A truth of human movement is that the body is an integration of many systems—neurological, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal, just to name a few. Each system is made up of many integrated parts that can’t be separated or isolated. However, conventional treatment encourages movement practitioners to view the body this way.

Applied Functional Science® gives us the tools, principles, and strategies to understand the whole body, how it moves, and what it needs to function optimally and heal. In this blog, we outline how the principle of integration makes an impact on movement, and how practitioners can use this truth to improve patient outcomes and wellbeing.

Viewing the Body as a Collection of Individual Parts Puts Practitioners at a Disadvantage

While we could look at any system in the body to understand integration, let’s consider the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles and bones, but also tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues that connect the different bone segments to create joints. Whenever our rehab, exercise, or training programs focus on one muscle or a single joint, while trying to exclude or limit the contributions from other parts of the body, the exercises in those programs become less functional.

Why? Because in real-life movements, the body is never isolated from itself. Everything we do is affected by the rest of the body, whether we realize it or not.

Occasionally, there are valid reasons for a local isolation focus (for instance, when you’re rehabbing a patient or client after an injury), but this should occur as part of the overall strategy of integration.

Where Does Integrated Isolation Come From?

Many years ago, Dr. Gary Gray coined the term “integrated isolation.” As equipment was developed to isolate a particular joint motion or muscle for testing or rehabilitation, Gary saw the folly of viewing individual body parts as independent of the rest of the body.

While acknowledging the need to isolate at times, he advocated for a more functional approach. With his strategy, the part in question was isolated while integrated with the rest of the body: Integrated Isolation. The principle creates a strategy to always maximize the integration. Pure isolation is not functional, while integrated isolation is functional.

RELATED: Go Beyond Compound and Isolation Exercises With Integrated Isolation: What It Is and How It Works

How Integration Impacts Function

The authenticity of integration is critical not only to rehabilitation but also performance training. Integrated training and rehabilitation programs allow the body to “measure” the physical forces of gravity, ground reaction force, mass, and momentum. The body can learn to withstand, accommodate to, and take advantage of these forces in the environment.

The mechanoreceptors in the body provide coordinating information (proprioception) with integrated movements. Isolated joint exercises limit the proprioceptive information and deny the body the information needed to create efficient muscle synergies.

What Characterizes Integrated Muscle Function?

Muscle actions are never in a single plane. Muscle function is tri-planar due to two truths:

  • Joint motion occurs in three planes
  • Muscle alignment from origin to insertion is never straight

During integrated global body movements, muscles will influence multiple joints in three planes of motion. This multiple joint influence is true even for muscles that anatomically cross only one joint. 

For example, the gluteus maximus crosses the hip joint, and there’s no question that it influences the hip joint. But because of the attachment to the femur, the gluteus maximus also influences the knee.

For instance, during the landing phase of running, the gluteus maximus slows down knee flexion and then helps with knee extension. This could be called “adjacent joint” action.  At the time of knee flexion, the forward motion of the lower leg creates ankle dorsiflexion. By controlling knee flexion, the gluteus maximus contributes to decelerating ankle dorsiflexion.

Let’s consider this non-adjacent joint action. Try training the gluteus maximus to assist in the control of ankle motion with your patient or client on a table!

RELATED: Foot / Ankle Specialization

Use Integrated Isolation to Address Achilles Tendinitis

More than 30 years ago, Dr. Gary Gray wrote an article entitled “The Achilles Hip.” Based on the principle of integration, he proposed that the cause of, and the solution to—Achilles tendinitis were the hip muscles.

Programs to resolve Achilles tendon pathology require integration strategies; this is true throughout the body. Without integration, the perception of movement is inhibited, the body’s recognition of what needs to occur is compromised, and the muscle activation patterns become ineffective and inefficient. As a result, you and the person you’re working with will experience less-than-optimal training and rehabilitation.

Integrated Isolation and Other Principles of Human Movement Are the Key to Authentic Function

No matter how much experience you have as a movement professional, you can’t treat and train in a vacuum. We need principles, like Integrated Isolation, to guide our work.

Applied Functional Science is based on the truths of human movement, and its principles give physical therapists, personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, occupational therapists, and other movement professionals the tools they need to treat and train in real-life, not theory.

If you’re ready to learn more, our Certification in Applied Functional Science course is a great place to start.

Authentic Movement Starts With Gray Institute

For four decades, Gray Institute has championed functional movement based on the truths of our daily lives. Our methodology, Applied Functional Science, is based on scientific truth, not theory, and is used by movement professionals around the world to treat and train everyone from professional athletes on the world stage to student athletes competing at your local school.

If you’re ready to deepen your understanding of human movement based on truth, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can learn more about our Certification in Applied Functional Science courseour course catalog, and Gray Institute on our website, or you can reach out to our team to speak with someone directly.

We look forward to speaking with you!