Note: This is a follow up to this post, about how the old world of fitness died. Read it here if you haven’t yet.
I’m sure my story isn’t much different than yours.
It all started when I was a kid watching shows like WCW and The Karate Kid. And although I didn’t know it at the time, the seeds were being planted for my lifelong quest to move like a hero.
I wanted to be able to fly through the air like the characters in the video games I played on my Super Nintendo. I wanted to perform amazing feats of strength like the keg toss in the World’s Strongest Man competitions.
Many evenings after my dad would come home from work, I’d pester him about weightlifting exercises I could do to get stronger. We had a few adjustable dumbbells in the garage (the kind where the fasteners on the end need constant retightening after a few reps) and those were the tools of my trade.
Looking back now, my movement variety as an eight year old was pretty abysmal (hey, I was just a kid). It wasn’t until my early twenties that I realized there was more to training than curls and presses.
Still, I was having fun and living out my fantasy of being superhuman even though I never quite developed the traits and skills of the heroes I admired in the video games I played.
Finding a roadmap
It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve discovered a process or roadmap for systematically training and developing the abilities I coveted since childhood. Through years of experimentation, trial and error, injury, and studying from some of the greatest teachers in the world, I discovered there is a step-by-step approach you can take to becoming superhuman.
Perhaps the most exciting thing I’ve found is that attaining high level movement abilities doesn’t require that you are genetically superior or naturally gifted. Obviously, certain body types are more suited to success in some ways more than others. For instance, if you have a large frame, you’ll generally be better at strongman feats than high-flying acrobatics. Or, if you’re shorter and more compact you’ll have an advantage in gymnastics strength that a taller person like myself won’t have (this hasn’t deterred me, though).
The point I want to make to you is this: No matter what type of body you were born with, no matter what your age, posture or body composition, you can achieve incredible things with the body you were born with. Yes, you may need to do some postural rehab and you might need to either gain or lose some weight to acquire the skills you want to possess.
No matter. There is a way to do it from wherever you are starting. The only barriers are the ones that exist in your own mind. With the right approach, smart progressions and enough determination, you can achieve whatever you set out to do.
The five phases of heroic movement
Stage one: Environment and Movement Rehab
Stage one is where the real work begins, and unfortunately it’s the step most people skip.
It’s actually not really accurate to call this part a “step” because it’s not really a step at all. It’s something you never stop doing.
Skipping this phase results in lots of frustration, disappointment and injuries. I know because that’s exactly what I did for a number of years. I went through a lot of setbacks because of my anxiousness to move on to more advanced skills my body wasn’t prepared for.
Remember this:In order to move like a superhuman, you must first learn to move like a human.Click To Tweet
Unfortunately for most of us, our environments and vocations don’t support us in moving like humans and having well-balanced bodies. To make matters worse, most of us do knowledge work for our profession. So not only are we not moving in the ways we evolved to, we’re also very much in our heads all the time, so naturally we become very disconnected from our bodies.
How do we fix this?
Well, what this process looks like will be determined by your situation. If you’re 50 years old, have had knee replacement surgery, and drive a truck 12 hours a day, your process will look a lot different than of someone who’s 25 years old and works in construction with very little history of injury.
If you’re really serious and want to truly rehabilitate your body, you might need to change professions or dramatically overhaul your lifestyle.
Rehabbing your movement environment
In the wild, we’d naturally be shaped by our surroundings in the most optimal way. We evolved to move in response to a complex environment with continual movement challenges and puzzles to solve.
Taken out of that environment and placed in one where we’re not required to move, or where only move in very predictable patterns (i.e., computer work), we create all sorts of problems.
Not only do we create postural imbalances, but we also create bodies that are fearful of new challenges.
We become afraid to play not just because it’s not “productive” but because we don’t trust our bodies. Our environments have shaped us to avoid risk and stay in a small movement box.
Think about it for a second. Everything in our environment is designed to stay within a confined, narrow range of motion. Everything from our cupboards to our keyboards to our couches keep us moving in a very limited way.
Placed in a different environment, we’ll automatically start moving in new, more complex ways and start to regain our primal strength and mobility.
So, how do you rehab your environment and create a more nutritious movement diet?
