We were born to move. Remember how you used to play as a kid? You could run, jump, and tumble in a seemingly limitless fashion. You didn’t have to think about how to use your body, you just did it. As we become adults, however, we start to lose that freedom of movement. Joints stiffen, muscles shorten from too much sitting and not enough play, injuries crop up that scare us off of trying anything new. It takes more and more effort to do things that we used to do without thought (ex. squatting down to the ground, or sitting cross-legged.) We often hear the phrase “I guess I’m just getting old.” (And I’m hearing that from a younger and younger population.) But does it have to be that way?
I for one don’t like it. I want to be able to move naturally, to run, to play, to be resilient – to live with vibrant health. And I want to be able to do this for a long, long time. I have a feeling that most other people want this too. The process to recapturing this freedom starts with movement.
Movement is one of the key areas we have fallen out of balance in, and for many of us it can be the gateway into understanding the bigger picture of our health and wellness. Either we exercise a lot but don’t listen to our bodies or truly understand our needs and motivations, or we don’t fully realize the impact our environments have on our movement, or we haven’t found something that fulfills us and meets our basic movement needs as a human animal.
Add to that the hundreds and thousands of workout programs, “methods”, blogs, gurus, and more that are at your fingertips, and wallah. Total mess. There’s actually too much information available, not too little. And most of them are focused on surface goals instead of challenging you to cultivate awareness of your environment, your needs, your WHY, and then take mindful action based on these factors. With so many voices proclaiming that they have “the way” (and many of them seemingly completely contradictory), it’s all too easy to fall prey to “paralysis by analysis.” (I know I have and still do!) You don’t know who to believe, and so we either make poor choices or no choice at all! That is not freedom.
The solution is to simplify. You need to move. Let’s talk about how to start. (And I’m going to borrow this next bit from Alwyn Cosgrove.)
1. Do something.
2. Do something you like.
3. The rest is just details.
It really is that simple. These are guidelines I’ve come back to over and over again to help create clarity and focus.
That being said, any system that tries to simplify inevitably leaves something out. As human animals in a non-wild environment, movement usually doesn’t just take care of itself in the depth and breadth that we need to sustain our bodies. And there is a lot of beauty to be found in the details and in the journey of “doing something” and “doing something you like”. So to give you a bit more direction, here are some landmarks I’ve mapped along my own personal journey and through coaching others. Rather than strict rules, think of them like different colors of paint on your palette. How and if you use them and what you choose to create is completely and uniquely yours, which is part of the fun anyways, right?
Primary Colors (Start Here)
Start with why. Ask yourself the question – what drives you and motivates you? Why do you want to be fit? By keeping your WHY at the center of what you do, you won’t get lost in HOW you get fit and the WHAT you do to get fit – you’ll still be able to see the forest through the trees and maintain perspective.
By the way, it’s OK not to know your WHY. I know mine is still evolving as I go. Just challenging yourself to ask the question and dive in is where the awesome sauce happens.
And remember, sometimes, you’ve just got to move (i.e. refer to rule number #1).
Build your foundation. Daily movement is the foundation to everything else you do. Humans often get a bad rap in the animal kingdom because we don’t have big teeth or the ability to fly – however, this overlooks our insane ability to ADAPT to a variety of movement challenges and to move in so many beautiful and complex ways. Everything from free diving to playing a piano to sumo wrestling is at our fingertips.
There are many paths to building a rock solid movement foundation, but here’s how I think of it. (A list within a list?! What is the world coming to?)
- Learn to breathe (again). Breathing should come from the center (AKA the diaphragm). Most of us are so stressed out that we live in our emergency muscles up in our neck and shoulders. Take the time to consciously breathe in and out through your nose with the tongue on the roof of your mouth each day. Cultivate the practice until it becomes second nature and you’ll be shocked by how much better you feel and move.
- Get on the floor. This is how we built our movement foundation in the first place. By wanting to explore our environment as babies and having to figure out how to move our heads, roll, rock, crawl, and ultimately stand and walk. There is still a lot of power in these movements, even for adults today. Tap into that inane knowledge of your body and spend some time the floor exploring. This is another one that seems so simple that people forget, but how often do we really sit on the floor anymore, or change positions? Each position you get into is a different nutrient that will nourish your joints, muscles, and nervous system.
