Note: This is a follow-up to this post about how to reverse the damage of sitting and human domestication.
It took a lot of damage to get it through my thick skull.
Big, hard heads are great for absorbing punishment, but not so great at learning how to do things smarter.
"Just go for it!"
Doesn't that ring a bell?
You're in a class and you want other people to see how badass you are. You get excited about a youtube video, and like Nike, you just want to do it!
"Oops. Umm, something doesn't feel good. Owww, what is that?"
Guess it wasn't as easy as you thought it would be.
So, you lick your shoulder/knee/ankle wounds and retreat back into your pain cave with your tail between your legs.
"What did I do wrong?" you wonder.
What you, I and 90% of the human population, did wrong is that we tried to skip vital steps along the process. Each of those steps would have formed a stronger base in our foundation, but since those bricks were never laid, collapse is the only possible outcome.
I'm going to tell you the unsexy, raw truth about high level movement ability:
If you want to move in an epic way, you have to go back to the beginning. Probably a lot further back than you'd like.
The deeper the foundation, the higher your building of movement can be built. The more mastery you have over the most basic elements of movement, the greater potential you unlock further in the game.
Let's take for instance a simple squat. At face value, it looks like a basic, simple, nothing-to-see-here-move-along type of movement. But in reality, a squat has much more going on than meets the eye.
The squat is not only an important "elemental" position in itself, but it's the link in between many other movements.
Going from seated on the ground to standing might easily involve a squat. Bending over to pick something up often goes through a squat pattern. Jumping or even climbing usually involves some kind of squatting motion as well.
If there is a breakdown in your squat, none of these other movements are likely to go well.
Adding load, complexity or speed to this movement is only accelerating the inevitability of collapse in the system.
The distance you go with your development will always be determined how much time you spend on the basic, foundational elements.
We have a nasty habit of making assumptions and taking certain things for granted. It's all too easy to overlook the most obvious things when studying a subject.
We pay the price for this when stretching to higher levels of movement capability.
If you really want to go back and master the foundational elements of movement, you'll go beyond how to squat, pullup or pushup.
You'll begin investigating the deeper levels, like:
And then you might be ready for:
WTF, you might be thinking. "I already went through that awkward learning how to use my body period. Of course I know how to crawl and stand. Gravity is automatic and everyone feels their body. Only a moron would waste time with these things. Bring on the handstand pushups!!!"
This might be true, if you never stopped doing all of these things, and hadn't sat in chairs for the majority of your life.
Chances are you have some joint issues, some overly tight muscles, and a few imbalances. Some of these were probably brought on by injury, others by repetitive motion or just sitting too damn much.
Going back to the foundations helps us relearn how to use our bodies efficiently and consciously. Through increased awareness, we're better able to figure out what we need to do to restore balance and integrity to our entire system.
Really what we're after is creating a base of flexibility, strength and joint integrity that will serve our exploration of movement.
This is not exhaustive, but just a few of the most important things I've done to rebuild strong, mobile, happy joints.
It's amazing how little contact most of us have to the ground these days.
The shoes we wear keep a continuous buffer between our feet and the earth beneath us. Our furniture keeps our asses at a safe distance from the dirty, filthy floor.
As kids we're encouraged to quickly grow out of this primitive habit.
But at what cost?
By putting so much distance between us and the earth, we tend to become disconnected from it. We forget that the ground underneath us is solid, and here to support us. We lose touch with our feet, the very base of our bodies.
Without a close relationship to our base and the ground — no surprise here — we are already at a disadvantage with any movement that involves either (which means, pretty much everything).
Taking off your shoes and spreading your toes is a good start. Actually sitting on the ground, a rock or even a cushion on the floor is the next step.
Try feeling the weight of your body through the support points of your feet as you stand, your butt bones as you sit and your spine as you lay on the ground.
It's one thing to know it, it's a whole other to feel it every moment.
At it's most basic level, this is it. If there's one thing you can count on it's the ground... except if you're above a sinkhole or something. That would definitely suck.
If you don't have segmental control over each joint, the ability to move it through its full range of motion, how are you going to expect movement that involve multiple joints to go well?
If one joint in a movement is compromised, the other joints included will be forced to take on more work, causing further problems.
Learning to control each joint through its normal range is key to waking up your connection to each area of your body, as well as identifying any areas that might need some rehab or healing done.
I've taken the advice of Dr. Andreo Spina and made a morning practice of Controlled Articular Rotations, or CARs for short. What the hell does that mean? It's simply taking the time to move each joint slowly through its range of motion after a long night of not moving.
Here's what they look like:
Getting up and down off the floor.
You can see it in your WOD now...
