Movement as a Second Language

Most things, language, sport, music, are easier to learn as a child. Adults are fixed, and children are still like clay that’s waiting to set. You can mould clay into anything. Information gets absorbed like a sponge, into the brain and into the body. What you do with your body as you grow up becomes what’s normal and natural for you.

If you make the assumption that because you haven’t spent your entire life playing sport or moving your body in some way, you’ll never be able to, then you’ve just set a limitation on yourself that takes away something so valuable. Strength, control, and freedom in your body. A healthy body. A form of focus and mediation, self improvement, something that’s just about you, just for you.

I move every day. But I never have been, I’m still not, and never will be an athlete. I was active as a kid, joined in with sports at school, (oh the memories of hockey sticks, and smelly changing rooms), did some gymnastics, and I loved climbing trees and cartwheeling down hills. I rode horses until I was 14 but I’m not sure how that translates to a handstand or a pull up. And then I stopped moving. For 8 years.

One day I decided I wanted to change my body, so I did. Like learning a language. I started learning words, but I couldn’t string sentences together, let alone understand grammar, or grasp the concept of pronunciation.

I remember what it felt like not having the strength to do push ups, not even on my knees. I remember pulling on a bar with everything I had, my legs kicking the air, and barely getting a 90 degree bend in my elbows. I remember when I couldn’t do a handstand. Yeah, I used to not be able to balance on my hands. I’d forgotten how to jump, lost the ability to cartwheel, couldn’t swing a kettlebell, couldn’t move like any sort of animal. I remember the first time I picked up a 10kg barbell on my back, and with weight on my body, I had no idea where my body was in relation to the space around me. I couldn’t squat. I couldn’t understand what I needed to make my body do. Muscle memory wasn’t there, my central nervous system was having a freak out, and what the hell did “engage my muscles” even mean?

I sucked so bad at everything. But it made me want to work harder to achieve it, just to prove to myself that I could. I wanted skills and set myself goals, but I learnt pretty fast nothing just appears. Beginner gains are encouraging, but they last all of one month before you actually have to put in some effort. It comes down to learning. Not just how to perform movements and skills, but learning how to learn. You start to develop awareness in your body so that every time you try something new, you understand what you are trying to do. Brain and body connection.

The more you learn about making this connection in your own body, the better you can teach this to others. I am not as physically skilled as a lot of Coaches, but I think it having learnt it as an adult benefits my coaching. I teach adults, and I can look at a student and understand what their body is feeling. If they can’t do a push up, I know how to progress the movement. But I can also empathise based on my own experience of starting from scratch. I went to some adult gymnastics classes a couple of years ago, and we were learning a front handspring progression into the foam pit. The coach said “I don’t know if you’ll be able to do this because I’ve never not been able to do it.” That’s some great coaching right there. She didn’t know if she was giving us something we could do or if it was too advanced. Encouraging for sure.

If you’ve never been athletic, if you didn’t learn these movement patterns and body weight skills as a child, it really doesn’t matter. I say it all the time, but adults are so strong. We have bodies that are designed for this, and it’s never too late to start learning. It’s just that for us, those of us who learn from scratch, it’s like a second language for our bodies. The more we learn, and practice, the more natural and ingrained it becomes. We’re aiming for fluency, and we know that’s something that might never come. But you’ll always be able to do something. Just like there is a solution to every problem. There is always a progression for every movement, and you build from there.

Im surrounded by amazing movers who only started training as an adult. People so inspiring and so talented that you think they’ve been doing this all their life. You see all the photos of beautiful holds and stretches, videos of repping out pushing and pulling, lifting, tumbles, and balances. But the work that goes into that, the physical study of training involves relentless hours of effort and energy. It’s repetition, until you’re so bored you resent it. It takes twice as much effort as the ex-athlete who trained and competed for 10 years. This stuff doesn’t come naturally, but it can come.

I’ve been training for 4 and a half years. There are so many skills I still can’t do, and many that I’ll never achieve in my lifetime. Everything new feels like I’m jumping backwards with my eyes closed. Eventually I’ll land on my hands, my feet will follow, I’ll stand up, and I’ll be fluent in that movement. It’s worth every second of work, and now is the time to start.

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Starting Over

It’s the start of a new year. You can forget about last year and all the mistakes it’s been marked with. Hope is abundant as we look forward and plan to make each element in our lives better. It’s time for a fresh start. You’d better do it now before the opportunity passes and you have to wait another eleven months for January to come round again.

#whoopswhere’dmynewyearsresolutionsgo?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of starting over. Routines are broken over Christmas and New Year, and so it’s hard not to think about our lives as we slow down for a couple of weeks. After using this time of year as an excuse for excess, what usually follows is an overload of “I must give ups”, and “I must start doings”. Good approach, works every time right?

Plans are so shiny and bright that you feel invincible. Surely you’re going to succeed in every task you set? But after a few weeks, when the shine’s worn off and the effort that it takes to make progress feels too much, we veer off track. And that’s the end of that.

It’s one little thing at a time. You’ll have moments where you won’t want to train, so you don’t. You don’t care about your nutrition or sleep, so you let that slide. Doesn’t matter that you gave up drink because you really need to relax with a glass of wine. Losing motivation at work makes getting up in the morning that much harder. All that hope slowly drains away. But improving your life and improving yourself doesn’t have to be done through this annual unsustainable pattern.

Starting over is uncomfortable and confrontational because it means facing the reality of whatever your situation is, and it means letting go of whatever it is you feel you’ll be nothing without. That can be a habit, a person, a place, a job. But starting over can also mean the difference between happiness and growth through aggressive ups and downs, and standing still with little or no satisfaction in the life you’re living. Which one would you choose? I’ve had to start over in the past few years numerous times. I’ve quit so many jobs, started relationships almost as fast as I’ve ended them, injuries and illness have stripped my training right down to basics, I left England. I came back. And I’d change none of it, because every experience good or bad has helped me take a step forwards. I’ve never waited for the new year to make changes, I make them when they need to be made.

It’s scary as hell to make big, extreme life changing decisions, but it can sometimes be scarier to look at yourself on a day to day basis and acknowledge your mistakes, of which there will always be many, as well as your achievements. The reality is we do start over every day. You don’t need the excuse of the new year to do better, or be better. Find a way to move forwards and focus on the next steps. Ask yourself what it is you want and how can you make this sustainable. Figuring out what you need to be happy is an ongoing process of trial and error. It doesn’t suddenly stop on the 1st of February.

It is important to look back over the year and reassess where you’re at. But don’t berate yourself if you haven’t made one hundred and one brand new life goals. You have the choice to do this whenever you want to, and maintain changes for as long as you want. We improve every day, we have the luxury of time, and we all have far more inside us than we realise. You are so much stronger than you realise. Yes, you, the person reading this right now. So whatever change you want to make for yourself, do it without fear. Start over each day and make it count. Tomorrow, be stronger.

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