A “No Program” Approach for Limitless Growth
The fitness arena is evolving in a refreshing way; the paradigm is shifting, and we’re ushering in the era of movement training. Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to this revolution than handstands and climbing trees. This article will take an in-depth look at the implications of movement training and how we can incorporate its major principles within our existing fitness systems.
As a coach, I already see some confusion swirling around this amorphous word “movement.” How do you define it? How do you program it? How do you measure it? Is it fitness or something else? This is all understandable as we are coming through a time where training has been characterized by compartmentalization. In this sense, programs are highly organized, specific, and linear. The underlying assumption: follow a set plan to a fixed result. We can see this reflected clearly in bodybuilding and in functional training alike. To parallel, the nature of work has shared a similar story — pick a major, graduate, land the job, climb the ladder. Finding a specialty and walking the well-paved road towards the goal has certainly been a successful strategy for many people to fast track their growth. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we look to understand the movement paradigm in these black and white terms.
Big or small, lessons add up over time and support you in becoming a better person. [Photo credit: Kellan Milad]
Fortunately, health and fitness is undergoing a transition. In the information age, we are being introduced to a much wider breadth of training approaches. The industry is moving away from traditional exercise and is becoming more inclusive to alternative movement modalities. The influences of gymnastics, dance, martial arts, yoga, and parkour are reshaping the landscape and blurring the once well-defined lines of fitness. Again, similar changes are occurring in the workplace. As more work becomes automated, humans have more time for innovation and creative problem-solving. In essence, we now have more opportunities to explore our skills and interests in unique ways.
In these transitions, there are bound to be growing pains. With a high flow of information, our challenge has become how to integrate and apply. In the fitness community, we are figuring out how to effectively incorporate the relevant practices of specialized movement disciplines. On a personal level, I dove headlong into this process. As my training methods changed so did my approach to life. Innovation and creativity became central themes. Training and life became more intuitive. As I look back, I see that the journey through it all has been my greatest teacher. With that, this article will share my framework to help you build a personalized approach to better movement and better living . . . no program required. I call it the Practice and Process Model.
The Practice and Process Model
Movement training comes with large implications for the bigger picture of health. The reality for most people is that training is intended to enhance life, not be the focal point. As the pace of our world quickens, people have more to do and less time to do it. Apple, Inc. is a prime example of how we’re integrating technology to support our lifestyles. In the same capacity, training can be integrated to support physical, mental, and emotional thriving.
The Practice and Process model merges movement and mental health into a single cohesive approach that supports the specific needs of the individual. The model offers a “process-oriented” look at fitness training. The exact means are secondary to the quality and consistency of practice. Therefore, this article will not prescribe specific training protocols. A comprehensive training approach blends mobility, stability, balance, coordination, strength, speed etc, but the specific types of workouts or activities are dictated by changing factors such as time, access to equipment, and personal preference. The broader focus here is on bringing all of the aforementioned fitness qualities into the mix for optimal health in body, mind, and soul.
A traditional training plan acts as a blueprint — follow the steps and stay on the path towards the objective. This is fantastic when there’s work to be done on achieving a pre-defined goal; the progress is direct and specific. However, there are times when we could benefit more from deepening our existing skill set. As a complementary approach, the Practice and Process model fosters movement exploration, creativity, and internal balance.
There are six steps in the model to be applied in each training cycle. Through Practice and Process, physical “gains” are translated to enhance mental and emotional health. The result is growing both fitness and intuition. By not being solely physically focused, the capacity for growth and development is limitless.
3 Steps of Practice
The “practice” piece is comprised of awareness, mindfulness, and exploration. Practice recognizes that while analyzing movement is important, we learn best through our first-hand experiences. There is no substitute for actually moving.
1. Awareness and Intention
Begin by sending your awareness to what is going on inside your body. How are you? . . . No, really? Assess your status in regards to sleep, nutrition, stress levels, etc. Have an honest look at yourself and evaluate your body’s capacity for the day. Next, consider what’s going on in the environment. Look for any features that could be used for training: natural objects, urban landscapes, or unique gym training tools. What kinds of opportunities do you see in the environment? Are there any potential dangers or limitations? What captures your interest?
Based on your physical status and environment, you set an intention for the session. What do you need out of your workout today? Restoration or intensity? Out of all the possible ways you could move, what is "priority one" for practice this day? Running or climbing or lifting? In this process, you are assessing your physical, mental, and emotional health so you can adjust your training to serve you. This isn’t necessarily a long process, but sets the tone for being present.
2. Mindfulness and Movement
Once the intention has been set, we are primed for mindful practice. Mindfulness can be thought of as being intentional about paying attention. You open your senses and immerse yourself in how you are moving. You observe the subtleties in each movement, new or familiar. The mindset is that "everything is a skill.” By treating every movement with this type of craftsmanship, you gain an invaluable education about how your body works in real world terms. When training is based on the activities you love, consistency becomes much easier. Consistency allows you learn the nuances of the movements and what training benefits they offer. Training becomes a lifelong pursuit. Mindfulness is the ultimate performance enhancer and injury-prevention tool.
I might be going against the grain here, but you don’t need a program. A program is a really nice thing to have, but it is not necessary to making continual progress. There is much to gain from spontaneity and exploration. Having a clearly defined route to your fitness destination is like driving with Google Maps. It may be fast and convenient, but you will never develop your own sound sense of direction, and you will end up regretting not having acquired that skill. Without a program, you will run into dead ends and get lost at times. This may be frustrating or feel like failure. Eventually, though, you'll learn the boundaries and start mapping out the lay of the land.
Whether it is with a kettlebell, on a yoga mat, or climbing a tree, structured practice of the basics takes time to master. Once the foundation is laid, practice can become more fluid. Exploring basic movements in different ways can add much depth to practice time. A squat can take many different forms but it is still a squat at the end of the day. This is the idea of “same - but different” and it's a safe and structured way to drive movement exploration.
3 Steps of Process
The “process” piece involves feedback, reflection, and lessons. Practice provides the stimulus but the growth occurs in the time after. Processing is where we look at our performance from an objective standpoint. Here we can draw conclusions and take-home lessons that make training relevant to real life.
“How is that working out for you?” That's a solid question to ask in any area of your life, training included. Not to be critical, but is what you’re doing producing the intended result? Answering this question requires feedback from your practice. Feedback comes through internal sensations and external input such as coaching cues or video analysis. These are tools to aid us in seeing our blind spots and making calculated adjustments to improve performance. Interestingly, some people thrive on feedback and others avoid it. For some, it’s empowering to know what went right and what changes to make. For others, feelings of being judged may arise. The difference often lies in our mindset.
Carol Dweck has championed the “growth mindset” where performance is predicated on effort, not innate ability. Feedback becomes less threatening and more useful to us in this mental state. Holding a growth mindset, we receive feedback as a constructive way to align actions with intentions. Being consistently receptive to feedback builds an internal compass that guides us in adapting to situations, also known as intuition.
How often do we rush through a task and move on without ever looking back? Once feedback has landed, take time to reflect on the practice. The reflection phase is a post-training debriefing. Slow down and observe how you responded to the work. Questions to reflect on might include:
- What was your mood before/after training?
- What inner conversations were going on during the session?
- What was the quality of your focus/presence?
- What challenges came up and how did you view them?
- How did you experience progress?
This process can be as short as 1-2 minutes long or much longer. There is no agenda here, simply a chance to listen to the echoes of the effort you just gave. Reflections build stronger emotional awareness by tapping into how the experience felt - what was working for you and what was not? This is a key concept for choosing new practices and identifying when to place others on the shelf for a time.
3. Lessons and Breakthroughs
The final piece in the model is drawing out your take-home lessons and identifying any breakthroughs. Reflecting is taking time to sit with your feelings. From here you think about what was learned and construct your own lessons. Your training becomes a vehicle for personal growth.
Consider these two post-workout scenarios:
A. “Wow that was a great workout!” Period. You go about the rest of your day feeling an elevated mood or sense of accomplishment.
B. “Wow that was a great workout! I felt my front squat a completely different way. I felt like I wanted to quit during that finisher but instead I got back to my breathing and found my zone. I don’t always give myself enough credit, but I really surprised myself today.”
Both are positive scenarios; however, the level of depth in scenario B builds a direct connection between training and life. The workout was not just a workout; it was an intentional growth opportunity. Big or small, the lessons derived from each session add up over time and support you in becoming a better person. Occasionally there are times of huge breakthroughs and realizations, I think of these like mental PRs. The true value in training lies in these lessons that you create on a daily basis. Growth occurs in the space where concepts click and the dots connect.
Implications for Practice and Process
There is a lot of depth to the movement paradigm shift. It is more than taking the movements and skills of different disciplines and plugging them into the old framework. There will alway be value in optimized programming for higher physical performance, yet I would argue the most compelling aspect of movement training is the liberation of stepping outside of the box. It turns fitness into how we explore ourselves and the world at large. Movement training embraces variety and the natural ebbs and flows in life. It engages our senses and reminds us what it means to be human.
The world of movement is expansive, even overwhelming at times. Keeping the bigger picture in mind is important for progressive, long-term growth. The Practice and Process model offers us a way to explore movement in an organized way, integrate new practices, and support health from physical, mental, and emotional angles. There will always be a place for fitness goals and programs to guide us, but our world is evolving into a connected global community with vast new possibilities beyond what we have ever known. As we embark into new territory, our ability to know ourselves and relate to each other will be paramount. Mindful movement is not only essential to expanding our fitness, but also a vehicle for self-development. This expansion is what allows us to give our best to the world. Movement is truly more than just moving.
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