Why I am dumping rigid exercise and adopting a functional movement practice
To a lucky few of us, movement comes completely naturally and is something that is incorporated as a way of living from a young age into adulthood. Then there are others, like myself, who rather naively neglect movement for decades and have to pay the price of finding themselves at middle-age with the burning desire to move like a child again. I like to believe that it is never too late to reclaim mobility, but it is a goal that requires commitment and daily movement practice.
When I started my fitness journey just over 3 years ago, I was relatively clueless about what exercises I was suppose to be doing, how often and at what intensity I should be exercising, how heavy I should be lifting and what the limitations would be for a bigger body like mine. At the time I was quite surprised at just how much I was capable of doing and with the help of a personal trainer who guidied me in terms of form and programming, I progressed to a point I could never even fathom. Not only did I love what my body was able to do, I became a little addicted to the gym and the high I would experience throughout the day after my daily workout. I became so fascinated by the whole concept of becoming fit and healthy that I started toying with the idea of becoming a personal trainer myself and I qualified as such at the end of 2016, just over 2,5 years after a 20 year hiatus from exercise!
As with any new passion or hobby, one goes through many phases of discovery and exploration. I discovered that I had good upper body strength and so I became intrigued with power lifting. For roughly a year, I dedicated myself to training 6 days a week with the heaviest weights I could possibly lift, push and squat. It was grueling and though I enjoyed taking part in 2 power lifting competitions during that year, my body felt broken and my spirit too. It was clear to me that even though I have progressed beyond what I could ever imagine, it would take more from my body than what I was able to give at that point. I longed for the days of my youth when I was active in so many sports and once more I cursed myself for ever allowing my body to get to the state where it would be so hard to fight my way back to being agile and being a competent mover. I am still fighting.
Training with the end in mind
What I have since realized is that I was approaching fitness from the wrong angle; I wanted to be fit for all the wrong reasons. The penny has finally dropped. I am not training to become an athlete (even though I am improving on my athletic ability everyday); I am not training to be beach body ready (even though my body is looking visibly stronger and leaner than 3 years ago), I am not even training because I have chosen a career in the fitness industry. I am training with the 80-year old me in mind. My dream for that woman is to be able to walk upright, go on a hike or a bike ride, move her own furniture and most of all, do it pain-free and full of zest. For her to be able to do that, the 45-year old me has to remember the ways in which my body was created to move and which I have neglected for over 2 decades. I have to remember what it felt like to play, to tumble, jump and crawl.
It is no secret that our sedentary lives are taking a detrimental effect on our health. Those of us who have managed to overcome the resistance against exercise, try to remedy this situation by going to the gym for an hour a couple of days a week to compensate for the lack of movement during the rest of the day. Even among exercisers or people performing specific sport, you may only move your body in a set range of movements typical to the equipment you are using or the sport you are practicing. This could lead to problems along the line – ask any professional athlete plagued by injuries or restrictions in mobility from muscles performing the same actions for years on end.
Having being previously morbidly obese I am all too familiar with aches and pains from being sedentary for years, and now that I am finally heading in the right direction, I definitely do not want my exercise regime to create further or new issues, as I grow older.
I was also starting to wonder if I were really leading an active lifestyle if I workout for an hour each day, or some weeks even less than that? Don’t get me wrong, I am the last person who will discourage you from visiting the gym and getting your sweat on, but something seems off in the way we approach being active. The modus operandi seems to be a limited few hours of activity and then going back to sitting and being inactive for the biggest part of our day. It is often also popular among gym goers to work themselves into the ground during their workout because of the need to burn calories or the desire to transform their physiques. I am not criticizing such goals and I have nothing but admiration for the people who put in the work of bodybuilding. But those are not my goals and having realized that my fitness approach is based on my own life experiences and being on the wrong side of 40, I can only advocate a movement practice that will enable me to move better for longer. I know I am not alone in this desire.
We very often get stuck in conventional fitness and we are scared to break out of the norm. When you start working out differently, it doesn’t only challenge your body, but also your mind and your creativity. A general feeling of well-being occurs when you communicate to your body that you love doing things differently. Some people might be curious and ask you what you are doing, others might think you are ridiculous or even discourage you, but don’t let that stop you from taking control of your own movement practice. And don’t get stuck doing the same movement week after week and year after year because if your training show no change and progress, it is likely that your health and fitness will stagnate too.
What do I mean with “movement practice”?
Look at children on a playground, watch them move and climb. You will remember a time that movement was completely natural to you. You didn’t have to think about how you would climb a ladder, hang from a tree or swing from a rope, you just did it. As we become adults we completely lose these abilities and we become caged-up zoo creatures with chronic pain, immobility, depression and a general lack of zest for life.
Don’t you miss how agile you were back then? And isn’t it sad that basic human movement like jumping and crawling have become all but impossible for a large group of us. I want to change that, for myself and for my clients. I want to stop the practice of compartmentalize strength training and cardio and develop a practice where everything I do is movement-based. I use to feel proud for being strong, but I have since come to understand that the relearning of locomotive skills like jumping and hopping has to take precedence over manipulative skills like carrying or lifting heavy objects. You have to be able to move your own body effectively and efficiently everyday of your life – if you cannot, what is the point of manipulating heavy loads?
What does this mean practically?
There are building blocks for developing your movement practice that you can either research yourself or get help from someone like myself to guide you through where to start and which moves to master first before you move onto more challenging practices. But if you are a complete beginner or mostly sedentary, ask yourself what else can you do to incorporate constant movement into your daily life?
- First of all, walk more and while you are at it, do a few lunges or squats.
- Have you noticed how little time we spend lifting our arms above our heads? Every time you pass through a doorway, lift your arms and let the door pull it back slightly, pause there for a few seconds.
- Every time you go to the bathroom do a few squats, make it a routine.
- While watching TV, sit in a squat as close to the floor as possible, maybe sit on a soccer ball initially.
- That big tree in your back yard – climb it with your children! You know you want to!
- Don’t pass the children’s playground without a climb or a swing. Who cares if people think you are weird.
- Need something from the bottom cupboard? Don’t call the kids, get down on all fours or squat down and get it.
- Explore the natural environment around you for potential for movement. Get out and be a kid again, find ways in which you can run, jump, crawl, balance and carry.
This approach is simple and effective but keep in mind that as much as spontaneity is encouraged, you might need the guidance of a trainer to help you to initially establish effective and efficient practice and establish which areas of your body might need corrective practice offered by professionals like a Biokineticist. Don’t take risks, especially if you are deconditioned from years of inactivity. Having said that, keep your movement practice simple and just start. Don’t reserve and restrict movement for the gym only, your natural habitat provides endless possibilities to move naturally.
In the next few weeks I will share some basic natural movement techniques that you can get started with at home to improve your mobility so that you can get back to doing the fun things and move your body like it was intended to move. In the meantime you can start researching movement specialists like Ido Portal and Erwan Le Corre. Don’t be put off by how advanced their moves are, we all have to start somewhere! And I’m so excited to share this exploration with you!