity in response to one experience can interfere with the acquisition of other behaviors.

Baseworks application

We appreciate that people come with a preexisting movement vocabulary. We very explicitly highlight when a certain movement must not be performed in a way that one is used to.