Non-Cognitive Strength

Categories: Blog, blog May 04, 2020

We were made to have reflexive strength. Reflexive strength is to be the foundation of all the wonderful movements we are designed to make. It is automatic, non-cognitive strength, there when we need it. It protects us, it moves us, and it makes us superhuman powerful. It’s beyond thought, it’s predictive and also reactive. It’s faster than we can think yet it aids our minds by preparing our bodies with the intent of our thoughts. 


Our reflexive strength is a superpower, like “Spidey Sense,” or the “Force.” It comes from deep within us, from within our design, it’s a hardwired gift. All we have to do to enjoy it is honor our design through moving, through following our movement blueprint. If we moved according to our design, we would all discover that not only are we wonderfully made, but we are wonderfully strong. We would all walk around knowing we were strong. Knowing you are strong takes your strength to a whole new level. 


Why am I telling you this? Because many of us are tethered to certain thoughts in the exercise world.


We have been taught how to brace, how to position, how to splint, or how to cognitively lift. And in some cases, like the sport of powerlifting, these can be wonderful skills. In powerlifting and weightlifting, strength is a skill. Unfortunately, sometimes this skill gets applied to movement in general. “Shouldn’t I keep my head in line with my spine when I crawl?”, “Shouldn’t I brace my abs when I crawl on my hands and knees?”, “Shouldn’t I suck my belly or flatten my back in when I do dead bugs?” 


And often more unfortunately, the skill of cognitive strength is often applied on a body that may be lacking reflexive strength, almost making the cognitive skill of strength a necessity outside of the weight room. 


What I mean is, having reflexive strength gives your body a solid foundation, it enables you to build “your house on a rock.” Lacking reflexive strength but learning cognitive strength is like building “your house on shifting sand.” If you have to brace, tension and splint your way through a workout, using all that mental energy, what happens when you leave the gym and you need to pick up your child, your new amazon package, or simply walk up your own stairs? What happens if you don’t think your way through those movements and lifts? Nothing happens if you have your reflexive strength. Injury happens if you don’t. 


Weight lifting is a sport and a skill. But when you leave the gym, you don’t need to live in your skill or your sport. You need to return to your reflexive foundation, to your design. But again, the skill of weightlifting may actually set you up for injury outside the weight room if you lack your reflexive strength. And honestly, the “skill of weightlifting” would be more of an expression of strength than a skill for the person with a solid foundation of reflexive strength. Your body knows how to move and it knows how to move heavy things - without thought, without cognitive effort. 


We have no more business trying to contract our abs when we walk or run than we do trying to make our heart beat with a heavier, harder contraction. The heart knows how to beat and appropriately respond to a situation. The body also knows how to appropriately respond to a situation - without our thoughts getting in the way or without our lack of thought preventing us from acting safely. 


The point of this is that we were made to move naturally without thought. We are amazingly strong and capable of superhuman feats, regularly. Every day should be an amazing expression of our strength, our non-cognitive, reliable, reflexive strength. 


In the weight room, strength may be a skill. But when we leave the weight room and we are out in the world, strength is a gift. And it’s ours to use and express freely, without thought. 

Comments (6)

  1. Mike:
    May 04, 2020 at 06:27 AM

    Hi Tim, this post has actully prompted me to ask the question I've always wanted to ask you. I follow Gokhale Method for standard daily activities like sitting, walking, lifting and also practise rolling, crawling and rocking for mobility and strength. I've noticed differences between what you and Gokhale teach namely head position and using core muscles when e.g. crawling. Gokhale says the neck should be elongated and one should use the inner corset (core muscles) to stabilize, you teach head up which means neck bent back when crawling plus in this post you mention not to brace abs when crawling. Bracing abs may not be the same as stabilizing the core with "inner corset" but it is close. can you please share your thoughts about this? My biggest concern is that both yours and Gokhale Method are based on natural positions of human body which should be optimal for a human, yet they differ in those aspects.


    1. Tim Anderson:
      May 04, 2020 at 12:35 PM

      Thanks for the question, Mike. So, I don’t know of The Gokhale Method so I cannot speak towards his methods. So I will try to address your question from why we teach what we teach at OS.

      From our viewpoint, natural movement is non-cognitive. It takes a great deal of energy and can hinder movement to cognitively get inside of it. This is great when learning a skill. But if we are just talking about natural movement such as walking or crawling, do we need to cognitively get inside of those movements? And if we do, at what point are we free to just move? Or are we ever?

      You were a child once. Do you remember mentally stabilizing your core before you leaned to crawl or as you were crawling? Do you remember only holding your neck elongated? Have you observed children doing this? You once moved perfectly without thought of how you were stabilizing anything. At what point did the wonder of your design begin to need your cognitive effort to ensure it was working and moving properly?

      No other creature spends cognitive effort, ensuring they are activating their inner core unit, as they are moving. No other creature concerns itself with where it holds its head as it walks. They move with strength and efficiency without concern.

      A child waste no time mentally bracing or ensuring they are properly stable or aligned. But they do learn how to move perfectly. We are to continue to grow in wonder as we age and grow.

      I’m not saying the Gokhale Method is wrong. I am only explaining how we see the human design and how we have experienced and observed it. But, to your point, we are wonderful creatures beyond all others. We can mentally get inside of our movements. We can. But we may not need to. However, if it brings you joy or peace to get inside your movements, and move in certain ways, you should by all means move and think in those movements as you see fit. Don’t let different opinions about how we should move concern you. Move how you determine is the best way for you to move. That is where true discovery and freedom live.

      Again, thanks for the discussion, Mike. I hope this helps some.


      1. Steffen:
        May 18, 2020 at 10:38 AM

        This answer is worth a blogpost for itself!!
        or to be published in the Facebook Group!!
        Absolutely great!
        Thanx Tim!!


        1. Tim Anderson:
          May 18, 2020 at 09:54 PM

          Thanks, Steffan! That’s a great idea!


      2. Pete:
        Jun 23, 2020 at 04:25 AM

        Tim, that was a wonderfully mature answer :-)

        And I agree!


  2. andrew hutchinson:
    May 06, 2020 at 03:43 PM

    Yes, and such a timely reminder. We have reached a point where to move non-cognitively seems like an alien concept to most people and this is where really useful "cueing" can play a huge role, to "remove" the cognition, or at least start to bring it "down" to the simplest of things - Such as just be mindful of your breath (and keep your mouth closed) when running - No focus, just go there now and again. We have also impacted non cognitive movement by interfering with or removing important feedback/information - For example wearing shoes/clothes (whoo hoo, naked rolling time - now now, calm down) - Where once there was feedback that provided all the information the system needed to know about whether it was performing optimally and if not, how to correct that (through sensation/pain), now we are taught to do a multitude of things to perform that act correctly, creating more "tension" and using more energy - So inefficient. I've been "not working" on this the past couple of days with running, realising that while i wasn't trying to "stabilise" my "core" or follow any other less than helpful cues, i was still thinking too much about the act in a more subtle way, even with minimal footwear. I realise that this comes from years of "learning", well meaning humans trying to fix that which wasn't broken, simply under nourished/under informed - and that certain cues can help return us to a more simple, efficient way - But we need to be careful of how and what we "cue". Now i continue to "unlearn", returning to my true self in more ways than one - And it's beautiful (if at times "patience testing"). This is one of the most important subjects in movement (and elsewhere) right now, how we return to US, how you return to YOU/your truth (I think someone might be writing something about that soon according to rumours on OS Facebook Alumni! ; ) ). Thank you for the timely post my friend.


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