Purposeful Movement Can Take Your Workout to the Next Level


Focus on strengthening and correcting underlying deficits can improve individual performance in many activities. However, most of us take for granted the cognitive load required to complete most simple daily activities. Once we realize what are brains need to do each time we move, we can begin to focus on purposeful movement, making workouts more effective.

To illustrate this point, consider your drive to and from work. It may be so uneventful and habitual that your mind wanders and you don’t recall the drive itself on some days! We, of course do not recommend this when driving, as it is important to remain alert and aware of your environment to stay safe. This phenomenon, which commonly occurs with mundane, typical tasks, is called “automaticity”. It occurs with other tasks, too, like riding a bicycle or doing a cartwheel - if you are someone who does those things.

Purposeful Movement Can Prevent Unintended Consequences

The idea behind automaticity is allowing your brain to switch to autopilot when you are doing familiar tasks so you do not expend too much energy and can use your brain power for other cognitive tasks later on. However good this may be for certain tasks, it is not always the most helpful, particularly during exercise.

With certain physical or cognitive tasks, it is important to be very present and mindful of your form, pain levels, and asymmetrical movements, among other things. This ensures you complete the activity with the highest quality, therefore reaping maximum benefits. And for those times where you may switch to autopilot, you want to increase the likelihood that quality will come automatically.

By mindlessly slipping into automated mode we miss the benefits of many of our activities, especially with exercise.

For this reason, it’s important to remain mindful of your movements during exercise and so many other things you do. This means becoming aware of when automaticity begins and returning your attention to engaging fully in the task at hand. Bridging the gap between external stimulus and your internal response is key for achieving mindfulness.

You can easily start being more mindful throughout your day by simply taking active notice of yourself and your environment. During exercise, you often have cues from your trainer that can help. Like your trainer, the WAV provides external feedback about your true body positioning that your brain interprets to create a response. Automatically your body awareness and brain body relationship are heightened keeping you focused and engaged throughout your exercise session.

A common external cue, particularly from Yoga instructors, is the reminder to breathe deeply. This is because deep breathing assists in stretching muscles, stabilizing the core, and increasing the flow of oxygen to organs and muscles. Deep breathing also facilitates mindfulness, as paying close attention to the speed and timing of breath sounds calms the mind and keeps your thoughts on your movements. Like your breath, the organic sight and sound of the fluid flowing through the WAV helps you learn to stabilize your core and keeps you engaged in purposeful movement training.

Another typical aid for receiving external feedback about your form is self-monitoring via a mirror. By seeing your form in real time, you can see the effects of your posture and technique on the rest of your body. This can help direct your focus on corrective action to achieve healthier movement. Like the mirror, the WAV is also a direct reflection of your movement patterns. It helps you not only see but feel and hear how you are moving and sends cues that automatically trigger your bodily adjustment.

As an occupational therapist (OT), I am trained to elicit the mind-body connection in others. We, as therapists, are curious about what makes the human body work in the ways it does and what causes purposeful movement. So how can we further encourage this mind-body union which we know is so powerful? Concepts common to most occupational therapists help with this union each day.


Purposeful Movement and Stress Management

Mindfulness and purposeful movement can play a large role in decreasing stress levels. Similar to the practice of yoga, use of the WAV requires making constant minor adjustments in order to reap the full benefits of moving mindfully. By using the WAV, you become focused on purposeful movement rather than specific or general thoughts which may be causing you anxiety. Because the WAV is portable, you can use it to manage stress in any setting, including work.

Regular short movement breaks help decrease tension so you can keep healthier positioning for longer periods of time in your workspace.

As an OT, I often suggest workplace exercises that can easily be done during coffee or lunch breaks. A WAV posture break or other upper body exercises can increase blood flow and decrease the stress on the upper body from continual typing or writing.

Using the WAV can also serve as a mental break, allowing you to switch focus from cognitively exhausting tasks to purposeful movement. Taking regular short movement breaks help decrease shoulder, neck, and upper back tension, allowing you to keep healthier positioning for longer periods of time in your workspace. This is especially helpful if your work requires prolonged sitting or standing.

Movement For Real Life

As you may or may not know, OTs complete treatments based on the daily activities of their patients. We engage our patients in tasks and exercises that directly mimic movement patterns they do every day. The goal is for the person to learn these movements well so they can apply them on their own while engaged in everyday tasks.

