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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