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Don’t train, MOVE! Or how the word “movement” is now beginning to represent a paradigm shift in approach to physical training.
I would like to present and explore the idea of how the old term “movement” has recently been gaining new meaning through a change of perspective to physical culture and how this shift of perception has been changing people’s lives as it has changed mine.
So many of us are familiar with the pain of…
Signing up for the gym and not being able to maintain regular attendance. Dropping it ant starting all over again along the New Year’s resolution. Going through all those reps feeling as if our work-out really was a form of labor. And the sense of guilt when skipping. Not to mention the constant dissatisfaction with certain condition of certain body part, always not looking as well as the person in the poster. Or simply being constantly not sure of the right amount and the type of work to be done, or the goals to be achieved.
We are the ones who go to the gym and train in order to compensate for the insufficiency of physical activity in our lives, fix some problems or create the type of body shape that we appreciate.
Others, the professionals of sports, train for quite different reasons – most look really well and shortage of physical activity is not an issue, however, even they have a reason to suffer.
First of all, the absolute majority of professionals suffer the pain of chronic injuries, which are almost inevitable given the overuse of particular body parts in particular positions, required by a particular sports discipline or tradition.
There is also a psychological factor of being paid to train and being constantly engaged in particular type of movement. The work-out then is really a proper work, where training “hard” in one direction may leave no space for spontaneity, creativity and the real joy of moving, which only a wider ranging physical activity could provide. In many cases there is no time and energy left to add something extra or different on top of the specialized type of training which has already been done during the day.
Furthermore, any professional sports carrier has its ending, which means that a person now joins the rest of us, only more injured and with somewhat unclear relation to body and training.
Many people would suppress apparent discomfort by blaming themselves for being lazy or simply not fit for fitness, others would blame the teaching methods or even a particular institution, others would resist by listening to motivational podcasts and try again… But what if we got the whole “training thing” wrong? Would we feel different about physical activity if instead of training we just moved?
Well, one might say movement is something we do anyway, all the time and as long as we are alive. (we say: the guy ain’t movin. means he’s dead). However, to a large extent we also do it carelessly with very little variety and conscious understanding.
It is worth noting that other animals don’t train. They don’t do flexibility or strength work and certainly they don’t make the “legs day”. However they still run, jump, fight, play. Within certain activity they move in the highest possible complexity that is available to their species. Humans, on the contrary tend to focus on something much narrower, to develop a particular skill or quality often defined by the discipline or even the aesthetic purpose. We tend to forget, that “beyond our specialties - we are all HUMAN first, MOVERS second and only then SPECIALISTS”. What if instead of being focused on particular skills or aesthetic appearances we paid more attention to the more basic human movement qualities underlying the majority of cultural movement manifestations? How would the training change if instead of building the body and the set of few skills we actually aimed at building our overall capacity to move better in any given situation?
A decade ago a now world famous innovator in physical training Ido Portal coined the term “Movement Culture”, which in a way confronts the contemporary culture of fitness and invites to reconsider its aims and means.
The phenomenon which we call physical culture has its roots in the end of 18th and 19th century. The educators such as Johann Bernhard Basedow, Johann Christoph Friedrich Guts Muths, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Per Henrik Ling, Edmond Desbonnet and some others have noticed the need and the benefit of a more systemic approach to physical training. Certain training protocols that they came up with were meant to increase human capacity and readiness for the challenges of life (primarily to be fit for combat) and, what is important, to support physical wellness and overall human development (scientific research of the time suggested that physical activity may increase cognitive abilities; the view remained). The end of 19th century marked the “battle of systems”: physical education was increasingly becoming the states sponsored priority and different training systems where competing to be seen as the most effective ones. In that period many of the sports disciplines where born and rules defined, many training tools invented. The geopolitical competition of nations was reflected in international sporting events which were becoming more an more popular. The specialization and professionalism of competitors grew and so the crowds of spectators. The ideals of professional sports and the grid of disciplines penetrated into the way general populus would approach physical training. 20th century also saw the rise of ideal body and the body ideal. From the first “body proportion artists” liken Eugen Sandow, Charles Atlas to the modern day body builders who highly influenced how the gyms of today look and how the training there is being done. The reason I give this brief sketch of physical culture development is to emphasize certain trends that took place and, on the other hand, by saying that something has developed in particular direction I’d like to note that it could have also gone the other way. The current physical culture as a result is highly influenced by professionalism, by the narrow and particular focus of sports. It is also influenced by body building and its of-springs and supported by the cult of particular body appearances popular in the mass media. The specialization and the reverse engineering (training to create an aesthetic outcome) are the two driving forces of physical culture today.
