It’s something most of us have forgotten how to do. We tell our kids, “Go play,” because we want them out of our hair. “Mama’s got things she’s gotta do now, go play.” “I’m sorry, baby, Daddy’s busy, go play.” We tell our kids, “Go play, ” because somebody somewhere told us it was good for them, an essential part of their development. “They won’t be functional as adults or learn as well if they don’t play.”
Of course, we all know that last bit is falling by the wayside. Current educational paradigms tell us that scores are down and that other kids in other nations are smarter than our kids. We fear for their ability to survive and be competitive as adults so we cram them into lifestyles that more closely mirror our adult jobs, which incidentally most of us hate. That way when they grow up they’ll have an edge on all the other adults. All that extra hating prepares them for the hating of adulthood.
We’ve so forgotten the value of play that we’re taking it away from our kids.
Do you play? Do you even know how? How does play relate to training and exercise and more specifically what happens here, at Agoge Fitness Systems? What is play?
I see play as exploration. Little kids play in a variety of ways. One common theme in children’s play is “playing house.” Why? Because children are exploring adult roles. They’re playing with what it feels like to be mommy and daddy.
Children play with their bodies. No, not play with their bodies, although yes, some do, and that’s perfectly okay as long as it’s in private and alone. Exploration is natural. What I mean is that they use their bodies to explore the world. Gravity, motion, all the elements of physics, and the physical world are discovered through play.
That we as adults give up on play is a shame.
As adults we force ourselves into roles and positions entirely unnatural for us. The human animal is not designed to sit in a cubicle for hours on end, only to trade that box for a box on wheels that it rides to it’s final destination, another box, where it sits in front of yet another box for a few hours before bed. The human animal was meant to move. Crucial aspects of our physiology, like circulation and lymphatic drainage, are dependent on our movement. “Move it or lose it” is not just a cliché. It’s a commandment. As in, “Thou shalt move it or lose it.”
Many of us have gotten that message and it heartens me to see it. Unfortunately, we approach that movement much in the same way we approach our jobs or maybe a root canal. “Alright, this is unpleasant but it’s good for me. I’m just gonna go in there and get it done.” We psyche our selves up and approach our workouts with drive and determination, if we’re type A, or we scheme and finagle, figuring out how we can do the least amount and still get by, if we’re type B. Either way it’s still a job. A job is something you have to get done. Play is something you look forward to doing.
Like any artist, I am a shameless thief. I explore the world around me and look for new sources of inspiration. Ideas, methodologies, and even specific exercises are all fair game. Lately I’ve been enjoying the work of a gym in Sacramento, California, Bodytribe. If you train with me at the gym you’ve already been exposed to some of their ideas and have likely heard me talking about them. Chip Conrad, the owner of Bodytribe, and his crew of trainers understand play. You can hear him talking about it in the second episode to his online show, Strength Rituals.
Another source of inspiration is Matt Wichlinski, of The Strength Shop, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Matt’s a fellow Underground Strength Coach and an astounding athlete. He’s a bit younger than me and cruder, not by much, but his sense of play is apparent, especially in this video on hip mobility and stretching.
All too often we approach stretches and exercise like work. We look at the coach or trainer and try to match what it is they’re doing, “Okay, she’s bending forward and putting her nose on her knee…How am I gonna do that?” We see the end position in gross terms and try to emulate that. What we miss is the goal of that exercise or position. We forget what it is we’re trying to do and we forget that our bodies are all different. Our personal expression of that particular movement or posture may not look the same as our twenty-six year old yoga instructor, but we’ll never if know because we refuse to let ourselves play with the movement.
If the goal is not to put our nose on our knee but to effectively stretch the hamstring are we really achieving this by twisting our backs and contorting our bodies to accommodate for tight hams? In this effort to “match the teacher” we’re likely stretching parts or working areas that are not the primary targets. Ultimately, how is all of this “work” helping us?
As adults we have years of unconscious body habits that have created a host of compensations and imbalances. Most of which we are still completely unaware. They don’t become apparent until they cause us pain.
Approaching our workouts with a “playful” attitude allows us the freedom to explore our bodies (yeah, I said it.) We can use this opportunity to find those sore achy areas and work them out. No specialist, or generalist for that matter, no matter how educated, can know your body as well as you can. The feedback you get is immediate. By playing we can learn to communicate with our bodies, to understand its signals and ultimately make them better.