- Move like a human. As much as you can throughout your day. Walk, run, balance, climb, crawl, swim, jump, reach, throw and catch, lift and carry, rotate. Create opportunities in your environment to do all of these things. Buy a 2×4 at the hardwood store to create an instant balance beam in your house. Hop up the stairs. Get on the floor and play with your kids. Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.
- Play like you mean it. If I could get people do do one thing more (besides focus on breathing), it would be playing. In my OS Play workshop, we talk about all the “scientificals” about why play is good for you – but honestly, the reason you should play is because you WANT to. Play is a part of our physical inheritance, a way that we can express ourselves and connect with others, and explore. There is so much more here but for now I’ll just point you to this podcast we did on play and leave it at that.
- Train for whatever drives you. You might read the stuff above and think to yourself, “that doesn’t sound like training at all!” And that’s because it isn’t. It’s about building your foundation and that’s bigger than training alone. But training can still be an important piece (if you want to). If you have a specific goal, a skill you want to learn, a mountain you want to climb – then having something a little more specific to help you get there is a great step. It’s also a great reason to connect with a coach and find someone who speaks to you and nurtures you as a human being. All really good stuff.
Cultivate mindfulness. All the time. Inside the gym and out. This is one reason I don’t like gym’s where you walk in and zone out like a zombie. You need to be actively engaged in what you are doing, especially if you are trying to (re)learn how to move. Pay attention to balance, posture, and breath – these are critical whether your performing a basic yoga move or deadlifting 400 pounds!
The mindfulness you build in your physical practice can also carry over into everything else in our holistic circle – from self-talk to relationships to nutrition and beyond. This is the skill that keeps on giving and is never perfected.
Secondary Colors (Expanding Out)
Pay attention to pain. This could slide right under the mindfulness piece, but it’s important enough that I wanted to give it it’s own bookmark. Pain is a signal from the body that demands attention. It is also way more complicated than I ever realized at first. But here’s what I can say: as a baseline, pain is a signal to stop and reassess, and potentially get checked out if it doesn’t resolve itself quickly.
In particular, we need to drop this whole “no pain, no gain” thing we’ve got going on in fitness. The goal of training is to elicit an adaptation response from your body. Effort and focused attention or required, but not pain. When we choose to train through pain, or in ways that are painful, we blunt our body’s natural adaptation response, introduce compensatory patterns, and increase our risk of injury. Ultimately, you get nowhere fast.
*There is a time and a place to train to the point of discomfort, but these are few and far between and should not become the standard IMO. We also need to develop better vocabulary around pain vs discomfort vs challenge as these often get subbed for each other in gym culture.
Seek balance. As I mentioned in my About page, for me, balance is at the center of this whole process. Beyond balancing on a beam or on your hands, how are you balancing your movement, your relationships, your life? The best thing about balance is that it is an active process of returning to the center. It’s not about being perfect each and every day but responding and paying attention.
One way to start cultivating this awareness in your movement practice is to ask yourself the question: what do I need/want today? Am I feeling cooped up and want to tap into some stored energy (i.e. intensity?) Am I feeling the need for something creative? Or maybe a little worn out and need something restorative? It might be a little bit of all three!
Guiding your movement/training sessions with this simple question can jump you lightyears ahead in your practice.
Find your tribe. We were never meant to move or live in isolation. In fact, my most amazing and satisfying movement experiences come from time spent moving with others. This could be your family, friends, pets, coaches, and/or peers. There are so many factors at play here it’s hard to even know where to start. For instance, did you know we experience pain from isolation through the same receptors we experience physical pain? #mindblown
Ask your co-workers to go on a walk with you at lunchtime, grab a friend to try out a new class at your local gym, go with your kids to try rock climbing or play at the park. Maybe use the Rules of the Dojo to found your own group of playful Ninjas.
Okay, this is getting long-winded, so let’s try the lightning round:
- Integration over compartmentalization. The more we pull stuff apart, the harder it is to put it all back together again. Instead of separating body parts or times of the day to move, try to integrate both your routines and your habits toward looking at the whole. (For you movement nerds out there, I challenge you to start thinking about mobility, stability, and strength as just different expressions of the same thing.)
- Focus on efficiency. You’ll know when you see efficient movement. It looks effortless. Graceful. Beautiful. It’s also usually safer. Practice efficiency and you’ll go far. (An awesome way to do this without a coach is to film yourself in slow-mo and play it back after your session to take notes on anything you see and also how you felt during the movement.)
