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Old 02-09-2009, 12:20 AM   #1
Donald Lee
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Default Beevor's Axiom

In a discussion about functional fitness and training muscles vs. movements, this post came up. It may not be that useful for us, but it's interesting nevertheless.

--- In Supertraining@yahoogroups.com, "John Casler"
<bioforce.inc@...> wrote:
> John Casler wrote:
> I am not sure of the origin of this phrase but Mel Siff used to write it
> often and I think he gave credit to the "Muscles Alive" text.

Beevor's axiom "the brain knows nothing of individual muscle action, but knows only of movement." The axiom is named after Charles Edward Beevor (1854-1908), an English anatomist (Wikipedia).

Mel Siff:

Several decades ago, possibly in a text written by Guyton or Bernstein, I learned of this well-known physiological aphorism: "The body knows of movement, not muscles" and I periodically have reincanted this in various articles or seminars, but I have always entertained some reservations about its validity in general. Why should I have doubted its correctness?

After all, it was emphasized by world authorities such as the late great Russian scientist, Bernstein! Now I no longer am willing to accept anything at face value, possibly because I have become increasingly skeptical about many of the "facts" that are taught in sports science and therapy. There are a few reasons why we need to re-examine this saying:

1. Bodybuilders in their posing routines are able to "flex" various muscle groups without moving any joint or limbs. They can "bounce" their pecs, tense their quads and calves, select parts of the abs and tense them alternately without any trunk action. In short, by focusing specifically on certain muscles they eventually gain a large measure of control over certain muscle groups without the need for any limb motion.

2. EMGs that have been taken of certain muscles have shown that the muscles can tense in anticipation of any movement that is about to take place (as in jumps from a height). In other words, the "virtual reality", feedforwarding", "imagineering" or anticipation of movements or muscle
activation can stimulate muscle action before any movement takes place.

3. Biofeedback training, especially using EMG as an intervention, can teach a person how to control specific muscle action without any movement taking place.

That is why in more recent times I have preferred to state that "the body
usually knows more about movement than muscles, but there are exceptions to
this general rule that may be important in motor control." So, before we
reflexively repeat that old saying, let us think very carefully about the
exact situation and context in which we believe it to apply, for we may be
neglecting some important exceptions to the "general rule."

Daniel wrote:

<<I believe the phrase to which you are referring is known as Beevor's axiom,
and I think it was from his Croonian lecture before the Royal Society in 1903
entitled "Muscular Movements and Their Representation in the Central
Nervous System," although he also wrote a book about the brain's control of
movement that might have contained this quote. Since N.A. Bernstein was born
in 1896, I think the quote predates him, although he may have used it in a

I agree that the veracity of Beevor's axiom is not absolute since, through extensive training, a given individual can gain very precise control of
individual motor units. However, in untrained subjects and patients, I believe Beevor's axiom holds as a general principle. Most untrained persons are not able to contract a single muscle or activate a particular motor unit, but can quickly learn to perform movement tasks within given task constraints.

In other words, if the subject is given a movement goal, their neuromotor
system explores and solves a way to achieve it. The role of the clinician or
instructor is to constrain the task such that the method by which the subject
achieves the movement is productive. Instructing an otherwise untrained
person to contract a particular muscle is inefficient (with respect to intensity of instruction vs. productive motor output) and probably has very little general application. There are always exceptions (athletes, performance artists, etc.), for whom the suspension of Beevor's "axiom" is necessary (at least temporarily). >>

***Yes, that aphorism indeed is "Beevor's Axiom", but it is not necessarily true that muscle activation does not or cannot precede motor output in untrained people or that Beevor's Axiom should continue to be regarded as a general principle without modification. In fact, this pre-activity neural activation situation arises every time that we undertake many very normal daily activities such as walking, running, jumping or catching, as I pointed out in item 2 of my original reasoning, namely:

<2. EMGs that have been taken of certain muscles have shown that the
muscles can tense in anticipation of any movement that is about to take place
(as in jumps from a height). In other words, the "virtual reality", feedforwarding", "imagineering" or anticipation of movements or muscle
activation can stimulate muscle action before any movement takes place. >

Thus, it would appear that muscle activation before movement is a vital and
fundamental process or reflex in all normal movement, whether it is skilled or not, so Beevor's axiom may well need some serious revision. Of course, it is possible, if not likely, that the infant who has not yet learned how to walk, run or jump has to develop those pre-activity neural patterns of activation by the repetitive process of classical trial-and-error conditioning.

Beevor’s axiom “the brain knows nothing of individual muscle action, but knows only of movement.” Movement involves numerous muscle groups and if biomechanical efficiency of one muscles group is decreased the other groups will attempt to augment the process and take over some of the load. The brain is concerned with the production of a particular movement not which muscles or what level of efficiency is involved. If biomechanical advantage is altered then automatic compensatory processes will come into play.

Jamie Carruthers
Wakefield, UK
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Old 02-09-2009, 05:23 AM   #2
Steven Low
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That's very interesting to say the least.

The fact that most untrained individuals are better with gross movement than individual muscle contraction speaks volumes to the efficacy of full body routines over splits.

Could also be one reason splits training with elite athletes at times can be better than full body work... well, aside from mitigating fatigue which is important as well.

I wouldn't necessarily say that Beevor's axiom is broken though even with BBers flexing individual muscles without movement. Any muscular contraction is going to create movement; however, this contraction must be braced from contraction of other muscles if no movement is going to occur. The exception is if the muscular contraction (say pec bounce) just brings the muscle into the least tension that the limb doesn't move. Anyway, from this you know isometric movement does require agonists and antagonists firing at the same time to prevent movement or not enough tension in the muscle to break the movement barrier.

