Aches and Pains? The Role of Movement Variability • Common Purpose

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Aches and Pains? The Role of Movement Variability


Words by Common Purpose Team

Published 2nd August 2019

Approximately 5 Minutes Reading Time



Brief Article Overview


  • Movement variability is the ability to repeat movements, with subtle changes in technique as to not over-use areas.
  • Good movement is difficult to define, but if you imagine your body as a machine that has evolved to adapt to different environments, this may help.
  • Staying stuck in single motor patterns may induce overuse and therefore result in aches and pains.
  • Remember the difference between movement and exercise.
  • Movement should happen very often with a focus on variability.
  • Exercise is more stressful and requires a higher focus on strategy and technique.




Do you have long-term niggling pain? Maybe it’s time to vary what you do.


Have you had a bad back for a long time? Or maybe a stiff neck that you just can’t seem to shift? Have you seen multiple different therapists and feel frustrated that they just can’t seem to provide you with a magic treatment that’ll make your pain go away? Then perhaps it’s time you assess your daily routine and make a few simple variations to the way you do things.

What is Movement Variability?


Movement variability is defined as “the normal variations that occur in motor performance across multiple repetitions of a task” (1). This statement suggests that in order to have good movement variability we should be able to perform multiple tasks and in many different ways… and that’s normal!


A nice way to illustrate this is by observing a master blacksmith, who can strike a hammer at a piece of metal with perfect accuracy, time after time. If you investigate the master blacksmith’s hammer strike each time, you’ll find it isn’t perfectly consistent like a robot or a machine, instead each strike is subtly different. So, we can say that a person who moves well is someone who can repeat a skill in multiple, subtly different ways whilst still producing the desired outcome.

Take Time to Reflect


Have a think about your long-term bad back or that stiff neck. Do you move it regularly? Is there variation to how you move it? Or do you move it a lot but only in one unique manner? Today’s life requirements have us sat down at desks for the best part of the day and this coupled with a natural drive for us to find a consistent and predictable routine means we probably do this a lot. However, such behaviour could be the very thing that is making your neck stiffness linger around.


Simple Ways to Increase Movement Variability


1. Change your desk/chair and schedule some ‘get up and be active time’.


The biggest changes you can make doesn’t have to be to overhaul your lifestyle and start up a vigorous exercise plan (although we’d always support our eager clients!).


Start by assessing what positions you spend a lot of your time in. Most of the time we find that our start-up clients who complain of such issues spend a big portion of their time sitting down each day. So, getting them to vary their desk position is normally the biggest and most beneficial issue to tackle.


We’d recommend looking into getting a desk that can convert into a standing desk and stand for a few hours a day. Then try and pencil in a 30min walk outside where you circle your shoulders, twist your head from side to side or bend over and touch your knees or toes.


2. Start a new exercise routine


Indeed the best way to vary your movement is by starting a new exercise routine, but this doesn’t have to be a 70’s style bodybuilding routine where you hit your chest muscles on a Monday!


Not all exercise has to be robotic and muscle targeted. Lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, throwing, running, jumping are all trainable movements that you can develop and get better at and will certainly develop an individual’s skill in movement and ability.


3. Vary your goals and targets


This point may resonate with you if you have a special hobby or pursuit. Performing the same movement over and over doesn’t have to be simply residing in a static position like being seated at a desk.


Perhaps you’re an avid golfer whose been playing for a few decades and swing a club at the driving range 6 nights a week? If so then we would suggest trying to compliment your passion or hobby with something that may compliment your sport.


Improving your competency in the baseline movement patterns we assess, could be a great way to take your golf performance to the next level!



There’s no need to completely overhaul your life and daily routine. Instead, try and be reflective and see if you can challenge yourself in some new way. You may find you might have some fun and improve some of those niggling aches, pains and stiffnesses that just won’t go away.


Take things slow and build up gradually. Sometimes we see individuals go from zero to a hundred all too quickly. Such practices, although positive, can rapidly increase movement variability, which requires time for the body to adapt and become controlled, strong and fit.


If you’re in a lot of pain we’d always recommend seeing a professional who is qualified to give you the thumbs up before you start anything new.

If you’re interested in starting your health and fitness journey with us…

Disclosure: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you are currently experiencing physical or mental health issues, please seek professional advice from a fully qualified Nutritionist, GP or Physiotherapist. 



1. Stergiou N. & Decker L.M. Human movement variability, nonlinear dynamics, and pathology: is there a connection? Human Movement Science. 2011, (5), 869-88.