Training doesn’t always have to be structured and goal-oriented to yield results.
We tend to get caught up in “getting the skill” or “getting a good workout,” and while those goals have their place, 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.
In this post, we’ll look at what play is, why we think it’s important for everyone to engage in, and we’ll give you 3 movements to try out.
The Problem, and Its Inadequate Solution
As children, we moved for three primary reasons – to get something, get somewhere, or to play. But as we were learning to use our bodies, we had to be quite creative in achieving each of those purposes.
Getting from the couch to the kitchen is a simple task for any able-bodied person, but for a 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.
But as we grow older, school and work become the focus, and movement is largely replaced by sitting for long stretches. Many of us try to combat excessive sitting by adding in some kind of formal exercise a few days a week, which is a great way to maintain our lifestyles while still working on improving our overall wellness.
Formal exercise alone, though, leaves something to be desired.
Our Bodies Were Made to Move in Infinite Combinations
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 formal exercise allows us to maintain a certain level of health and, depending on our goals and approach, maybe even helps us gain strength and skills, if that’s all the movement we’re getting, we’re likely to miss out on most of those possible movement combinations our bodies were designed to go through.
For instance, 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 – we LOVE squats – but if you only ever take your joints and muscles through a limited combination of movements, you’re missing out on the variations your body was designed to go through. Playful movement exploration allows for those variations.
What is “Play” and How Can You Make it Part of Your Life?
“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 we generally associate with formal exercise, 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’s a completely foreign concept. It might sound nice in theory, but you might have a hard time picturing what it looks like.
In this video, 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 perhaps you’ve even practiced something along these lines before. When you try out these movements, I’d like you to do is try to suspend your previous experiences with them and just explore.
Movement Instructions (and How to Ignore Them)
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 our typical conception of movement or exercise, most people need some kind of a framework to start from.
With that said, the movements I demonstrate in the video above, 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 – really feel the movements and figure out the most comfortable way of approaching each one.
Generally, when we put tutorials up on the blog, we break down the movements we’re teaching in painstaking detail. I’m not going to do that this time, precisely because I want you to explore the details for yourself.
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.
- Start with your hands and feet on the ground.
- 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 movement is an evolution of movement #1 – the idea is the same, but you’ll 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 speed, height of your hands and feet, angle of your knees, etc.
- With the third variation, you will drop your hips lower to the ground.
- 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.
- This move will be almost like a push-up variation as well.
These three movements are just a tiny glimpse into the world of movement exploration.
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.
Don’t Limit Yourself to Only Structured Training
There’s no question that structured training is the best way to achieve particular skills or fitness goals. But if you limit yourself to only moving through structured programming, you miss out on what unstructured practice has to offer.
Our bodies were made to 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.
Our movement exploration course, Vitamin, was designed to give you the opportunity to play with movements every day for 28 days, making unstructured practice a natural habit in your daily life.
GMB Vitamin: 28 Days to Better Movement
Experience more freedom of movement, more confidence in moving through daily life and other activities, and see how much fun “training” can be.
Since unstructured practice is a foreign concept to most of us, having a loose framework like we provide with Vitamin can be helpful in learning how to explore movement on your own in the future.