I spent all of my youth training as an elite gymnast. At the height of my career this meant training 30hrs+ a week learning to master all six men’s apparatus: Floor, Pommels, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, Horizontal Bar.  

If I was not training then I was resting my body for the next training session. And if I was not resting I was eating, sleeping or at the physio.

Life in elite sport, or in any quest for mastery of a skill, means that everything revolves around the thing to be mastered. Like the spokes of a wheel, everything revolves round a singular focus. There really is no other way.

This kind of lifestyle does something to a person and there are pros and cons to it. In the context of the development of the human body, selecting one thing to be ‘good at’ means that your body will take on a specialised form capable of performing very specific movement patterns.

As I said, there a PROS and CONS to this.

PROS & CONS

Looking back on my life as a gymnast and from the vantage point of being an older person trying to regain my mobility and move better, I’m acutely aware of the pros and cons of my youthful pursuit of gymnastic mastery.

Striving to be the best in one endeavour will ensure that you develop a unique form of body and a unique movement skill-set.

But what kind of a body will you build? A body built for shot-put? A runner’s body? A gymnasts? And of what service will the body you spend a decade or more creating be to you when you are done with sport?

The big question is, “How will the body you make serve you in life?”

This was a question that I never EVER asked! I never turned my mind to the question of how all of my  training to create a gymnast’s body would serve my adult life. I never asked this question. But I should have. It is a very VERY important question to ask.

If you train any movement pattern hard enough and often enough you’ll wear something out! All bodies have a ‘biological ceiling’ and ‘over-training’ is a real thing. Stress fractures, shin splints, carpel tunnel syndrome, ‘tennis elbow’, tendonitis. These are just some of the overuse conditions athletes suffer. And don’t forget the accidents: tears, fractures, breaks, sprains, bruises, abrasions and much more.

in my mind, the fact that any person stays in elite sport, seeking perfection despite the pain and the  setbacks, is unquestionably admirable. This is an important PRO of striving to be the best you can be in whatever it is you are chasing:

You develop the ability to endure and learn the value of persistence in the face of adversity.

But right now I’m thinking about my adult body. Busted shoulders from the sustained force of the Rings. Dodgy knees, calves and achilles from a million tumbling impacts, hard landings, never ending strength and vault practice.

While I’m a little broken from over-training, I at least had the benefit of having chosen a sport that is a whole body activity.

For example, flexibility and mobility are core themes. Rolling, climbing, balancing, swinging, sprinting are just a part of the ‘movement diet’. Gymnastics itself is a disciple that does a pretty good job of putting the human form through just about every conceivable rage of motion.

But I over-trained.

BE UNSPECIALISED

Be a generalist! Move your whole body. Move it often. These themes lay at the foundation of the MovNat system and inform my current training as I prepare for the Cert III program.

During a recent conversation with Erwan, founder of MovNat, he says of his pursuit of fitness, “I always wanted my body to last. So I never specialised.”

Born in 1971, Erwan still moves like a leopard and his advice sounds novel when I first hear it. The idea of being unspecialised makes complete sense but I’ve never thought about my exercise training in  sustainable terms.

 We rarely think about the movement we choose to practice and the exercises we do in terms of the contribution our efforts will make to the longevity of our body. But we should. Movement, it seems, is the silent background in our lives while we busy ourselves doing other things. Like earning money for our retirement.

But what good is having enough money to retire if you can’t MOVE?

Movement! How we choose to move. Why we move. Where we move and how often. This ought to be the foreground of our thinking. It’s not peripheral  to the enjoyment of life. IT’S VITAL!

Next week I’ll dissect my movement training program, because whole body movement training requires some thought. It’s not rocket science but it’s not as simple as ‘going for a run’ or sitting on a stationary rower.

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia.

Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life!

Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”

Damien Norris