- Simple changes make all the difference. Walk during your lunch break. Squat, march, crawl, hang, sit on the floor. Don’t bite off everything at once. In fact, best to pick one thing from this entire list and forget the rest for now. Simple changes stick and stick long-term, and that’s the perspective we are taking.
- The central question. How are we adapting to our environment? Most systems of movement I know are all trying to answer this one question – how do we account for the compensations we are making living in the modern world. Once you realize this, you can connect seemingly disparate systems, keep what is useful to you, and leave the rest.
- Embrace the journey. Focus too much on the outcomes you seek instead of the daily practice you are cultivating and not only will things move slowly, you’ll miss out on so much along the way. It wasn’t until I let go of my fears that I really found what I was looking for.
- Celebrate the movement in your body. You are a unique movement fingerprint. That’s an amazing thought and one to cherish and respect even if you’re not satisfied with where you are. You are amazing – we can truly say that no one in this world can move like you do, solve movement puzzles like you will, fire neurons and muscles in the same order as you will. As Neil Tyson would say, you are made of your own unique bit of stardust and that’s freaking awesome.
- Prerequisites and Progressions. This is a big one. Progressions are awesome ways to learn new movements and build a movement library for yourself. However, we must also take into account the prerequisites needed for each movement. Do you have the range of motion and control at each joint in order to even get into the positions you or your coach is asking you to do? If not, you’ll spend a lot of time banging your head against the wall and not as much time seem progress and unlocking your potential. (Credit Dr. Andreo Spina of #FRC)
- Be a chef, not a cook. Learn to trust your instincts and intuition. This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. I got so caught up in each “system” that I learned that I let it override what my own gut and experience was telling me. My mentor Tim told me “you are the chef in your own kitchen”, it’s not about what you think you “should” do, but what you “want” to do. That made all the difference for me to break out of the sandbox and explore the whole playground. Maybe it can do the same for you.
- “Get out of your head and into this space!” Now that we’ve spent so much time focusing on the “bigger picture” and developing mindfulness and awareness, it’s time to share perhaps my most important cue: “get out of your head and into this space!” If you’re like me, you’re probably overthinking the movement piece. We learn best by reacting and adapting to constraints in our environment (i.e. if the ground is wet and slick you’re likely to land in a different way so you don’t bust your tail) – absorb all that’s going on around you and you’ll find a higher level of mindfulness and connection in your movement. (Hint: it really helps to be playing with others to find this space.)
Most of all, have fun! If you’re not having fun, chances are you aren’t going to stick to it long enough to make a difference anyway. Plus, having fun is awesome! Why would you want to do something that doesn’t excite you or make you happy? Doing something simply because you “should” or you “have to” isn’t the kind of freedom we are looking for. Doing something that reinvigorates you, that allows you to expand out in all other aspects of your life, now THAT is something worth sticking to. That doesn’t mean everything you ever do has to be the funnest thing ever – engaging in the process is it’s own kind of reward, as is giving yourself permission to play, explore, and make mistakes.
There is this stat I’ve heard that 85% of Americans are currently not involved in an exercise or physical practice. Whether that is accurate or not, what I DO know for certain is that many people are disenchanted and disconnected from the modern fitness industry – and they are probably right to be feeling that way! This is why I think play is so essential. (and why I talk about it non-stop and created my own workshop based around play called OS Play. You can see if there are any upcoming events on the originalstrength.net website.)
Wow, that started off as one thing and turned into another thing completely. Hopefully, that gives you an idea of where to start and didn’t start your head swimming. If we want to break that whole list down into a couple of actionable steps, here’s where I’d go:
- Do something.
- Do something you like.
- The rest is just details.
See, doesn’t that make you feel better? In all seriousness, movement and play are things we all desperately need more of in our lives. If you get excited about the process and start asking questions, you’ll find that figuring out all the details for yourself is half the fun. Though if you ever need a place to start, refer to the list above and specifically look at “Build Your Foundation” or shoot me an email. 🙂
If you’re looking for even MORE detail, like some actual movements to start with or just some fun workouts to try out, don’t worry, I’ve got more for you. I’ll start to flush more of this out on the site, but there is already a lot of content on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Or you can always drop by Force Fitness and Performance to check out a Ninja Academy session and say hello. 🙂
Just remember, you CAN do this. You CAN affect positive change in your life. You CAN find your fitness freedom. You are a wonderfully unique Ninja destined to fight the dark side and return balance to the Force. So let’s get to it, and start MOVING.
For a more in-depth look at why I do what I do, check out these posts, or explore some of my biggest influences: