The Ultimate Functional Workout
The motto “be strong to be useful” is thrown around a lot in movement circles. One of the best ways to accomplish both goals is to do things the old-fashioned way - the “take the stairs, not the elevator” method. But this is just the start.
This advice is for anyone who wants to get a workout without taking the traditional gym route. As my former job taught me, you don’t need fancy equipment to build strength, mobility, and endurance that will be useful for real-world situations.
Before I began my current career as a full-time Brazilian jiu jitsu teacher, I worked for a moving company. I carried all sorts of heavy things while covered in cat hair and dirt.
On an average day, we would meet at the main office at what now, in my spoiled mind, seems like an ungodly hour (7:30 am, I think it was). The owner of the company would put together a crew of three guys and give us a few jobs to get done. We didn’t know the size of the jobs. After getting into the truck and making sure we had our equipment, off we went into the unknown.
The variables were…well, varied. The weather, objects carried, structures of the homes I moved to, distance I had to carry stuff, and crew I worked with - all these conditions made one job wildly different from the next. The skills required were varied as well. We lifted and carried every conceivable object in every conceivable way, with and without a partner. We crawled under tables, through porch crawl spaces, and in old and dirty attics. We climbed, hoisted, and threw things to each other and onto a truck. We walked up and down endless flights of stairs - particularly during jobs in Manhattan, where it seems every apartment is on the fifth floor.
Make Every Day Like Moving Day
I didn’t appreciate it at the time, because I didn’t have the understanding of natural movement skills I do now. Though it was awesome to get paid good money to work out all day, every day.
But having had the retrospective insight of doing this job and later learning the MovNat system and philosophy, I have some ideas for those of you who want to work out and cross train without paying for a gym:
- Help your friends move. No one really wants to help their friends move, which is why everyone magically has six weddings to go to on the same Saturday you are moving. I challenge you to be the person who sees lending a hand as an opportunity to improve, rather than a burden to be avoided. View it as an opportunity to get some practical training time in an unchoreographed situation.
- Perform frequent “mini-moves.” I suggest creating “mini-moves” around your house a few times a week. Pick some heavy and awkward stuff, arrange your furniture in inconvenient ways, and move your stuff around. Carry your air conditioner down to the basement, over the chairs, and back upstairs again. Throw and catch trash bags full of clothes with a partner. Carry your mattress around the house using various grips. Lift your couch up and hold it there while you dig out the remote control you lost last year and that random sock tucked down the back, all covered in dust balls.
- Focus on being effective and efficient. Effective means you get the job done. Efficient means you get the job done with as little energy expenditure as possible. Play with different levels of efficiency and see if you can find clever ways to solve difficult problems (i.e., how do I get a box spring up three flights of narrow stairs alone without killing myself?). See what happens when you do things less efficiently (i.e., can I carry that box spring with one arm while carrying a trash bag full of clothes in the other?).
- Get a moving job. If it makes sense for your life, try getting a job at a moving company. There are lots of things to hate about that line of work, but it’s also a good opportunity to practice a variety of practical movement skills while getting paid.
- Skip the gadgets. There are a ton of energy-saving devices made to help make moving stuff easier. Don’t use them. Pretend you live in the 1920s and don’t have all the fancy straps and tools.
The Power of Situational Complexity
So what does this have to do with natural movement? Everything. When you and a colleague are carrying a sleeper sofa covered in cat hair (from a cat who probably died before Justin Bieber was born) up five flights of narrow stairs on a rainy day, there exists a level of complexity that far exceeds anything you can recreate in a gym.
The skills you acquire while lifting and carrying heavy objects up long inclines of stairs while being sensitive to your partner’s micro-movements and shifts in weight are both intricate and significant. Add to this the fatigue of a ten-hour day, and you have a perfect example of situational complexity.
Looking back, I think it might have been the most MovNat job I've ever had.
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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.