There is a potential for injury in nearly everything we do—the very definition of an accident is that it is unplanned and unintended.
Things will go wrong at some point.
You might land a jump at an awkward angle. Or just step off of a curb the wrong way and roll your ankle. The question isn’t whether it will happen, but what happens when it does:
- How will your body handle it?
- Will you end up injured and facing a couple months of rehab?
- Or will your body roll with the challenge and come out unharmed?
How well your body adapts to and absorbs stresses, especially unusual and unexpected ones, is called resilience.
The higher your resilience, the less likely you are to incur debilitating injuries when something goes wrong, and the better chance you’ll recover well if an unavoidable injury does happen.
Luckily, your resilience can be trained and improved. And the best way to do it is actually fun.
In this article, I’ll share three key strategies for increasing your body’s resilience through playful movement, so you can minimize your downtime and maximize the time doing what you enjoy most.
Protect Your Body No Matter What Life Throws At It
Having a resilient body can impact the severity of a potential or unavoidable injury at every step of the way.
Let’s say you’re walking down the street and it starts to rain unexpectedly. You break out in a run so you can find some shelter to wait out the storm. While running, you slip on a puddle and take a pretty bad spill, landing on your ankle in an awkward position.
Here are a few ways this could go:
- You get a minor ankle sprain, and after limping your way to a nearby store, you spend the next couple of weeks doing exercises to strengthen your ankle. You’re back to your normal activities in no time.
- You break your ankle in three places and need surgery to repair the damage. How quickly and fully you recover after that will depend on your condition prior to the injury.
- You move your ankle around, feel that it’s a little sore but not seriously hurt, and you get up and run to the nearest awning.
There may be some in the fitness and health community that would have you believe all injuries are avoidable. Well, that’s just wrong.
You’ve probably found yourself in situations like I just described hundreds of times in your life, most of those times without even realizing it. You don’t have to be clumsy or careless for these things to happen – they just do.
But having a resilient body that can absorb and react well to impact and stress can determine how you bounce back from those injuries.
Why You Should Train Your Body in Unique Positions
Dr. Andreo Spina aptly says, “You will always regret not training the position that you got injured in.”
As we’ll discuss in the next section, working on your body in atypical positions can help ameliorate unexpected strain and stress.
- Sometimes, it might mean coming away with an injury you can bounce back from quickly, as in scenario #1.
- Sometimes, you will sustain a serious injury, no matter how much training you’ve done, as in scenario #2. But having a strong base of resilience means your rehab can go a lot more smoothly, getting you back in the game more quickly.
- And sometimes you’ll be lucky enough that you’ve conditioned your body well enough to avoid that specific injury altogether, as in scenario #3 above.
Now let’s talk about how to actually build that resilience.
How Playful Movement Prepares Your Body for the Unexpected
There are a lot of benefits to be gained from strength training and we definitely advocate it.
But strength is not exactly the same thing as resilience.
To distinguish them we can simplify the definitions to state that strength is the ability to exert force, while resilience is the ability to withstand and absorb force.
And while strength is an important part of resilience, it’s not all there is to it. You also need flexibility through a wide range of motions, and body control and awareness. And as you get stronger and more mobile over time, you naturally fix your posture, which plays back into building a more robust body.
Which is why, to build resilience, it’s important to move your body in a variety of ways, thus training it to withstand force in various ranges of motion. When it comes to traumatic injuries, they often occur in odd positions that you don’t encounter in standard gym exercises.
So how do you train for positions that are by definition unexpected or unusual?
The answer is playfulness. By exploring new movement patterns and positions outside of your normal everyday actions you introduce variability into your practice, which gets your body and brain more familiar with a much wider range of positions.
If you want to teach your body to handle a variety of movement situations with grace and skill, you have to be willing to confront the unknown in your training. Playing at the appropriate level for you is how we systematically integrate novel stimuli – the unknown and unexpected – into our training in a safe and effective way.
3 Fun & Effective Strategies for Building Resilience with Playful Movement
If injury happens in unusual positions, and play takes your body into new positions, then isn’t play a great way to get injured?
Doing almost any physical activity without the proper control and attention can lead to injury. But playful movement shouldn’t be any more dangerous than your usual training.
Here are three key strategies to safely expand your body’s resilience through playful movement.
