Return to your childhood ways and have fun with your movement.
We live in a fast-paced, goal-oriented society and are expected to always be productive and keep moving forward in our careers. This can often carry over to our fitness pursuits as well, with us doggedly pursuing our movement goals like it’s our job.
And of course, this focus can be great, as discipline and determination help you to gain strength and muscle, lose fat or whatever else you wish to achieve. Just don’t let your workouts turn into a chore and a drudgery that saps your excitement. It’s OK to have fun in your training!
Your training doesn’t always have to be structured and goal-oriented to yield results. Don’t let yourself get consumed by “getting in a good workout,” and “always pushing forward.” If we never take the time to explore movement without any specific goals in mind, we lose out on a sense of play and freedom.
I’d like to take a look at what “play” means and why I think it’s so important to include in your training regimen. I’ll also share three fun movements for you to try out and incorporate into your workouts to bring some inspiration into your exercise!
Play is not just for kids
Babies and toddlers only move around for three reasons: to get something, get somewhere or to play. They are learning to move their bodies, and are often amusingly creative in their quests to achieve those purposes.
Getting from the couch to the kitchen is a simple task for any able-bodied person, but for an 11-month-old, it may require any combination of turning, squatting, sitting, crawling, pulling, pushing, walking and running. In the space of 100 yards, toddlers get more motion than most of us get in a 60-minute workout.
And that creative exploration of movement continues into childhood when we figure out ways to climb trees, jump rope and generally maneuver our bodies through the world.
Yet unfortunately as we grow older, school and work become the focus, and movement is largely replaced by sitting for long stretches of time. That’s why many of us attempt to counter this by adding in some kind of formal exercise a few days a week—which is a great way to make us more active and stop some of the physical decline that is a result of modern lifestyles.
Formal exercise alone, though, leaves something to be desired.
We need more variety in our movement
Each of our joints and muscles has a certain number of possible motions it can achieve. But when you think of each of those movements, combined with the conceivable ways of moving every other joint and muscle in the body, the possibilities are endless.
While regimented exercise allows us to achieve our physique and health goals, if that’s all the movement we’re getting, we’re likely to miss out on most of those possible movement combinations our bodies are capable of.
It can also get boring to move in the same planes of motion all the time!
If you’re working on improving your squat, and you spend most of your training time on the basic squat pattern, you’re taking your body through a very specific set of movements. There’s nothing wrong with that—squats are great! But if you only ever take your joints and muscles through a limited combination of movements, you’re missing out. Playful movement exploration is the key to the variations your body has available.
What is “play” and how can you include it in your workouts?
“Play” isn’t the easiest term to define because it can really mean what you want it to, but I like to define it as “unstructured practice.”
Unlike the structured approach in many exercise classes and individual workouts, play is a way to explore movement without any structure at all, much like we did as kids—figuring out all manner of possibilities for maneuvering ourselves from point A to point B.
But since most of us have never explored movement in this way as adults, it can be a completely foreign concept, and you may have a hard time picturing what it looks like.
In the video below, I’ll demonstrate some examples of “free play” while also teaching you what it means to use these movements as an exploratory exercise.
You may have seen similar movements before, and even tried them out, and if you have, what I’d like you to do is try to suspend your previous experiences with them and approach them with a fresh mind, and just see what happens when you practice.
How to play (and how to ignore these instructions)
It might seem like a bit of a contradiction to give you a tutorial on how to engage in unstructured practice.
And in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to provide any instruction at all—you’d just get down on the ground and start playing. But since that’s so far outside most people’s thinking about exercise, it’s best to have some kind of a framework to start with.
That said, the movements I demonstrate in the video (below), along with the instructions I provide, are merely suggestions and examples.
As long as you are being safe, and not pushing your body to do things it may not be ready for, there are endless ways you can modify and explore each of these movements, so don’t be afraid to really dive in to that feeling of play.
Don’t just blindly follow my instructions, though. Really feel the movements and figure out the most comfortable way of approaching each one. The pointers I’ll give you here are just to give you a basic understanding of the movements, and to give you some tips for safety.
You’ve likely seen this crawling movement before, as it’s a staple in P.E. classes and in wrestling and martial arts training. But as I mentioned above, give it a fresh chance and see how your body feels when you do the movement.
- You may straighten your arms and legs, or keep them bent—whatever feels most comfortable or challenging!
- As you move your right hand forward, move your left foot forward as well. Then switch.
- Play around with speed, hand and foot placement and whatever else you’d like to work on.
This is an evolution of movement #1, but now you’ll add a couple of tweaks to the performance.
- Bring your opposite arm and leg off the ground for a second or two before lowering and switching to the opposite side.
- Again, play with the different aspects of the movement. Change your speed, how high you lift your hands and feet, how bent or straight your elbows and knees are. There are lots of variables you can switch up!
For this third variation, drop your hips lower to the ground. You’ll probably notice this requires more effort and strength. Prevent fatigue by taking note of how you are feeling. Stop well before you get tired and take long breaks in between attempts. Remember this isn’t about “feeling the burn” or “no pain no gain” workouts, this is movement exploration and play!
- When you step your leg up along with the opposite arm, bring your knee as close to the same side arm as possible and drop your body down toward the ground.
These three movements are a great introduction into how to add movement, play and exploration into your routines.
It’s not about doing a certain number of reps or sets of any exercise, and it’s not about increasing your workload over time. It’s about allowing your body’s movements to evolve naturally and in ways that are comfortable and fun for you.
Yes, movements like these might be challenging—but a challenge is not the same as a “workout.” Take the opportunity to explore and have fun with the movements.
Break free from your structured training
There’s no question that structured and focused training is the best way to achieve your desired fitness and physique goals. But if you limit yourself to only moving through structured programming, you miss out on what playful movement exploration has to offer.
Our bodies can move through an infinite number of combinations, and as kids we found creative ways to maneuver our bodies through space. There’s no reason that creativity has to stop when we reach adulthood.
Be creative. Give your joints and muscles the chance to move in as many ways and combinations as they (safely) can. And learn to enjoy moving again!
Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages, Thinkstock
Video credit: GMB