Here is a basic set of recommendations to get you started:
- Install doorway pullup bars in your house for hanging and swinging.
- Set up various stations for computer work: standing, sitting, squatting, reclining.
- Build walking and movement into your work through walking meetings or brainstorming while walking or running.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to take movement breaks. I love the Pomodoro app for iOS. I use it to work in cycles of 25 minutes, then movement for 5 minutes.
Now, you can see how this might not be so easy if you’re a truck driver. Some professions just aren’t suited well toward a healthy body. So, you’ll have to make a choice about what type of career you want to have.
Leveling up your social environment
Addressing your movement environment is the first step. The second is to address your social environment by surrounding yourself with more active, movement-oriented individuals.
You’ve probably heard the saying before, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Well, your body is probably the average of the five people you spend the most time with as well.
So, surround yourself with others that are movement-oriented and motivated to create healthy, resilient, anti-fragile bodies.
Try joining a regular class in your area that provides lots of movement complexity and challenge. Parkour, capoeira, gymnastics, rock climbing, and yoga are great places to start.
The Movement Lifestyle group is also a great place to find likeminded people to connect with, find potential training partners or accountability buddies.
Correcting your kinks and fixing bad posture
The next step is to address your imbalances and posture. For this, you’ll probably want to seek the help of a qualified professional, especially if you have some serious postural imbalances or a history of injury.
However, there is a lot you can do on your own to help yourself heal and recover, especially if you’re slightly obsessive like I am.
These are the top resources I recommend for fixing postural imbalances, and healing your body.
- Pain-Free, by Pete Egoscue. This is one of the easiest to read and implement books on postural correction and fixing pain associated with postural imbalances in the body. Definitely recommended for anyone with a pain issue or imbalance in a specific area of their body.
- Move Your DNA, by Katy Bowman. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. This is for anyone who wants to learn more about primal movement and the way we evolved to move as humans. There are also a lot of corrective exercises in this book, but it’s more generic for desk workers.
- Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, by Clair Davies. This complements Move Your DNA and Pain Free really well. It’s all about self-massage and releasing trigger points (knots) in your muscles. Perfect for anyone that carries a lot of tension in their body.
- Dissolving Pain, by Les Fehmi. This is the most recent book I’ve read on pain, and to put it frankly, it blew my mind. This book won’t change your imbalances or actual tissues, but it will teach you how to release your attachment to the pain. The premise is simple: The way you’re focusing your attention either supports pain or dissolves it. Contrary to popular belief, pain does not exist in the tissue, but in the brain. Changing the way you focus can help you let go of your pain and allow you to finally heal. Highly recommended for anyone with chronic, long-term issues with pain.
While I’m at it, I’ll share with you my three favorite tools for self myofascial release:
- Mobility ball. This thing is like a tennis ball or lacrosse ball on steroids. The grip is amazing and doesn’t slips off the wall like others balls do and fly across the room. I have the 80mm and 120mm. Both are awesome for working out knots.
- Foam roller. Great for the legs and bigger muscle groups. Foam rolling the quads brings me to tears almost every time.
- Floss bands. These things really help loosen up tight wrist, elbows, knees and ankles and increase mobility. I find them especially valuable for handbalancing work.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can start with a tennis ball from a thrift store. If you’re especially brave, you can use a large PVC pipe as a cheap replacement for a foam roller. Just be careful with how much weight you put on it. I think it goes without saying, but PVC is very unforgiving and doesn’t budge.
The reality is that this first stage in heroic movement is an ongoing process. There are still many ways I could change my environment, my habits and style of working to better support my body. Some of them are practical, while others are not. For instance, I could totally eliminate computer work altogether and probably have a more balanced posture. But that’s simply not practical for me and my job.
The essential daily movement nutrients
Another reality we have to accept is that no matter how much we try to alter our environments, even something as great as a home without furniture, filled with monkey bars and obstacle courses, still won’t replicate what you’d get with nature.
Just do your best every day to get your intake of the big foundational movement nutrients:
- Squatting. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day. Don’t just squat there, move around and be active in your squat.
- Walking. Aim for at least an hour of walking every day, preferably outside and not on a hamster wheel.
- Hanging. Aim for at least 5 minutes a day. Do them with some assistance from your feet on a box or chair if you can’t hang unassisted for at least 30 seconds.
