A few years ago, my wife and I were traveling through Europe and spent some time in a little town called Luso which is located up a mountain pass in Portugal. It is a quaint little town like many others we visited, where the center of town serves as a gathering place for the local village people. Here we sat in an outdoor café having a late lunch when we couldn’t help but notice something unusual happening at the central fountain. It appeared to us that many of the town’s people were converging at this fountain at nearly the same time carrying large jugs. Our first thought was that it was the beginning of some type of festival or celebration. Upon further investigation, we realized that all they were doing was gathering water from the town’s fresh water spring which fed this fountain.
The reason I share this story with you is because it parallels with our theme due to the extreme nature of the work everyone performed as a daily unconscious ritual. Mind you, there are no flat roads in Luso, you are either walking straight up or down a hill. In the case of this water gathering, the people came down the hill with empty jugs only to return home with full jugs. We witnessed women well beyond 65 years of age lugging what must have easily been 5 gallon jugs in each hand up a cobblestone road that in my estimation had to be a 20 percent grade. It occurred to us how ridiculous it would be to ask any of them what they do for exercise. My guess is they would not even understand the question. They simply went to collect water. I thought of how strenuous it would have been for me to complete this same task. Needless to say, we had a good laugh over that!
Exercise has evolved in our lives as a solution to our sedentary lifestyles. Hundreds of years ago people worked hard and then rested, People did not put in a full hard day’s work and then decide what they needed to do for exercise to make up for the listlessness of the day. There was never a thought of how fit one could become if they trained themselves. It was all about survival. If I don’t hunt or farm today, we don’t eat. Go back a thousand years and early man was on the same par physically as an elite marathon runner, slight of build, very lean with amazing endurance and general strength. Fitness was a result of his survival concerns. He was constantly on the move seeking food and shelter from the elements, while evading the many predators that survived on the same premise.
Today our lust for comfort is virtually killing us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc… are all manufactured illnesses of man.
It pleases me to see the retro-fitness mindset moving to the front of the line where fitness is concerned. We’re getting out from beneath the neon lit warehouse style exercise clubs, out from the air conditioning and into the sunlight and the environment to re-invigorate our bodies.
Personally, I have relearned fitness by completely changing the direction in my training protocol by getting away from the “gym mindset…” I have owned health clubs for several years in the past. Now, I have completely changed that entirely making nearly all of my training inspired by nature. Our functional training facility today is all outdoors behind our lab and store at diaz human performance. Where it may not be plausible to climb trees and jump from boulder to boulder in our urban settings to sharpen our physical skills, I recommend that we take advantage of the opportunities that do exist in our neighborhoods and local parks.
As a fitness consultant, my first advice would be to watch children at play. What you’ll see is a total abandonment of process. Children are jumping, tumbling, crawling, rolling and by preference, many times barefoot. No rules, no structure, just wild jostling and sheer enjoyment.
I am sure all who read this are aware of the many fitness Boot Camps and possibly even Cross-fit centers that have been sweeping the country. These types of training systems rely on one fundamental premise; the return to functional movement as opposed to contrived and restrained applications of training that is the staple of typical health clubs.
For runners, triathletes or athletes involved in team sports, the environment is a far more likely to provide the cross training effects they seek through alternative exercises to their sport. If you walk through a busy health club and listen to the dialogue that occurs between trainer and trainee, the term core will come up all too often and generally out of context, not only in commentary but in application. If you truly understand the concept of training, this word should never really need mentioning. If you train the body from a global perspective as opposed to segregating body parts from machine to machine as is typical in a gym setting, you cannot avoid core engagement. It as if to say, “Ok, now you can breathe.” Of course you breathe, of course your core should engage, provided that you train the body and not the body parts.
Running is a great example of a global exercise as is swimming, climbing or crawling on all fours.
Let me cap off this article with a few suggestions in respect to training either for sport or general fitness.
1. Make a conscious effort to spend some quality time training outdoors. Not just on your bike or running, but get in touch with the ground.
2. Take off your shoes and run barefoot. Realize the benefits that come from allowing your feet to make contact with the ground instead of the constant bondage and de-sensitizing cruelty that shoes present while running and training.
3. I live in California with easy access to beautiful beaches and the ocean. If possible, why not get into the sand and play? Remember doing cart wheels or tumbling as a child? These youthful activities awaken your agility skills and balance.
4. Swim in the ocean and allow natures anti-inflammatory bath invigorate your body. What better way to recover from a tough workout!
5. Finally, allow your self some tranquility, by simply lying in the sand with eyes closed while focusing on nothing more than the ocean as it crashes on the shore.
So many athletes operate on the assumption that they must always push themselves to improve. The fact is, we only benefit from the work we do while we rest. This is when the restorative properties of our bodies truly go to work. So, my advice to you this article is not technical as is the usual case. To the contrary, it is about becoming in touch with our primal spirit and finding the edge that exists when we embrace nature once again.