Updated: Jun 14
Author: Darren Radford
If we look at today’s fitness industry and see what people are doing, we can easily group them into sports or practices. But if we try to classify movement, it’s very hard for people to understand what we mean and specifically:
1. How do we ‘practice’ movement?
2. Why would we practice movement? What are the benefits?
3. How can we make a fitness class out of this?
So what is the difference between practicing something like basketball or running and practicing movement?
We often fall into the trap of identifying with a social narrative and all its labels (dancer, rock climber etc.) but we forget to wonder what really drives us. We create these ‘boxes’ so that we can play in them, but we equally trap ourselves in them. Movement is about extracting ourselves from these boxes with their predefined, set forms and really experience things whilst trying to understand why we are doing what we are doing.
By way of analogy, let’s look at the business world. In the industrial revolution we needed “I” shaped people. They were very good at one thing. Their main role was to be part of a linear manufacturing process. We needed mechanical tasks performed which required rudimentary cognitive skill. For most human beings, those ‘factory’ jobs rapidly becomes monotonous. And physically, we’ll develop imbalances based on performing single repetitious tasks.
Roll forward a few decades and we have gone through phases of wanting “T” and most recently “E” shaped people. T-shaped means you have four-five role competencies but have one primary specialism. E.g. you know a reasonable amount about/can perform role of an analyst, communications person or quality control person but your main experience and specialism may be project management. E-Shaped people have typically more than one specialism. So can perform adequately is say five different types of role but can perform above average in three main areas or functions. Essentially, as we’ve moved from production line assembly to knowledge work that requires greater cognitive skill, we’ve moved from being “specialists” (mechanic) to “generalists” – those that can multi-task in various functions.
So back to movement. Movement is about getting out of you basketball or hockey “specialist” box, with its prescribed set of patters, and being more a “generalist”, one that is able to move in many more patterns and even improvise when the foundational movement competencies and strength are established. Or perhaps to put it another way, play, which is a fundamental human trait!
In society, we have historically tended to admire the greatest specialists who dedicate insane amounts of time and effort to perfect a practice: Mohammed Ali, Tom Brady and here in Canada we'd be remiss not to mention Wayne Gretzky. But this path is not sustainable and after a period of time the body starts to suffer from making the same movements and enduring the same stress over and over. This is why it’s so important to introduce variety in our physical practices.
Instead of spending our time mastering certain practices, we should divide our practices into three different zones.
Zone 1: When you’re introduced to a new concept and you can’t do it yet
Zone 2: You can accomplish the physical test but it’s not smooth, it’s not perfected
Zone 3: Perfected or at least a high degree of competence performing the skill
It’s important to play in all three zones but there is one that offers the most benefit. That is Zone 1, where we are learning new movements.
In addition to benefiting from physical improvement, practice in this zone also enables brain development. A study from the University of Oxford measured how white matter in the brain changed while someone was learning a new motor skill like juggling. After 6 weeks of learning, they found that white matter increased >6%. But what may be more interesting is that this increase is not correlated with performance. i.e. you didn’t have to get better at juggling to gain the same improvement in white matter. There was a greater correlation with the amount of time they spent training/practicing. So the journey/practice itself was the benefit not necessarily being good at something. We can conclude therefore that the very process of learning new movements is beneficial for our brains in addition for us physically (joint health, mobility, flexibility, strength etc. in multiple planes).
But it’s quite easy to get stuck in Zone 3 where we are comfortable as we have competence in a certain practices, it’s easy for us to show off etc. But from a holistic health perspective, it’s essential that we never stop learning new movements. It is my suggestion that adopting this way of thinking may fundamentally effect why and how we move and may redefine our definition of "fitness".
Let’s take it back to the single sport/practice example. Let’s assume that a basketball player needs a combination of skills like strength, speed, agility, technique and endurance. If you identify with this narrative, you will only build up these skills by the practice of basketball. After all, the goal is to be a better basketball player. But if you step back and only look at movement, suddenly many different opportunities arise.
To improve in speed, you might engage in sprint drills/leg-cycle mechanics and see that as an opportunity that can improve your practice. Similarly with strength, you might look at calisthenics to work on developing full body tension strength or power that can be leveraged on the basketball court.
But even more interesting is if you do not have a particular passion for one sport (basketball) or one form of practice (martial arts). Now instead of basketball or judo you practice movement. And with that, comes all this freedom to play. Suddenly you are free to emerge yourself in all types of movements and still grow in skill, get stronger, become more mobile etc. So one may postulate that its better to grow in all these different vectors at the same time than constrain ourselves to one set of defined practices such as a particular sport or activity.
This also allows us to stay in all three zones without suffering the consequences of specializing in a particular practice – e.g. power lifting, where ultimately, injury and dysfunction are inevitable. If you adopt this mindset, a world of opportunity will unlock by bringing things back to basic human movement where we don’t need fancy gear and complex gym machines. Our body, floor, wall and maybe some wooden rings would be more than sufficient to move for life. This enables a world where we do not reverse engineer aesthetics (body building) but we simply benefit from the consequences of movement.
So my challenge to you all. Move away from isolated practice and focus more on skills such as Handstand or working on your L-Sit. But everything comes down to action. So, what are you going to do?
Apply to engage in one of 10 complimentary introduction to movement private sessions offered in June 2020. See here for details: https://www.gravitylaboratory.ca/ptoffer