Updated: Mar 29, 2021
I care deeply about words, and I realised many of my ideas for blog posts revolved around defining the words I use most frequently and most thoughtfully, and the concepts that they represent. Of course, I had to kick this off by talking about the word "movement", around which I built my new brand (or, more accurately, my trading name, as I can't claim to have built a brand).
So, why have I moved away from using the words "fitness", "training" and "exercise" and chosen to focus on "movement"?
These days, "movement" is a bit of a buzzword. It normally is associated with Animal Flow, which is a trademarked term but is often used to describe any workout that incorporates flowing bodyweight, ground-based movements. You often see the word "primal" used to describe this sort of movement practice, highlighting the idea that this type of movement is how our bodies were designed to move.
I have mixed feelings about "movement" becoming such a specific practice. I hesitate to use the word "movement coach" to describe myself, as I don't (and let's be honest, at the time of writing, can't) do a lot of the calisthenics movements that go with the territory. Can I do some of the basics? Do I think it's fun and worthwhile to work towards more avanced moves like press-to-handstand and muscle-ups? Absolutely. But do I think moving in that way is superior to moving in, well, any other way? Not necessarily. Do I aim to teach people how to move better and more efficiently, in a way that they enjoy and that feels good? Yes - so isn't it a bit alarming that I find it hard to identify as a movement coach, when movement and coaching are the things I have spent eight years learning and developing?
There is no doubt that being able to move and control your body through any shape and position is important and highly rewarding. I often tell my clients that injuries don't happen in the middle of your set of heavy deadlifts or squats or shoulder press; they happen when you re-rack the bar. Most of us know someone who is strong, fit, highly physically active - but "threw their back out" emptying the dishwasher.
That's because our bodies have learnt to do certain movements at a higher intensity only when we are paying full attention, performing one specific action at a time, bracing everything that needs to be braced, usually after a thorough warm-up, on level and dry terrain, with appropriate equipment. They're not used to different speeds of movement (like when you whip your head around when someone calls you from behind), performing tasks at different angles with awkward weight distributions (loading shopping bags into the car whilst holding a child on your hip) or simply not being warmed up (running for the bus). So no matter how strong or fit you are, you're still vulnerable to injury from these unpredictable, untrainable movements.
That's where a movement-focussed training approach comes in. By moving in a variety of different ways, at different speeds and with different loads in different places, thinking more about the action of moving than the specific shapes your body is making, you can start to cover more of those "unscripted" actions.
But that's the point; they are unscripted. Unpredictable. A muscle-up or an alligator crawl might involve more muscles and offer more opportunities for variety of movement than a bench press, but if we are drilling those movements because we have been told those are the best movements, they become predictable. Our bodies become better at performing those, but not necessarily any better at pulling the vacuum cleaner out of the storage cupboard around the junk that we piled up in front of it (OK, that might just be my weekly struggle, but I bet you have one of your own!). Of course, we can never train for every scenario, but we can take steps to develop a more versatile body.
For many movers and gym-goers, especially those who are well trained in movements like squatting, pushing, and pulling, and who are just focussing on increasing intensity (by adding weight, adding reps or sets, reducing recovery times etc) rather than learning new movements, "primal" movement practices are a very logical level-up - and I highly encourage it!
But for many people, including many of my clients, simply standing up out of a chair with good posture, walking down stairs with control, or being able to balance on a bus or train without having to cling onto a handrail at all times, it isn't necessary to be crawling around on the ground or hopping or jumping - and inferring that advanced calisthenics are the most important movements to master can be highly damaging to a person's self-esteem and motivation.
That sort of exclusionary approach to movement and exercise is actually what kept me from discovering my passion for physical activity and fitness; I wasn't good at the sports we did in school (mostly basketball, volleyball, a touch of badminton and, thankfully, some swimming which is probably what kept me from failing the class) so I assumed I just "wasn't sporty". Although I eventually found running and lifting, I am convinced that this label of non-sporty kept me from trying new things that I may have loved.
Of course, if you are training for a specific activity, and your only goal is to be the best you can be at that one activity or movement, at any cost, you may need to restrict your training to that one thing. Elite athletic performance is rarely synonymous with overall long-term health - in my opinion, they are usually mutually exclusive - but if you are not training for high-level competition which requires you to have every possible advantage over your competitors, surely the goal of an exercise routine is to feel better in everyday life (though "feeling better" might mean something very different from one individual to another). And being able to move better is a key part of that.
So let's celebrate movement in all its forms. The ability to get off the sofa without groaning. The ability to squat down to pick something up off the floor rather than worrying about our lower backs. The confidence to stand on a ladder whilst pulling a heavy box out of a high cupboard (another personal experience, but surely someone can relate?). Your movement practice doesn't have to have a name. It doesn't have to be Instagrammable. It doesn't - and probably shouldn't - be the same thing week after week after week. It doesn't have to be measurable (no, I'm not a fan of SMART goals - but more on that another time, if anyone is interested). But it has to be enjoyable - not only will that keep us coming back for more, but it will keep us finding new ways to move, new things our bodies can do, and that is the key to building a healthy and versatile body.