TRAINING: Movement hour

After a summer focused on work, I began refocusing more time on training for the Autumn season beginning last weekend. After 7 workouts in 4 days I came home after Thursday night’s Fartlek knowing that Friday would need to be about rest and recovery ahead of the weekend.

Most of my day was so busy that I could only sneak in the regular 1 minute squats I try to do several times per hour when doing seated work to keep myself from getting stiff after the evening’s bout of intense running. So I decided that as my “workout” I’d do an hour of easy activity. For a second I considered calling it something like “mobility hour” but then I was listening to a podcast with Erwan le Corre, founder of MovNat, and this quote reminded me of why terms such as “stability workout”, “mobility exercises” etc. need to leave our vocabulary as quickly as possible:

To us the dichotomy, the separation between fitness conditioning and strength conditioning and sport is not real. From our perspective it is not effective. For physical competence you want to address both the motor skills and the strength and conditioning symbiotically whenever possible instead of dissociating them. Not saying that dissociating them is not good or cannot be effective in terms of training and coaching. I'm saying that most of the time what will happen is the development of movement skills and the conditioning that is associated with it will happen symbiotically, at the same time. – Erwan le Corre

In the old days when I gullibly did stretches or performed biomechanically unsound exercises such as calf raises, it was because I was trying to achieve something like “strength” or “flexibility”. Standing on one leg with my eyes closed used to be the pinnacle of advice on how to achieve “balance”. Holding a static plank was “stability”.

Movement Medley

In contrast, this evening I just decided to spend “an hour moving”. Granted to do this takes re-education. Athletics coaches and many traditional fitness professionals are well-versed in physiology and muscle training – but rarely in natural fluid movement. Now I have a repertoire of different movements that I can improvise in and out of. One minute I sit in a deep squat, the next I’m doing a quadrupedal movement across the floor, then I’m in a Japanese sitting pose, then I am doing a handstand against the wall, and then I’m back in a posture squat.

I set my timer to 1 hour and just began moving from one thing to the next. I remained tired – both in body and mind, so did not do any strenuous movements. Yet after the end of the hour the whole body was loosened up. Many modern trainers would look at the hour and ask the question whether it’s “training at all”. To me it’s an essential piece of being an athlete now. Instead of standing on one leg with my eyes closed I am out there balancing metal gates. Instead of holding static planks I am doing crawling movements or other body-weight exercise related to the real world that forces my core to learn to stabilise my body in motion.

Now for the rant….

This message is very important to me: do not obsess about strength this or stability that. If you learn to move efficiently and effectively, then the skills you desire are a natural consequence. On this evening performing good movements helped me achieve mobility, relaxation and flexibility – even some strength. Tomorrow when I execute another session of vaulting and balancing, I will achieve stability, balancing, power, agility and coordination. But I am not training those elements – in my view they are not “things”. Take “Power” – it’s a description of the output of a movement (i.e. does it look powerful). The same with flexibility – it is not a characteristic you have. We have seen Tony improve someone’s range of motion in a posture enormously just by teaching them to shift their body-weight. Did their flexibility just change? No, because it is not an innate characteristic – it is not something “you have” – what you have is a certain level of skill in every movement you perform.

Flexibility is not something YOU HAVE

If you are a very skilful high jumper then people might call you “flexible”, “powerful”, “strong” and so on but it’s the movement you want to train not these labels. Part of Erwan le Corre’s point in the interview is one the we speak about on every workshop: if you go away and train strength or go away and train endurance but ignore the technique then you’ve gone nowhere. All you have done is getting really strong doing something wrong. But that does not make it effective or efficient and one day that will become a problem. Performing a calf stretch does not make you flexible – it makes you very good at doing a calf stretch and that’s that.

That is my little Friday evening rant: so if you think this makes sense educate yourself on natural movements and set aside an hour on a recovery day to just “mess around with movement”. Perhaps you can call it a “movement jam” or a “movement Medley” – whichever way it is not a waste of time as long as the movements are performed well.