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The Case For Non-Mechanized, Functional Movement Training

Author: Amanda (Fox) Raynor
Co-owner/manager at Human 2.0/writer/health and wellness educator/furniture re-arranger

Movement is a part of life. From wrinkling your nose, to curling your fingers, to squatting down to pick up something off the floor, our bodies are made to bend and stretch, twist and turn, crawl and hop. It is how we sense and participate in our world. At its most basic level, moving is what indicates that we are alive. When we stop (for an extended period), we are – quite literally – dead. Strange then that we’ve created a society for ourselves where moving is so inaccessible, so unnecessary. Surely, we didn’t mean to do that. It wasn’t the plan, but it is an insidious fact nonetheless. Sit in the car. Sit at your desk. Sit to watch television. Ride the elevator. Take the escalator. The list goes on and on.

blogpullupWhen we DO move, it’s often very contrived. You see it all the time – rows and rows of treadmills and other machines in gyms, machines to simulate biking, rowing, climbing, pushing, pulling, ellipting, (whatever that is), etc. etc. The more mechanized our society becomes, so too have our exercise modalities. It’s not a shock – like if we CAN build a pretend running machine, why wouldn’t we, right? You never even have to go outside. And there are no potholes or divots in the ground in which you might twist your ankle. Surely, it’s safer, and it’s going to make your life easier.

Yeah, maybe not.

What seems simpler, and possibly more efficient, can – in some twisted way – make our lives more complicated. Yes, sometimes, technology and mechanization can be useful, but there are other times when it can actually work against us. Consider the following:

Machines are limiting. They are made to do what they are made to do – nothing more. One could argue that – in terms of fitness – they are safer, for beginners anyway. Should a person’s form fail – if you are talking weight machines, for instance – he/she won’t get crushed. But doesn’t this thinking seem a little backwards? You don’t need a machine to keep you safe. You can work on movement practices that are real and unaffected, making them safe by taking small steps and advancing slowly through your progressions. Adding weight or tension to any activity should only be done once a person has mastered control of his/her own body.

Machines are monotonous. Nobody can say that an hour on a treadmill – or an exercise bike, or a rowing machine, or a stair master, or whatever – is fun. Even with the best music to get you going, it is repetitive and boring – a long journey to nowhere. You stare at the same thing in front of you, plodding, or peddling, or pulling, or climbing away on the same predictable surface or in the same predictable manner. It’s no wonder stuff like that is often considered a chore. Add to that the fact that it’s physically taxing, and the motivation to do it suddenly becomes even less, especially for those who aren’t used to being physically taxed. Exercising in that way is what one might call an “adversarial non-solution”, like dieting. You may be able to keep it up for a while, but because it’s not enjoyable or functional, it’s not likely you will ever make it a lifelong habit. Your fitness routine should be uplifting and empowering, not tedious and uninspired.

Machines don’t help you with everyday living. Think about what you are training for – running on a rubber ramp will only help you to run better on a rubber ramp. Step outside onto a path in the forest, and the foreignness of the unsteady ground could cause you to twist your ankle and fall simply because you are not used to it. Also remember that humans are made to receive the nuances that come with movement in the natural environment. Strict repetition can be taxing on the joints, tendons, and muscles, which overall, can actually be harmful to the body. This quote from the good people at Agatsu Fitness – a training facility in Montreal, Quebec – says it all: “If you want to move better, you have to practice moving better.” It’s so true. Forget the machines. Experience the world through your own physical lens. Experiment with your body. Try different movement modalities. Lift, push, pull, crawl, jump, etc. – practice being human, because that IS, in fact, exactly what you are.