So basically I don't think it violates the axiom, especially because of the compensatory way the brain operates. Just look at simple movement such as gait. If you're off, the body will compensate and screw up your muscle balance pretty badly.
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Old 02-09-2009, 09:14 AM   #3
Garrett Smith
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I'm with Steven.

If the pec contracts, it exerts some force on both the origin and insertion. If it is only the pec contracting, then the origin won't move and the force of contraction will be against the insertion point. It will either be enough force to move the insertion point (however small a distance) or it won't be.

If the contraction is strong enough to move the insertion point, the only way to not have movement is to have an equal contraction by antagonistic muscle group(s).

Think of tugging on a rope that is attached to something heavy and movable. The "movement" one is trying to do is move the object towards yourself. The initial pulling takes the slack out of the rope, more pressure would eventually get to a taut rope with no movement, even more pressure would start the object moving. If there were another person pulling the opposite direction in an equal amount, then both ends could continue pulling without perceptible movement while continuing to increase their efforts simultaneously (as in, a more visible/stronger contraction of the intended muscle(s)).

If muscle contractions take place in the body, the physics are still there. Unless someone can make a muscle "contraction" take place without the muscle fibers actually shortening, I think Beever's Axiom holds pretty true. It's just how finely-tuned the tiniest of "movements" can become, so that there is no perceived movement and it looks like only one muscle is contracting (which it might be at the lowest amounts of applicable effort).
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Old 02-09-2009, 10:27 AM   #4
Dave Van Skike
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this thread is a mashup of BB.Com's greatest hits and a 200 level philosphy course.

Shouldn't y'all be counting the number of angels on the handle of a kettlebell or something?
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Old 02-09-2009, 01:53 PM   #5
Donald Lee
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This is another bit I got from the discussion. Sorry Dave, but it's a lot more physiological mumbo jumbo. I think Dan Partelly is trying to bring us back into the middle in regards to the training the muscles versus training the movement debate:

Yes, IMO the article describes a very incomplete view. Beevor was
talking about integrative control of movement. Nothing to comment on
this, it certainly holds true.


1. In sport mastery , generally what counts is: expressing maximum
power in a technical movement executed in a specific energetic regime.

2. Another reality of motor control of learning (first reality is
Beevor's axiom) is that there is relatively little transfer of
training between 2 skills, even if they are similar. With a notable
exception, timing , which seems easier transferable.

Very important to remember!

3. realization of different components of power is not only dependent
by neural components , but for a multitude of factors intrinsic to the
muscle fiber. (For example increased phosphocreatine storage, subtle
changes in the sarcoplasmic reticulum, changes in the dimater of
muscle fibers )

4. Expression of power must be realized in a specif energetic regime.
Here the changes are even more complex and important:
- increased mitochondrial density , increased amount of aerobic
enzymes, increased capillary vascularization changes in autonomus
nervous sytem control of circulation and respiration and countless others
- increased amount of anaerobic enzymes, glycogen storage,
increased buffer capacity and so on

5. All the adaptations at point 4 are mediated by up-regulation of
adaptive protein synthesis processes.

6. The main initiators of up-regulation of adaptive protein synthesis
are the metabolites resulted from the application of a training load,
and they are amplified (or diminished, think overtraining )by the
hormonal assemble in the organism.

7. Since metabolites are local, they must be present in the muscles to
initiate adaptive process. This means that a muscle fiber must have
applied a training load , if one has to hope that any adaptation will

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Keep point 7 in mind for other you will not
have training effects of this kind. Muscles must be trained ! As
Zatsiorsky says, (my paraphrase) "a muscle fibers which is not
fatigued is not trained"

8. Generally we choose exercises which conform to Verkhsohansky's
principle of dynamic correspondence to maximize for the follwoing reason:
By doing in the gym a movement which is more or less similar to
the competitive exercise we maximize the transfer of training.

As per points above, the conjugate methods of training (and only
it) realizes all the components at the same time. It trains the skill
(integrative control of movement), neural strategies, and intrinsic
muscular factors at the same time

9. In other cases, the realization of power in the competitive
exercise , based on the bio-abilities developed is realized only in
the last phases of training. It is mainly realized by training the
competitive movement itself in the competive conditions.

This is again very important to remember.

10. As per points 9 and 2 training of the movement is done on the FILED.

11. As per point 8,9,10,2,3,4 in SC training we train muscles and ,
from the point of view of integrative control of movement, the
movements implied by execution of the training loads. Based on how
similar the movements are there exist various degrees of transfer of
training between the too.

This is why principle of dynamic correspondence rules supreme. But
this doesn mean you train "movments" during SC training alone.

12. It is a mistake to reduce the issue to only the control portion,
or to the effector portion (muscles). It should b crystal clear to
anyone that even the most perfect car with the most perfect computer
in the world cant run without "gas".

13. As per all points above, it is incorrect to claim you train
"movements" and not muscles. Please accept the realities of
adaptation in sport training, and of integrative control of movement
and , and change your old and tired paradigms.

14. Siff's conclusion is very incomplete, and he seems to disregard
the whole suite of adaptations which must take place in a muscle to
ensure expression of power in a specific energetic regime. He only
uncovered a small part of the reality.

15. It is logic he seen reservations about his theories, because
anyone who understand all the factors who are contributing to
expression of power in a technical movement in a certain regime knows
and understands both adaptive processes and the theory of motor
control will see through his words.

Dan Partelly
Oradea, Romania
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Old 02-09-2009, 02:26 PM   #6
Garrett Smith
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Wow, that's beyond what I care to think about. There comes a definite point where I shut down on this stuff. Time to train.

Dave, I'll leave the KB minutiae to the IGx guys.
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