Why Some Movements are Incredibly Fun

“It’s the funnest thing ever. More fun than a trapeze, or even flying.”

That was how my thirteen year-old daughter described her first experience with body boarding, which is basically surfing while lying face down on a piece of foam.


This got me thinking: why are are some physical activities so incredibly fun? Some people really love to run, do martial arts, or play team sports, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Other activities seem universally appreciated: everyone gets a thrill from jumping on a trampoline, playing in the water, sledding down a hill, or going down a water slide. 

I think what all these activities have in common is that they allow you to move with extreme speed and power with a minium of physical effort or discomfort. This preference makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. All animals have evolved a highly sophisticated system for measuring the relative costs and rewards of moving around. You have to move to find food and mating opportunities, but every move depletes your energy. And sometimes you need to move extreme speed and power, to avoid predators or catch prey, which has the risk of increasing the risk of injury, but also the awesome reward benefit of not getting eaten or starving to death.

It therefore makes sense that animals have internal sensory systems that are very well-adapted to weigh the costs and benefits of movement, as well as emotional systems that motivate them to move or sit still according to these calculations. Thus, we should expect that humans are inherently repulsed by movements that require lots of effort, seem dangerous, and don’t provide much feedback indicating that a lot of useful movement is happening. On the other hand, if a movement feels effortless, safe and powerful, it should feel inherently awesome. Who wouldn’t want to fly like an eagle? The closest we can get is:

  • Jumping on bouncy things (tramp, bouncy house)

  • Sliding down slick things (sledding, skiing, water slides)

  • Harnessing the power of waves (surfing, body boarding)

  • Using water to cushion falls (surfing, diving, playing in the water)

  • Using swings to create speed (playgrounds, trapeze, amusement park rides)

  • Using wheels to create speed (skateboarding, roller skating, biking)

These activities are create a supernormal stimulus, which is an exaggerated version of a stimulus that we instinctively respond to in a certain way. For example, infant herring gulls have an instinct to peck at red spots, which under normal conditions will cause them to beg for food from their parents, who have red spots near their mouths. But if you show the babies a larger red spot, they will prefer to peck at that.

Humans are instinctively drawn to walking, running, throwing and jumping with speed, power, efficiency and safety. Moving well just feels right and is inherently rewarding. But not as rewarding as having a huge wave do all that all for you! This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with surfing (which leaves quite a lot of skillful and effortful things for your body to do even with help from the wave.) So go ahead and hack into your inherent movement reward system if you want. But maybe take a pass on getting into a squirrel suit.

If you want to learn more about the connection between play and healthy movement, check out my new book Playing With Movement, available now.


Articles Of The Week June 06, 2021


This week’s articles of the week are centred around therapeutic alliance and communication. As opposed to blog’s it’s centred more around research papers.

This paper attempts to explore the patient perspective of ending the therapeutic relationship in regards to massage therapy, which is rarely explored in literature. This is a great read to offer us clinicians some insight into why patients may independently choose to cease treatment with their therapist. –  Patients’ Experiences of Ending Massage Therapy Care: a Commentary Amanda Baskwill, PhD, MSc, BEd, RMT1,* and Suzanne Michaud, BA, RMT2

This paper looks at the therapist’s personal attributes and in-session activities that positively influence the therapeutic alliance from a broad range of psychotherapy perspectives. Attributes such as being flexible, honest, respectful, trustworthy, confident, warm, interested, and open were found to contribute positively to the alliance. I included this paper to offer a moment of self-reflection; how might these attributes look in the context of massage therapy?

This article looks at behavioural aspects of pain (ie, peoples’ responses to pain) by identifying individual expectations, beliefs, and feelings as prognostic factors for clinical and occupational outcomes indicating progression to chronicity and how physical therapists directly or indirectly address these barriers to recovery.

Advancing Psychologically Informed Practice for Patients With Persistent Musculoskeletal Pain: Promise, Pitfalls, and SolutionsFrancis J Keefe, Chris J Main, Steven Z George 

This paper talks about the history of Motivational Interviewing and gives the reader indications and some broad ideas of how to implement this into practice. Although the MI approach in massage has been questioned for its scope of practice concerns, how might you adapt this or aspects of into your scope to improve your interviewing skills?

Motivational interviewing in musculoskeletal careRobert Shannon BSc MSc1 and Melvyn Hillsdon PhD2

Reflection on your practice and therapeutic relationships is something the massage therapy profession should take part in to help us foster growth within the way we approach treating and collaborating with our patients. Occupational Therapists are known for their practice of self-reflection. This analysis looks at 13 occupation therapists are their reflection on the complexities of building and maintaining therapeutic relationships, barriers they identified and proposed resolutions to barriers.

Qualitative Analysis of Occupational Therapists’ Reflective Notes on Practicing Their Skills in Building and Maintaining Therapeutic Relationships – Farzaneh Yazdani, BSc, MSc OT, MA, PhD1 , Amy Stringer BSc OT 2 , Laya Nobakht BSc, MSc3 , Tore Bonsaksen, BSc OT, MSc4 , Kellie Tune BSc OT,

Amazing Low Back Exercises to Try Right Now.