Also, do your best to walk on uneven surfaces as close to barefoot as possible (in between the curb and sidewalk).
Keep in mind that the times above are approximations and are meant to be accumulated throughout the day. Even if you can squat for 30 minutes without a break (unlikely), it’s better for you if you split it up.
Just remember, human movement must come before superhuman movement.
Stage two: Purposeful Practice
Now, this is where the fun begins. In the first stage, it’s all about you and your body. Rehabbing, reclaiming, and reintegration.
But in stage two, we’re going to start shifting from a more generic rehab into specifically tailoring it to your body. And we’re going to introduce elements of embodiment and purpose.
Your work up to this point has been all about generally improving your environment, your habits and reclaiming some of your basic human capabilities as a mover. Now it’s time to get a bit more specific and go deeper by building your practice.
Through your work in the first stage you should have gotten a general sense of what’s tighter for you and what some of your weak areas are.
- Maybe your hips are really tight, whereas your shoulders are fairly loose and mobile.
- Or perhaps you’ve noticed that your wrists are weak and need strengthening.
It’s time to really get specific with your practice and address in a generalized way your strength, mobility and movement skill—also known as motor control.
Now, depending on how much you want to go into this or not, you’ll begin to look at your body and habits of tension and closure from an emotional and energetic perspective.
Moving heroically is not just about cool tricks. It’s about being responsible for the energy you’re transmitting to others. It’s about being strong inside and out.
So, where are you most stuck? Is your belly and chest tight because you’re afraid of feeling too much? Do you have a habit of suppressing your erotic energy and tilting your pelvis back?
The truth is, I am not an expert in this field of how emotional holding patterns are manifested in our bodies. But what I do know is that there is not a hard line of separation we think there is between our minds, our emotions, and our bodies.
For example, when you’re feeling unsure of yourself, are you sitting tall, chin up and belly relaxed — or are you rigid, arms crossed and hunched over to the side?
You might have found that you can easily change your mood by simply changing the positioning of your body. This is the reason why we have such strong directional metaphors. We say things like “he’s feeling down” or “she’s not up to it” because when you’re sad or discouraged you are literally more hunched over and depressed. When you’re feeling positive and energized you are more “up” and upright.
A general rule of thumb in our culture is that most people have closures in the front of their body and most people have sexual guardedness (women especially, many men have the opposite, ie: “phallic narcissism“).
Your body is not just a vehicle for you to get around the planet in. It is your emotional and energetic vessel. How open, closed or kinked your body is determines how much you’re able to breathe, feel, and experience life.
The more you become aware of your body, the more embodied you become, the more you will begin to notice these habits of closure, and only then can you begin to address them.
So, in the second stage we address our physical, mechanical imbalances. We look deeply and honestly at our emotional patterns of closure in the body, doing our best to address them. In this way, we aim to become more whole and integrated humans and lay the foundation for becoming heroic.
Our daily practice begins to take shape.
These are the key elements:
- Increasing body awareness through scanning, feeling space and breathwork
- Targeted strength and mobility work to further correct imbalances
- Specific exercises to address and correct patterns of closure and energetic kinks
- Rooting into why we’re training in the first place
In the next post in this series I’ll be sharing with you the full framework for Heroic Practice and what exactly it looks like.
Further reading and education
- Bioenergetics by Alexander Lowen. A primer on patterns of closure in the body, how they manifest and how to address them.
- Ido Portal Youtube channel. Here you’ll find lots of great ideas and exercises for mobility and rehabbing your body.
Stage three: Superhuman Specialization
Did I say earlier that stage two is where the fun begins? Well, this is where it really starts to get fun.
Up to this point we’ve done a LOT of foundational work so we don’t have to keep injuring ourselves over and over and derail our progress.
Now, we’re ready to finally start working on creating our own real life heroic archetype.
This is where we veer off the path of general movement ability and begin to work more on what you want to be amazing at.
This might sound kind of dorky (it is), but bear with me…
If life were a video game, what kind of character would you want to be?
Here are some potential for you to get your juices flowing. But remember—this is your character. You get to build and decide what kind of heroic mover you want to become.
