The dictionary definition of integration is “combining or coordinating separate elements so as to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole.” If we are putting together a puzzle, we need all the pieces. If we are making a meal, we need all the ingredients. If we are optimizing human movement and performance, we need all the tissues (muscles, joints, bones, ligaments, etc.), and the neurological signaling between those tissues present and operational.
Why is Integration Important?
Goals related to both pain and performance are dependent on optimal integration. Whether we realize it or not, every technique and modality under the sun is ultimately aiming for optimal integration. We just call it different things, and go about it in different ways. Mobility, stability, motor control, coordination, strength, power, and endurance all improve when we are more fully integrated. When it comes to our training, whether we are rehabbing or improving fitness, I am of the opinion that integration should be the focal point.
Integration depends on all of our systems working together synergistically. Our musculoskeletal system is often where we focus our attention, but in order to optimize the functional capacity of our musculoskeletal system, we need to take into account the other systems of the body as well.
Integration occurs at several different levels, even just within the context of movement. On one level, we want to achieve optimal integration from a biomechanical perspective. We are simply trying to make the muscles and joints work cohesively together to allow for fluid and efficient movement of the whole body.
On a deeper level, it is important to make sure we are optimally integrated from a neurological perspective. Ensuring that the neurological signals controlling the musculoskeletal system are functioning optimally. This is largely influenced not only by our proprioceptive input within the tissues, but also our emotions, organ systems, meridians, and our thoughts and beliefs.
When we talk about integration at the level of biomechanics, we need to consider:
Joint Mobility - do our joints have normal and optimal range of motion?
Muscle Function - do our muscles have the ability to produce and sustain force output?
Kinetic Chains - do our kinetic chains and subsystems synergize well with each other?
Foundational Movement Skills - do each of our foundational movement skills function cohesively and optimally and are we strong with each of them?
When we go deeper and look at integration at the level of our neurology, we must consider:
Neurologic Reflexes - do our reflexes function normally or are they neurologically disorganized?
Peripheral Receptors & Ascending Sensory Pathways - is our peripheral nervous system providing our brain with accurate information?
Organs & Meridians - how are our metabolic and energy pathways affecting muscular function and coordination?
Emotions, Thoughts, & Beliefs - how do our conscious and unconscious biases and the context into which we fit our experiences influence our muscular output and coordination?
Improving athletic qualities like strength, power, or endurance are all dependent on having foundational movement quality first and foremost. This requires good movement capacity and biomechanical efficiency. In most performance training circles, we talk about integration through biomechanical efficiency, with our focus being on muscles, connective tissues, bones, and joints. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t take into account other variables, ones that also often affect biomechanical efficiency of movement.
As we already touched on, muscular output (strength) is dependent on an incredible amount of variables. Our ability or inability to perform any given movement requires the integration of not only the physical components like joints and muscles, but also deeper neurological components. True integration is having our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components of ourselves all in sync together.
How do we achieve true and full integration?
Becoming the most self-actualized, fully integrated, and strongest version of ourselves is a lifelong pursuit. For every person on the journey to becoming the best version of themself, there is a unique and winding path to get there. If you’re like me, you believe that the destination is never set. You should always be looking to progress and move forward. Once a goal is reached, you set a new goals. You make adjustments as you gain new insights and experiences. Achieving integrated strength is a journey, not a destination. It’s a process more so than it is an end-goal. The first step to achieving true and full integration as a human being is understanding this.
Another vital step to achieving full integration is to commit to a movement practice centered around optimization of neuromuscular function, development of foundational movement skills, and the progressive building up of strength over time. Life is better when you’re strong, and being strong is better when you can display that strength in a variety of contexts. We improve our strength and overall fitness most when all of our systems are working cohesively together. How hard we are able to train, and how well we are able to recover and adapt and come back stronger the next time all comes down to the integration of all our systems.
We need to eat in a way that fuels our body as needed. We need to ensure that we are getting enough sleep to recover and heal properly. We need to surround ourselves with people who love and support us so that we have a community we can trust. We need to optimize our internal and external environments in order to thrive and grow. We need to love ourselves and make taking care of ourselves a priority.