1. Get up and down from the floor - 10min AMRAP
Yeah, probably not happening any time soon. But if you can't decently get up and down from the ground —without your hands, momentum or compromising good posture — then you have some serious weak links in your movement ability as a human.
In a study on risk of mortality, researchers found that those who couldn't get up off the floor without use of their hands were six times more likely to die than those who could. This is serious stuff.
I like playing with getting up and down from the floor, especially since a lot of the times I'm working from my laptop on the floor anyway. Here are just a few of the possibilities:
I'm a big fan of the bear, frogger and monkey crawling patterns. I think they're great for establishing a baseline of strength, flexibility and body control.
But what you might have forgotten is that these aren't just animal patterns, they're human patterns! The bear resembles a baby mid-crawl preparing to get up. The monkey looks a lot like squatting on the ground playing in the dirt. And the frogger easily looks like a kid attempting a headstand.
Crawling is the precursor to standing and walking, so it makes sense to learn how to do these again. Plus, playing on the ground is just fun. I'll bear crawl down the hallway when I'm playing with my dog, or walk through the living room like a monkey. It's a fun way to get more "practice" in without making it into a thing.
These compound movements are great for practicing total body awareness leading to greater skill and motor control.
I like to do mobility type stuff without actually working directly on my mobility. It's a great way of cheating the system and doing mobility without "doing mobility."
What do I mean by mobility games? I mean any game that involves a wide degree of mobility.
Hacky sack is a great way to get more hip mobility without trying to. The Trees Are on Fire is a great game for upper body mobility.
I'm sure you can think of more.
Woah, imagine that. Actually using movement to get things done, rather than it just being some isolated drill you practice in a gym? Preposterous! No, it's actually pretty simple when you think about it.
I mean, squatting and moving around on the floor can easily happen if you let it while you're..
This is a very half-assed list I just ran off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of a thousand other ways if you just start exploring and being more mindful of how you move throughout your day.
The more you move well throughout the day, in continually novel ways, with good mechanics, the more you will master the basic elements.
Becoming mindful of every moment you're moving and how you're holding yourself is the ultimate goal, and where you'll really find deep transformation of your body.
It can start with closing the cabinets with your feet or brushing your teeth.
My buddy "Tom Mountjoy likes to say "Be In the Movement."
I love this. It seems so obvious, to just be there, in the movement, completely absorbed and immersed in what you're doing.
When the separation between you and the movement disappears, something foundational shifts. Being in the movement you are conscious and alive as motion.
You are not just thinking about the movement and going through some motions. You are fully immersed, and on a great day the boundary between mover and movement seems to dissolve.
The more you relax into movement, the more you slow down, move with greater quality, and most importantly, enjoy the journey.
Whether you're reclaiming the lost elements of movements, or reaching towards epic feats of skill, the journey is what matters most.
Building a great foundation is a process that requires patience and is always evolving. The more you venture down the rabbit hole, the further you might find that it goes.
When you build a strong base, you're setting yourself up for healthy, functional joints that you can rely on throughout your life.
What it requires is that you slow down and stop trying to "get there."
You are exactly where you need to be right here, right now. And this moment is the only moment you can affect any change from. If you're not in your body now and you're just trying to get somewhere else, you have very little power to transform what is.
When you're actually in relationship and present to what is (embodied), you can begin to work with it.
In other words, freaking enjoy the body you have and what it can do. Be grateful for every single articulation you're capable of right now.
[clickToTweet tweet="Start feeling the pleasure of movement itself." quote="Start feeling the pleasure of movement itself."]
Reclaiming a strong foundation of movement ability can feel like a seriously daunting task. After all, what I just covered in this post is a lot, and that was me holding back a considerable amount.
How do you put "returning to the elements" thing into practice, and more importantly, how the hell do you find your weak links and what you need to work on the most?
For that, I recommend my friends at GMB's course, Elements. Shocked by the name? It's no surprise that they built this course because of a common need for people to get back to the fundamentals of strength, flexibility and skill.
Here's what Elements does:
This is just a bit of me playing around with some of the patterns in Elements:
Of course you can try to do your own thing and search around on Youtube for endlessly, but you’re not going to get the quality you would investing a few bucks into a quality program.
If you’re tired of being confused about the proper foundations, and want to start actually seeing results, this is the way to go. I've used many of their programs to get great results in my training, which is why I'm proud to be an affiliate for them.
P.S. You might also like this post on how I went from a stiff board to a supple beast in 10 months.
P.P.S. Remember, your body is your own, and only you can claim total responsibility for it. Research and learn about how to maintain and care for your vehicle, you don't get another one.
Full disclosure: If you click on the link above and purchase GMB's program, I will get a cut. This helps me make more awesome videos and tutorials like this for you. I only promote products I've personally used and tested, so you can be sure they're top notch. Thanks for helping out!