Movement Culture offers quite a different approach to physicality and training. Reminding the initial aim of the fathers of physical culture – to support human development – Movement Culture invites practitioners to take a more generalist approach to movement, to build wide ranging skills and an overall movement capacity, to increase general human athleticism through trainings and practices which are meant to involve more aspects of a human being – practical creativity, artistic expression, kinesthetic awareness, communication with others, increasing capacity to learn and etc.. It aims to build movement intelligence rather than particular set of skills, an intelligent and resistant body, rather than a particular body appearance.
There is a growing number of people around the world who practice “movement” these days. Some, including myself suggest that the movement perspective is revolutionary and represents a paradigm shift in the way we approach physicality and training. It tends to meet a very basic human need – to develop and grow – and therefore in the next decades we might see the movement of “movement” growing as well.
So how can we conceptualize or define the difference between the sports training and the movement practice? We used to say “do sports”, “train”, “work out”. Now we say “move”. What do we mean and what sort of changes in perspective attitude and result does the use of this term imply?
1) First, in traditional “doing sports” perspective there are clearly quantifiable criteria of time, distance or scores by which athlete’s progress can be measured. Such progress is also part of competition with oneself or others; we may call it the “faster, higher, stronger” attitude. The movement task on the other hand would invite a practitioner to focus also on qualitative aspects of movement, which although evident in most cases are not measurable and not comparable in traditional sense of sporting competition.
2) Furthermore, while traditional sporting activity would be defined within a framework of recognizable and specific discipline, the movement practice may be seen as an interdisciplinary and generalist activity, which aims to combine the most fundamental and useful practices from the variety of fields. While training would aim to refine particular skills and techniques of a chosen discipline, the movement practice would involve those tasks and those practices which develop the most transferable skills. Such practices would primarily aim at serving a fundamental human need of building a resilient and intelligent body able to adapt to constantly changing circumstances of life and able to tolerate high levels of uncertainty. While the sports training would aim at improving and performing particular skills the movement practice would be aimed at “upgrading the operational system” of the body which is at the heart of physical learning and adapting.
3) While any type of traditional training would be executed within the rigid frameworks of particular techniques, something a practitioner already knows and constantly refines, the movement practice would be constantly shifting between the techniques applied, always looking for weaker links in kinetic chain and less practiced movement scenarios to put practitioner always in the beginner situation and offer the biggest potential for learning. While training involves most of what is already known, the movement practice always challenges to learn the new. When tasks and techniques constantly shift what remains is the more general movement capacity and the ability to learn.
4) The community of movers, or the fellow practitioners within movement practice would be different to that in the sports training. While in training everybody pretty much comes from the similar field of experience and the body of knowledge, movement practitioners often come from different backgrounds and are invited to contribute their own personal experience for the sake of group development. Interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and ideas testing is a common event within movement practice.
5) Lastly, in a more traditional approach a sense of achievement and meaning lies within an inter-subjectively recognizable, socially constructed frame of progress, success and recognition. The movement perspective puts an emphases on the much more subjectively perceivable element of playfulness, sense of discovery, deeper understanding of self in relation to the task and others, physical artistic expression, practical creativity. Ultimately it is about higher awareness of self through conscious being in this body, which manifests itself through movement.
While traditional training would be aimed at perfecting the skill or competing, the movement practice puts an emphases on understanding and physical self-education.
It may seem that the movement practice described this way is so much more than just a practice of physical body or even that it probably touches upon more than just a physical culture. However I would say the contrary – movement perspective does not transcend the physical aspect it rather reminds us that it is actually the physical culture, the body and the movement that are so much more than it had been reduced to. Movement perspective does not make something else of the physical practice than what it is, it reclaims its’ value, meaning and shows towards its’ richness and potential.
It is important to notice that the shift I am describing is not another new set of exercises (although in terms of practical tasks movement practice CAN be different to everything else), but a shift in attitude in how any type of training is approached. I may still be practicing for example the good old boxing, but my point of awareness may shift and instead of being only focused on the means to overcome my opponent I may become aware of more generic and transferable movement attributes such as rhythmicality , distance management, instant power generation, coordination and etc. And when I take up basketball I may still be busy with the same mentioned attributes, only in a different context. My focus would not be boxing or basketball, but the movement aspect in boxing and basketball. So the call is really to take up any discipline, but actually not to lose sight of a more profound purpose of training.
Would this change in approach eliviate the suffering and the pain I was talking about? In a sense yes. It draws attention to the fact that as long as we are alive we cannot not move. There is no break to living in this body, there is no break to moving. So why get so obsessed with some particular movement patterns in particular time of the day (we call it training)? Why not better get more conscious and elevate the rest of them to a higher quality. Don’t train 5 times a week for 1,5 hours.
Move always, enjoy the variety, enjoy being human.
Author of text - Justas Kučinskas