The summer always brings top level sport to our TV screens and I must admit, I love it. I mean top level sport really does have it all; drama, adversity, rivalries, but most of all, it’s the best of the best trying to perform their best.
But are these athletes really at their best, or are they just at the limits of what we know?
Watching these athletes is exhilarating, but listening to the commentary is becoming increasingly frustrating as the commentators here in the UK frequently refer to the injuries the athletes have suffered and how inevitable they seem to be.
Are they inevitable? Are human beings designed to be injured? Or is the fact that they are getting injured so frequently simply a reflection on the training and medical practices of the industry?
Perhaps, if we look at things from a different angle, we could see a time when injuries are a rarity rather than the norm.
Perhaps, science is actually killing our sporting performance.
Part One: Is this right for me?
In every other part of life, you would be asking yourself this question regularly. It may well be on a subconscious level, but even with something as simple as choosing what to eat, our choices are often driven my how our bodies feel at that particular moment.
When it comes to movement and exercise though, this question rarely gets asked. You would trust your gut in every other situation, especially when you feel threatened, so why don’t we trust our bodies when it comes to movement?
The health and fitness industries use terms like ‘dysfunction’ and ‘not firing’ to describe our movement capabilities and our insatiable appetite for science has led to vast swathes of people not daring to do anything before science can approve it.
This has led to our natural instincts being buried beneath a mountain of external measures as we search for recognition that we are “doing it right”.
But why is it that when it comes to movement we believe our bodies are actually doing it wrong? Do we really think that our bodies move badly on purpose? Surely our bodies are only ever giving us the best movement they can, given the circumstances?
To me, disability sport is an impressive demonstration of what the human body can do when we stop trying to force it to be ideal. These athletes often cannot make their bodies move any different, so they make the best of what they have. In doing this, they are encouraging the body to achieve more, adapting their movement to fit the objective, rather than trying to recreate an ideal movement as the objective.
In elite sport, it has been shown repeatedly that science, and investment in science, can gain elite athletes that fraction of a second that may be the difference between winning and losing, but the vast majority of us will never compete at that level, or be paid as a full time athlete. We have jobs, families and other, often highly stressful demands to juggle.
Frequently, we start with any given sport to see if we like it. Once we are engaged in it, it slowly begins to take over our lives. Our social circles revolve around it and we often attend group sessions to train with like-minded people. We get bogged down in the little details that training plans, stopwatches, distances, weights, reps, sets, wins, losses etc. bring.
Generally, we are not satisfied unless we have beaten our previous time/distance/weight (or someone else) and we are increasingly less concerned with whether that activity is right for us at that moment. We become more concerned with whether we are doing it right or not.
We become so lost in our thinking that we fail to recognise when we need to rest, and often simply train through the early warning signs of injury as we believe that our pains will simply “sort themselves out”.
When was the last time you adapted your training plan to suit your level of fatigue? Or tried to move differently just to see how it felt?
In fact, come to think of it, when was the last time you moved just for the fun of it?
Part 2: Disproportionate Effort
There are a number of fitness movements such as the squat that require a certain degree of mobility, but the fitness industry is so hell bent on teaching us to do it “correctly” that they fail to recognise that the simple act of repeating the same movement in the same way over and over again, is what leads a person to injury. If this person is also trying to fight their body into a “better” position, the injury will just happen in a different place, or happen quicker.
Perhaps we would achieve more if we were to explore how many different ways it is possible to squat instead of trying to force the body to behave better in one given movement. It is nature’s way to find the most efficient way of doing something and movement is no different.
So why fight nature? Why not tap into the head start you’ve possessed all along?
Fighting anything is tiring at the very least, but fighting nature makes your movement require far more effort which your body will only tolerate for a very short period, leading to pain and/or injury.
Watch this short video for a demonstration of what I mean:
Keeping the language negative and making you feel like you are moving “wrong” is one simple way for the fitness industry to sell you coaching, classes, injury management and much more, leading you to believe that you need to be taught how to move correctly. But your body has an in-built safety mechanism and will make you avoid movements that it perceives as being unsafe, so if your knees don’t track outwards during your squat, it’s because your body cannot move there, or because moving in that manner is likely to lead to injury.
Trying to force this change will simply lead to other muscles fatiguing quicker, and to the injury of those muscles rather than the ones you were attempting to protect.
Timing of movements is another huge area of teaching/coaching in fitness. This is perhaps the biggest area of disproportionate effort.
If you are trying to have a faster arm/leg turnover in swimming/running, or you are trying to time the bar movement in a ‘snatch’ or ‘clean’ in weightlifting, you will often be fighting nature and using a whole lot more effort than is necessary.
We have been drawn into ‘thinking’ our movements for so long that we have totally lost our ability to ‘feel’ them. This has led to a decline in our sense of timing. Let’s take arm turnover in swimming for example.
Often the focus is on how fast the arms move, rather than how to get them to move quicker. This leads to a lot of splashing and effort, for not a lot of gain!
If the focus was switched to the timing of the effort, then we would move quicker for much less effort.
Watch this video for my explanation using the example of a light switch.
Part 3: Limited expectations:
Can you imagine going to a group session where the instructor didn’t need to say things like “chest up”, “knees out”, or “lift your knees higher”. All these teaching points are designed to make you feel like you are getting value for money from that class, but often make you feel like you’re doing it wrong which leads to frustration and other negative feelings. This, in turn, leads to you having limited expectations of what your body can achieve.
A quick example of this is counting.
If I asked you to count to 10, you’d count until you got there and stop. It’s not that you can’t count any further, but you fulfilled the criteria asked of you.
The same applies to movement. If your only criteria were to move in one way, then that’s all you’ll ask your body to do. It might be possible for you to achieve more speed, distance or efficiency with a slightly different movement, but you’ll never experience that if you’re always limiting your body to one specific way of moving.
A great example of this is the British long distance and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe. She always nodded her head around when she ran. In attempts to make her quicker, her coaches and support staff tried to make her run with her head still. This drastically reduced her speed so eventually they gave up trying to change her style.
Are you trying to fit your movement to a particular ideal?
Now let’s imagine going to a group exercise session where the instructor was providing lots of different ways to move, encouraging you to move within your limits and pushing you to achieve more. How would you feel at the end of that class?
Would you feel frustrated? Inadequate? Drained?
Or would you come away from that class feeling like you had fun, worked hard and energised?
In providing lots of different ways to move, you are spreading the stress of the movement across many more muscles and your body is free to figure out the most efficient and safe way for you to function. This allows improved joint position and range of motion which, in turn, leads to much less pain and injury.
Another limiting factor when it comes to movement is our fear of failure.
Our thinking has been so entrenched in doing something correctly, that we spend a huge amount of effort thinking about our movement before or as we do it.
The problem is, the body has a far quicker capacity for movement than it does for thinking, in fact Dr. Steve Peters (author of The Chimp Paradox) suggests that instinct kicks in 5 times quicker than logic, so in thinking about your movement, you will move considerably slower. If you had to think about the movement involved in scrolling through this article, you would stop focusing on the words and you would scroll through much slower.
Thinking about movement is not something that your body does naturally and therefore it uses far more effort, something that bodies are always looking to reduce.
Consistent increased effort = increased injury risk over time
To discover how you can improve your movement quickly and easily (and therefore improve your performance), by simply altering your warm-up, visit mostmotion.com to grab my FREE Super 12 Warm-Up Video