This is the last week of my summer classes, with only two more class sessions before I finally get to celebrate my summer vacation. It hasn’t been your ‘typical’ college break, but I’m at a point where I’d be mad at myself if I sat on my butt all summer like it’s a 3 month party. Few professions outside of education have summers off, but I plan on coaching/teaching/training through my summers anyway. Productivity is key, but it can still be fun.
This morning my girlfriend and I are off to the Bronx Zoo to explore some of animals that live there. I was a frequent visitor as a child, thanks to my mom’s membership, but have been absent recently. Just like all youngsters, I wanted to see the animals in action, roaring and growling and fighting with each other. The petting zoo sure is a treat when you’re three, but when you’re 8 and 9, the most interesting animals are the ones that can do the coolest things, right?
Now that I’m older, I have a better understanding of how and why animals behave the way that they do, and can appreciate seeing them up close and in person, albeit not in their natural environment. In our world of XM radio and Twitter, we tend to forget that we’re quite similar to the animals at the zoo, as well as the squirrels in your trees, and the birds that jolt you awake at 4am when you leave your window open. Those damn birds!
Our creation and use of tools has allowed humans to evolve intellectually to the point we’re at now, but our physical evolution isn’t nearly as impressive as some of the world’s animals. If you think about it, we’re not really that good at anything, are we? We’re pretty average: Our size is average, our strength is average, we can eat almost any naturally occurring food (Whole grain crackers don’t count), we’re not exceptionally fast, we have decent endurance, or at least we’re supposed to. Outside of our inginuity, we’re not a physically marvelous species are we?
Since our physical capacity is rather ho-hum, you’d expect that we’ve figured out what it takes to excel at movement; after all, we are fantastic at creating tools. While some people have figured out the answer to moving better, most of us have messed it all up, and our creative nature is probably making it worse. We spend countless hours and dollars researching and improving on what we naturally have, and create ultra-high tech treadmills, ellipticals, cam-operated selectorized strength training machines, and ab belts to zap our abs to perfection. I’m pretty sure that’s all a load of crap, and we fell for the marketing.
It seems that the best trainers, coaches, and physical therapists all have the same thing in common: They let the body work the way it’s supposed to, and they work with it, not against it, to improve movement quality, health, performance, and apperence. Unfortunately, the aesthetics driven community throws away movement quality and musculoskeletal health far to readily. The people who move well may do it in dark, cold ware houses filled with dirty barbells and chalk-covered cement floors. You’ll also find them in brightly lit facilities, pushing shiny sleds across expensive turf. Regardless of where you find them, they’re striving to enhance their natural movement.
That kind of sounds like the animals, doesn’t it? Wherever you find them, you’ll find them moving around. The specifics of their movement aren’t as important as the fact that they’re moving around, and their not over analyzing the crap out of what they do. Sure, you could say that they don’t have the intelligence to know what they’re doing, which could be a valid point. That’s assuming that you DO have the intelligence to know what you’re doing, but the odds are you’re getting it wrong. Valid counterpoint? I think so.
At the Zoo today, I’m going to try to learn from how the animals move. We’ll watch the gorilla’s walk around on their hands and feet, the giraffes reach tall into the trees for a snack, see the gazelles bound across the grassland, and see the Gibbon brachiate through the trees. That’s right, we’ll see my distant relatives, and they’ll continue to be my favorite animal. Did you know they can swing through the trees at 35mph? Now I know why I always loved the monkey bars as a kid.
Those Gibbons will have impressive shoulder stability thanks to the way they move. I’m sure the giraffe will pack it’s neck after it retrieves some tasty food. The gazelle? They could teach you a thing or two about plyometrics. What’s my point? The animals I’ll see today will probably move better than you and I do, and should give some powerful insights in how we should be training.
Now, I’m not going to say that some time spent rock climbing and doing the doggy paddle is all we need to do for our bodies, but it’s not a bad idea. The idea of recruiting motor units and increasing hypertrophy is great for the lab, but our body is far more complex than that. We need to run, hop, bend, push, pull, twist, spin, and just move more! If you can get a chance to this week, try to do something different for your exercise. If it has you move more than you’re used to, I’ll take it. Swim, climb a rock wall, go to a dance class, throw a ball with your ‘bad’ hand. Trust me, your fascia will love you, and you’ll have a blast doing it.
If you can’t get into a pool, or into a climbing center, you can still try something new. All it requires is a few square feet of floor space, and some movement creativity. Check out this video of Scott Sonnon’s Tactical Gymnastics, which looks absolutely awesome. Try out some of these movements during your next workout, and let your body move through space the way it’s supposed to. As ‘advanced’ as we are, we’ve seemed to forget that random movement is one of the most important things that we can do for our bodies. Haven’t you ever heard a Gibbon swinging through the trees? They’re not screeching, they’re laughing their heads off! Try it out and have some fun moving like an animal.