Sometimes coming up with exercises in your clinic room can be difficult. Even more difficult is finding some that you can recommend as good home care.

Last week we went over how to do a great exercise called the “Dead Bug”.

This week we’re basically going to flip that over and progress the exercise to something called the “Bird Dog”.

What I love about these, is you can do it right on your table, and they’re easy for a patient to do at home.

Once your patient is confident with doing this exercise on top of the swiss ball, we can make things more difficult by removing the swiss ball.

This can still be easily done on your table in your clinic room, but it’s just a bit more difficult and will build a bit more confidence than when you’re using the swiss ball.


Now we can ramp things up just a bit more after your patient is confident with these movements.

By using an exercise band we can make things just a little more difficult and still build more confidence in movement with our patients.

Give these a try.

Doing movements like these will reinforce everything you did with your hands on the table and bring about greater outcomes with your patients.

If you’d like to learn more on how to incorporate more things like this into your treatments, and generate greater outcomes, register for our newest online course “Clinical Applications Of Pain Management Using Therapeutic Movement” by clicking HERE

Articles Of The Week May 30, 2021

Understanding how to help people with tendon injuries is an important aspect of what we do. I know in college we were told to do aggressive cross-fibre-frictions, but I have since learned this is actually a bad thing to do. So, here’s a great podcast from one of the worlds leading tendon researchers and one of our MTDC coaches.

Podcast: Ebonie Rio on Tendon Pain – Todd Hargrove & Ebonie Rio

Ever wondered what to look at if a patient brings in their MRI? Well, here’s a beginner’s guide to understand what’s going on inside those images.

A Beginners Guide to Musculoskeletal MRI – Sandra Mechó & Carles Pedret

Over the years we’ve seen much discussion on pain and what “type” of pain someone could be experiencing. It is quite often classified as inflammatory, mechanical, or another type of descriptive word. But should we change the way we look at that? Probably.

Not All Pain Is The Same – Bronnie Thompson

Spinal Manipulation Therapy has long been the bread and butter of chiropractic treatments. However, do you know how to communicate with your patients about what it is and what it does? This will help.

What Is SMT? – Richard Mclimoyle

As time goes on, we start to recognize more and more about mental health. We’ve written several blog posts on this over the years but it’s a topic that begs repeating. While this article comes from a personal trainer, there’s info in here that’s valuable to us as well.

How to Work with Clients Who Have Mental Health Challenges – Jodie Becker

4 Ways to Bring These Low Back Exercises to the Next Level

The dead bug is one of the more popular exercises to help strengthen the low back. However, there are mutliple variations you can use in order to help your patients rehab a low back injury, or even non-specific low back pain.

Here are just a few variations you can use, starting with the simplest version.

Once your patient is really comfortable doing this simple version, and can do it with minimal discomfort for how ever many reps and sets you decide, then you can start to make it more difficult.

This next version is good as you’re more involved in the exercise with them. 

Just grab an exercise band and give them some tension while the use the band to stabilize the shoulders and strictly use the lower body for the movement.


This next version is only providing some stabilization through one shoulder, while the other shoulder and opposite leg do the work. 

If you don’t have a dumbbell or weight in your clinic, you can stand to the side with an exercise band and provide tension similar to how you did it in version #2.

This final version also involves an exercise band and makes the exercise just a bit more difficult, and a bit more coordinated.

If your patient is able to do all of the above variations this is a great option to continue increasing the difficulty and helping your patient with their low back strengthening.

As always your reps and sets will be up to your clinical decision making along with combined goal setting with the patient. Doing therapeutic movement with your patients doesn’t have to be complicated and most of what you need to do can be done right in your treatment room.

We just have to instil the confidence in patients that they are capable of doing it, while working together with them in their goal setting. Be confident and try doing some more exercises and movement with your patients. It will not only benefit them, but your practice as well. 

Articles Of The Week May 23, 2021

As it becomes legal in more places and consumption goes up, so does much of the hype around what cannabis can do. Specifically, people are looking to see if its use can help with chronic pain. Well, fortunately, our buddy Paul Ingraham tackled the issue for this article.

Marijuana for Pain – Paul Ingraham

We should always (when appropriate) encourage exercise and activity with our patients. Especially when people have been dealing with lockdowns, working from home, and any other thing that may have them in a position where they aren’t exercising as much we may want to look for some tips to pass on to them to get exercising again. This article has some great tips to just get people moving again.

Lockdown muscle loss: Five ways to get back in shape – David Brown

We all know how important mental health is, but do we talk about this very much amongst colleagues in our workplace? This article has some great advice around developing culture at work that places importance on this.

How to Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace – Haeli Harris

I don’t know about you, but I’m usually pretty good about starting an exercise program but have a tough time sticking with it. Here’s some great advice that we could use personally, but also use to give advice to patients.

How to Start Working Out (Consistently) – Jim Bathurst

Ever considered starting a blog for your massage practice? It can be a great way to get new patients to come in and also build your reputation. Here’s a lesson on how to start blogging and using appropriate science research to build around a blog post.

Science Blogging For Beginners – Nicolas Ng