A little story from my own life
For the past year I’ve started going beyond just doing yoga and acro yoga and started diving into movement exploration in a more broad sense.
The reason for this is that I realised physically my yoga practice didn’t have all the answers. There are some areas of the body, which are largely overlooked when it comes to most yoga styles. E.g. muscles such as pecs, lats, glutes, and any muscles involved in pulling movements. We might stretch these muscles in yoga, but if we’re not strengthening them too, then there’s an imbalance in my opinion. I was also searching for a strength based approach to flexibility instead of the passive flexibility some yoga styles lead to.
I realised I wanted my movement habits to help me build a functional and resilient body. I wanted to be free from fear of injury and I wanted to feel capable when moving through my everyday life.
The 3 ingredients of a sustainable movement practice
What I was looking for was to build a movement practice which would help me:
- Build a good foundation of strength throughout my entire body
- Build mobility to move my joints to their end ranges with stability and control
- Be able to run for the bus without becoming completely out of breath (hello cardio, long time no see)
So I started exploring new types of movement, participating in workshops, reading physiotherapy books. I was really diving in to all things movement. I discovered what the benefits of each type of movement were and what it lacked.
The word movement practice is meant to encompass any type of movement you do in your daily life. It can be anything from going for long walks, to lifting weights or doing calisthenics, playing sports, to dancing around in your kitchen. All of the ways in which you move in your daily life are part of your movement practice.
What is a sustainable movement practice?
A sustainable movement practice is a practice which will support the longevity of your body. It requires diversity in movement in order to avoid straining specific areas of the body through repetitive overuse and to avoid weakening of other areas due to underuse. A sustainable movement practice will make you strong and stable in all of your bodies tissues in the full range of motion of your joints.
How we become stronger
When you work out, the joints you use and their surrounding tissues (muscle, fascia, bones, ligaments, tendons) will strengthen over time. But they will only strengthen in the range of motion you’re putting them to use.
So if we want to become strong and have stability in the full ranges of motion our joints can move, we will have to move them regularly in all of the ranges they can go. Makes sense?
Example from a yogis life
E.g. if you only do yoga besides your desk job, you might rarely bend your knee past 90 degrees because alignment rules of the yoga poses dictate it so.
What then happens when you’re out in real life and you might have to bend your knee past 90 degrees when you squat down to pick something up? That might actually lead to strain or injury, because your knee joint and it’s surrounding tissues aren’t strong in that specific range of motion. The problem stems from you failing to regularly use that position of your body in your daily life and therefore you aren’t becoming strong in that position.
Remember that this might be a slightly exaggerated example to explain my point. Yoga is by no means bad for you, especially if you only do it a couple of times a week or less. Doing yoga is definitely so much better than not moving at all! What I’m trying to say is you should become aware of this problem, if you do yoga several times a week and no other types of movement alongside it. To read more about pros and cons of alignment in yoga, click here.
Mindful movement habits
We need to be mindful of what our current movement practice lacks, when we’re trying to build a movement practice that allows us to become better at real life, so we can move freely and without fear.
A lot of people train in a way that only makes them better at their training but not actually better at real life. Perhaps your goal of moving isn’t to become fully functional and resilient in your every day life, perhaps you simply train because you like doing it and it makes you happy. Then by all means, do that!
If you’re training because you want to build a more functional and resilient body in real everyday life and increase your overall well-being, then keep that end-goal in mind when you move. Start reflecting on whether your movement practice is actually fulfilling that wish.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptable
Our bodies are absolutely amazing at adapting to the movement patterns we expose them to!
They are energy saving machines:
If there’s an area of your body you’re no longer using as much (because you stopped doing some specific type of movement in your daily life or in your training), your body won’t waste energy keeping that area strong. That area will slowly weaken because your body isn’t going to maintain the strength there if you don’t use it regularly.
On the other hand, if you’re starting to move more than you used to or in a new and different way than you’re used to, your body will strengthen the areas you’re using. It will always try to allow you to do the movements, you repeatedly ask it to do, well.
As soon as you’re no longer moving an area of your body more than usual, but simply keeping the same level of activity, you will stop becoming stronger. Your body will just maintain the strength you already have, if you don’t continually ask more of it. Your body is letting you be exactly strong enough to do what you ask of it, but not any more than that. The reason for this, is that your body is saving energy and only spending it on doing exactly what is necessary.
To sum it all up:
- Strength & Stability – happens when you continually load your body more over time.
- Weakening & Wither – happens when you continually load your body less over time.
That means we only become good at what we repeatedly and regularly do.