The WAV provides a way to train that helps prevent upper body instability so common in everyday tasks. A functional training activity may include using appropriate lifting techniques and good posture when carrying the WAV up and down stairs. This can be in preparation for carrying boxes when moving, transporting a vacuum from one place to another, or any other chores associated with household management.

WAV movements can be integrated into an existing schedule quite easily, whether it be during a small break at work or at home when completing chores. In this way, it can also assist in planning and time management, something we are always cognizant of as OTs.

Dynamic Lateral Sweep
The dynamic lateral sweep is another functional training exercise that helps train you to safely reach. This is important for being able to do things like reach back and hold on to an armrest before sitting down or to reach back and grab something off the backseat of your car. Now is a great time to take a quick movement break. Don’t worry if you don’t have a WAV you can still benefit from this exercise. Do Part 1 free standing and then grab that cup of coffee from your desk to work through Part 2.


Dynamic Lateral Sweep

Stretch the tendons from your hands through your shoulders.

Stretch the tendons from your hands through your shoulders.

Part  1

  1. Stand with your body and the WAV tall. Rest your hands on top of the WAV.

  2. Keeping your head and gaze facing forward, extend your left arm in front of you and sweep it open to the side of the body. Return to center.

  3. Repeat with your right arm.

  4. Now find rotation as you open your arm. Moving from your head to foot on your rotating side, open with the motion of the arm sweeping to the side. Let your gaze follow the motion, tracking just above your hand. Return to center.

  5. Repeat with the right arm. Return to center.

Part 2

Improve reaching dynamics with full body coordination.

Improve reaching dynamics with full body coordination.

  1. Hinge at the hip to slightly squat while sliding both hands (palms facing each other) down to the WAV mark.

  2. Grip the WAV and return to standing, lifting the WAV with arms about shoulder height, parallel to the floor.

  3. Maintain the grip with your left hand and release your right hand.

  4. Keeping the shoulders relaxed sweep both arms out to the sides making a “T” with your body. Return to center.

  5. Switch your grip on the WAV from one hand to the other.

  6. Sweep both arms back out to the sides. Return to center.

  7. Repeat making a “T” switching your grip on the WAV. Once extended open your body, following with your gaze as you did in Part 1.

  • What am I doing?

Large motions in both arms serve to stretch all the tendons from your hands through to your shoulders.

Standing serves as a weight-bearing activity which increases alertness and focus while promoting blood flow and circulation throughout the body.

Stretches to the pectoralis muscles loosens the chest and can improve posture in those with any muscle tension or respiratory problems.

  • What am I mindful of?

When you reach your arms back, is this met with some resistance or is the motion smooth?

Is there a difference in strength noted between your arms?

Does the liquid in the WAV move significantly when handing the WAV from one arm to the other?

When sweeping to the side, does one arm or shoulder drop lower than the other?

References for automaticity and other topics discussed in this article can be found here:

  1. Chomiak, T., Watts, A., Meyer, N., Pereita, F. V., & Hu, B. (2017). A training approach to improve stepping automaticity while dual-tasking in Parkinson’s disease: A prospective pilot study. Medicine (Baltimore), 96(5). doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000005934.
  2. Desai, R., Tailor, A., & Bhatt, T. (2015). Effects of yoga on brain waves and structural activation: A review. Complementary Therapeutic Clinical Practices 21(2), 112-118. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2015.02.002.
  3. Thayabaranathan, T., Andrew, N. E., Immink, M. A., Hillier, S., Stevens, P., Stolwyk, R., Kilkenny, M., & Cadilhac, D. A. (2017). Determining the potential benefits of yoga in chronic stroke care: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Top Stroke Rehabilitation, 24(4), 279-287. doi: 10.1080/10749357.2016.1277481.
  4. For a broad discussion about automaticity check VeryWell Mind, Risks and Benefits of Automatic Behaviors, 2018.

Brittany Ferri, MS, OTRL, CLT is an occupational therapist with clinical experience in behavioral health and orthopedics. She is a strong advocate for preventive care, wellness concepts and integrative medicine, with consistent use of mind-body approaches both in her personal and professional practice. She values the benefits of exercises which challenge each aspect of a person’s being, and enjoys educating others on the advantages of enhancing the union between the physical and cognitive bodies. She is also a yogi who is consistently attempting to improve her own posture!