5 Simple (And In Some Cases Surprising) Ways To Move Better
Many of us seek expert advice to help us figure out, how it can become easier for us to get up and down the stairs, in and out of chairs, avoid pain and stiffness after physical activities and how to advance in sports. There are many popular strategies that Personal Trainers, Pilates Teachers and Physiotherapists will teach us, from how to correctly engage your core, to how to improve function and endurance through muscle and fascial strength.
Below are 5 top tips that are much less known in the world of physical fitness and that yet make a powerful difference to your physical health and movement ability.
- Say yes to gravity
We tend to focus so much on fighting with our own bodyweight that we forget the most powerful and constant ally we have on our side, gravity. It may seem counter-productive at first to surrender to your weight as it meets the ground, however, think of it this way: if you were floating in space it would be really difficult to move forward fast, wouldn’t it? We are able to do push-ups, squats and run only because we have something that gives us feedback for our energy exertion, -the ground.
Try it out:
As you walk down the road, walk in such a way that you try to avoid putting weight onto the ground. Walk like you are walking on thin ice and notice how this feels, how much effort it takes and how you move forward. Then pause a moment to allow your feet to just be supported by the ground. Allow yourself to meet the ground and the ground to meet you through your feet. Then begin to walk again. This time, really acknowledge the ground as a reliable surface and let your foot roll over the ground and push off it to propel your body forward. Notice the difference.
2. Expect it to be easy
As we grow up we learn to estimate how much energy we need to put into a certain activity in order for it to be successful. For example we instinctively know how much it takes to lift a coffee cup. Sometimes still we get it wrong and experience what it is like when we misjudge. For example, have you ever tried to lift a box, believing it was empty and when you realised it was actually full with books you could not lift it until you acknowledged its actual weight? Or maybe you have tried to pull open a door, believing it was stuck, but then it opened so easily that it made you stumble backwards.
On a more subtle level this happens all the time in our body, especially when we exercise. We hear the word push up and we make a subconscious choice to brace and flex our muscles as hard as we can, as we judge the push up to be very difficult. Unfortunately this dooms the push up to be just that, -very difficult, when it could just be a mild challenge. We put so much effort into the movement, that the movement becomes effort-full, regardless of whether it really is all that effort-full.
Try it out:
Next time you do a movement that you deem challenging, go into it assuming it will be easy. You may experience that you are stronger than you thought and therefore need less effort.
3. Allow Movement, don’t force it
Our nervous system, which controls our motor skills is very sensitive to force. Meaning, it functions best when it is not under pressure and has choices. Animals demonstrate this very well. Have you ever had to wrestle a cat into a cat carrier? You may find that you have a battle on your hands. However if you just observe a cat enjoying its freedom, doing what ever it fancies you will see an animal that portrays beautiful balance, relaxation and effortlessness. We are not that different when it comes to our physiology.
Try it out:
Tell yourself for 2 minutes that you have to climb those stairs, how there is no way out and you just have to do it come what may. Then climb the stairs. On another day tell yourself for 2 minutes that you allow yourself to climb those stairs and that you can stop any time. Then climb those stairs and compare how it felt.
When our body experiences “allowance” the nervous system is more prone to expansion and fine tuning our movements. When we force ourselves our nervous system goes into a fight or flight kind of state, adding excessive tension and restricting our breath. We may still be able to get up the stairs but it most likely will be a less expansive and comfortable experience.
4. Don’t use your Muscles
Again, this may sound counter productive, after all it is our muscles that make movement happen. It is our muscles that provide strength, right? And don’t we spend a lot of time building muscle strength to become fitter and more able?
We do and that is somewhat helpful yes, but the flaw in the plan is in the assumption that it is helpful to actively contract our muscles to access more of their strength. The truth is that the experience of strength comes from a complex interplay between nervous system, fascial connections, chemical reactions, muscles and not lastly technique. When we go about a movement and actively contract our muscles to make them join into the activity more we are messing with a finely balanced orchestra and distort it. We manually over-tense certain areas, which then block the natural, efficient communication within all these elements in the body. When we balance ourselves well, approach the activity appropriately and are well connected to gravity our muscles will play their instinctive, carefully balanced tune in the large orchestra that is the body.
Try it out:
Do a squat, contracting your thigh, hip and back muscles. Then imagine that you do not have any muscles at all. Imagine you are simply a skeleton and repeat the squat just with your bones. Notice the difference.
To some of us it may seem obvious. Of course we need to breathe when we move, otherwise we die. Then again many of us are completely confused by conflicting advice we have been given in the past. Do I breathe in or out? How do I do it and when do I do it? The truth is that there are good reasons for why breathing in a particular way can be helpful. The problem is that when we attempt to alter our natural breathing pattern while doing something that also needs our attention we often simply stop breathing. We also have this tendency when we hold a difficult position, such as a plank. Holding our breath is part of an in depth bracing pattern that in most cases actually hinders our stability, endurance and strength.
Try it out:
Hold a plank position or even do a push up. Hold your breath. Then go through the same activity and focus on keeping breathing. Notice the difference.
Movement is by far more complex and at the same time more simple than it is treated in our society.
My top tips to simplify all the above is, be attentive to your body, allow yourself to experience yourself and your surroundings in movement and know that you are much more than muscle and bone. You are a complex and finely balanced organism.