Strain and injury
How we get injured
If you’re sitting down all day perhaps at a desk and rarely moving, your body will become good at exactly that and not much else.
If you’re a runner
If you run regularly your legs and hips will become strong from the repeated use and your bones will thicken and strengthen from the repeated jolts of force going through your legs as you land with your entire body weight on each foot when running. You might never break your hip with old age because your bones are so strong from running. Instead you might have low back pain from the lack of mobility in your posterior chain because you never move in a way where you use and therefore maintain the mobility of your body.
Want to move more sustainably? Consider mixing in a yoga / mobility focused movement session every once in a while.
If you do yoga
If you do yoga all the time, e.g. ashtanga yoga, you will be extremely flexible in most areas of the body. But you might injure your lower back or your knees from going into very deep passive flexibility poses without having the strength and stability in the surrounding joints to support your body in that position.
Want to move more sustainably? Consider mixing in some running / parkour / weight lifting every once in a while to maintain the strength and stability in your knee joints or your lumbar spine. Or even just working more on active flexibility (i.e. mobility) instead of passive flexibility.
If you lift weights
If you lift weights at the gym regularly without doing anything else, you will likely become very strong when you’re doing exactly that, lifting weights. But you might also have low back pain or hip pain from the lack of mobility in your body. And you might be great at lifting stuff with a straight back (because squat technique), but what will happen when you have to bend down with a rounded back to pick something up in real life?
Want to move more sustainably? Consider mixing in a yoga / mobility focused movement session every once in a while. Or start doing some of your squats with a rounded back to strengthen your body in that position too. Start lifting weights in more diverse ways to become stronger in all of your ranges of motion.
Too much of one type of movement is not sustainable
I am by no means saying that I have all the answers in my own movement practice yet. Neither am I trying to criticize any of the above types of movement. I mean, I’m still a huge fan of yoga despite it’s lacks.
What I am trying to do, is give you some examples of when doing too much of only one type of movement repetitively might end up less than ideal for you and your body in the long run. Whether it be running, yoga, weight lifting,… you name it!
If you just want to move in a way that you find fun and which actually gets you moving, then I encourage you to keep doing that! The message of this post is absolutely NOT to make you afraid of moving. ANY movement is better than no movement. In general when there’s less fear involved when it comes to movement, that will also lead to more movement, which is good. So don’t be afraid to just go move!
How to prevent strain and injury
We can take measures to prevent injuries by becoming strong and mobile.
Strength: ability to handle load & stress of the body
Mobility = strength in our end ranges of motion (active flexibility)
So it’s not just about being strong in the big muscle groups and in our middle ranges of movement. We need to become strong in our end ranges too, if we want to prevent injury.
Strength is build when we repeatedly load our tissues and put stress on them. Followed by allowing time for our bodies to recover and adapt.
Underloading tissues will make us weaker and overloading tissues repetitively will lead to strain and perhaps injury. So we need to find that sweet spot. Loading our bodies enough that they become stronger over time but not so much that we can’t completely recover afterwards.
Rest and recovery
The rate of recovery after moving varies a lot from person to person. It is dependent on so many things such as sleep, hydration, eating habits, mental well-being, activity levels,… Probably a bunch of other factors too.
Putting stress on our bodies is not bad! It’s great in the right amounts. Just like a little stress is good for our minds too. Mental stress makes us mentally tougher, less reactive to future stress and increases our well-being. Too much mental stress will damage us, just like too much physical stress will.
It is all about finding that balance. Allowing enough time for recovery, but not too little or too much, because that will strain or weaken your body.
ANY movement is better than NO movement
This might seem like a mouthful! It might seem like there are so many factor we need to consider in our movement practice in order to stay healthy and avoid getting injured.
But I promise you, it’s not as bad as it seems. So please don’t take this as the perfect excuse to stop moving altogether because you’re afraid of doing something wrong.
Any movement is better than no movement. I doubt many people go through life without any minor injuries. So just move in ways that you like and that make you happy.
If you’re interested in moving with sustainability for your body and longevity in mind, just stay mindful of how you move (or don’t move).
Find versatility in your movement practice
Too much of just one thing is not good. The most sustainable and injury preventing movement practice you can do is one where you move and load your joints in the all the directions they can go, regularly. Versatility in movement is absolute key, if your goal is to move in a way that is sustainable for your body in the long run.
If you realise you’re repeatedly moving in the same way, perhaps try to mix it up a little every once in a while. Or perhaps you realise you’re sat down at a desk for 8 hours straight each day. See if you can start getting up perhaps once every 30 minutes to do some gentle movements, walk a little. Anything will do.
Because the only bad posture that exists is the one you’re staying in the most.