1. Play at Your Own Level
Play is the ability to improvise and introduce variability into your movement practice at your current level of skill. The key is finding the sweet spot:
- Too high of a level and you would struggle just to do the move, let alone all of its various permutations.
- Too low of a level and it’d be too easy to do and wouldn’t be as fun or useful.
The sweet spot occurs with movements you can do well, but at a level where play would be just challenging enough to be invigorating.
To use myself as an example, I do well with groundwork movements because I have a base level of strength and mobility to make that happen, but right now, my jumping and running abilities are not at a great level.
I can play at a certain level of skill but harder free running obstacle work is beyond my capabilities. I have to work on developing particular attributes of lower body explosiveness and jump techniques before I can play at a higher level.
It would not be the best idea for me to move right into these higher levels without those increased attributes. It’d just be overwhelming and maybe even dangerous.
Music is a great analogy for this concept. A great jazz musician can playfully tumble through chord and tempo changes, destroying and reconstructing melodies on the fly—and it’s beautiful. But if an untrained person tried the same thing, it would just be noise.
A beginning level of musical play might just be linking a new chord with the ones we already know, or coming up with different patterns when playing our scales. Yet it’s still play. It’s just at a level that matches our skills.
An example of how this can be applied to movement is with the Frogger.
The basic movement of hopping forward with your hands and feet can move from short progressions with a controlled shifting of weight from your hands to your feet, to going right up into a handstand as Ryan demonstrates here.
You may not be at the point where you can pop right into a handstand and mess around with going forward, backward, and sideways into it from the frogger.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t play with it. There are myriad possibilities for playing with the movement at your own level. You can play with variations such as how slow you can do the basic move, or experiment with how far you can hop, how much weight you can put on one hand or the other, or turn it into a forward roll, and so on.
It’s your level of play! Play with what you can do, and don’t feel like you have to wait until you are “advanced.”
2. Work on the Transitions
When we think of impressive movement, what really grabs us is how smoothly a person can maneuver their body through space.
Big “tricks” like flips and jumps and outrageous feats of strength are great and definitely admirable, but it’s the ability to seamlessly link movements together that we instinctively know is a sign of a person who knows how to move their body.
Once you’ve gotten some basic movement skills down, such as forward/backward rolls, froggers, and simple jumps, you can begin working on stringing those moves together.
Find new options in getting from point A to point B with a couple of your “go to” moves with as many different combinations and smooth transitions as you can. This is a great way to begin playing, and I bet you’ll surprise yourself with the new things you’ll discover.
3. Remove Expectations
Lastly, get rid of any preconceptions of what certain moves “should” look like or the “correct” way to go about doing them.
Within the concept of play, the only wrong thing to do is something that would hurt you (or others). Remove any ideas of what looks good or looks bad, and forget about your desire to do a “higher” progression of a skill.
Play with what you’ve got!
It’s very natural to be self-conscious about things we care about and have cultivated a passion for. We are all investing time in ourselves to be stronger, more mobile, and more agile. But letting go of these expectations is a key to moving forward.
It’s ironic that our expectations and desires of how we “should be” can interfere with the actual process of getting there.
The cliché “dance like nobody’s watching” is trite, but still happens to be good advice. Start moving like you don’t care if there is an audience and you’ll find yourself progressing much more quickly.
Playful Movement is Core to a Resilient Body
Whether or not you’ve been injured in the past, you want to be confident in your body’s ability to withstand trauma when it occurs—and it will!
Trauma doesn’t have to mean getting hit by a car. It can mean something as simple as tripping over a tree branch and landing in a way your body hasn’t been conditioned to handle.
The strategies I’ve discussed will help you make playful movement a part of your practice. Through this work, you’ll condition your body to handle force in positions you’re likely unused to working on in standard gym training.
Most conventional exercises don’t leave a lot of room for variation.
That’s why we made playfulness a central part of our Elements program. In Elements, we teach you playful variations on fundamental movements for building your strength, flexibility, and control.
Not only will you improve your body’s resilience, you’ll build your foundation for a lifetime of productive training.
Or if you’re looking for something you can easily add into your current routine, check out Resilience:
Specific Training for a More Resilient Body
Our Resilience training program trains your joints and connective tissues to withstand force and impact for confident performance and reduced chances of injury.