Specialist in wilderness survival, orienteering, and dealing with unpredictable terrain. Think, Rafe Kelley.
A parkour expert capable of overcoming any obstacle or movement challenge. Think, David Belle.
Unmatched in raw power and strength, the tank is the very definition of an immovable force. Think, Elliot Hulse.
Evasive, undetectable movement is her specialty. The grace of the assassin is unmatched by any other class. Think, Bruce Lee.
The true movement generalist. A jack of all trades. Mastery in this field is the most difficult of all classes. Think, Ido Portal.
Specializes in aerials, high powered kicks, flips, and other deceptive movements. Think, Anthony Mychal.
Truly limitless possibilities. Their talent lies in flow, extreme body awareness, and channeling creative energy. Think, this guy:
Do not let their quiet, unassuming manner fool you. Masters of the internal arts, they can vanquish any foe. Think, Master Wu.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking (because I’m thinking the same thing): “I want to be all of them!”
I get it. Choosing sucks.
But here’s the reality:
- If you don’t choose a specialty (at least for now), you’re unlikely to make any progress in any of them.
- You can always be a hybrid, but I recommend going with two or three classes max.
- You have the option to focus on one class for a year, develop those abilities, and then move on to another the next year. For example, this season can be the season of capoeira, while the next is the season of parkour.
Remember, you have your whole life. There is no rush, so slow down and enjoy it.
So, how do you get started once you’ve figured out which character you want to be?
Well, that’s where it can be useful to have a coach or teacher.
Your practice at this stage will be divided in three main categories:
- Hardware training. This is where you work on specific mobility and strength training related to your class. For instance, if you’re working on becoming a great rock climber, you’ll probably want to focus more on upper body pulling exercises in your training, outside of the actual work you do on the wall.
- Software training. This is where you’ll focus on the actual technique and skill of your chosen endeavor, likely done in the setting of a class with a teacher guiding you.
- Play and integration. You need to actually use what you’re training for, right? Don’t forget to stop training and actually use your skills.
So, going with the example of specializing as a traceur your training might look like this:
Mon, Wed, Fri: Strength and mobility training specific to parkour. Explosive jumping, heavy squats, deadlifts and muscle-up work would be a good idea here.
Tue & Thu: Parkour class, working on techniques guided by a teacher.
Saturday: Parkour play integrating what you’ve learned.
Sunday: Active recovery — ie: yoga and walking.
Of course this can be modified based on what classes you’re attending, what your goals are, and how much time you have to devote to your practice.
But in a nutshell, this is what your heroic practice will begin to look like at the third stage.
Stage Four: Personal Style
Up until this point, you’ve mostly been using the power of imitation and mirroring to develop your superhero powers.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. We all model others in order to learn and level up. (Remember, any time you notice a trait in others, your very ability to recognize it means you already possess it within yourself on some level.)
But eventually, if you really want to reach true heroic status you must move beyond merely modeling and begin using your movement as a means of self-expression.
The art of expressing the human body, as Bruce Lee would say.
I cannot give you a prescription for this stage. That would obviously defeat the point of it.
But what I can tell you is that the more you play, stay curious, and challenge yourself, the more likely you are to find your own unique style. The more you compare yourself to others, incessantly watch Youtube videos, and idolize your heroes, the less likely you are to develop your own signature movement style.
Every now and then it’s a good idea to stop training with others, to stop the inputs and just listen to your own body.
- What moves you?
- What is everyone else not doing?
- What unique experiences do you have and stories can you tell through your body?
This is where the true art is.
Stage Five: Mastery aka The Never-Ending Pursuit
The final stage of heroic movement is not a stage at all. It moves beyond stages and into the eternal echoing of the cosmos.
Mastery is an ideal to aim for, but is not a destination. The hallmark of a master is that others call him one, but in her mind and heart she always remains and considers herself a beginner.
Of all things, this might be the secret to mastery: Total commitment to practice and an utter devotion to beginner’s mind.The master achieves perfection by accepting that it does not exist.Click To Tweet
These are just a few traits of the master:
- A lifelong devotion to practice
- Uses his gifts for the greater good
More than anything, the master dissolves the boundaries between practice and application, labor and play, training and doing. There is simply the art and expression.
This is also the point where you must learn to kill your teachers and follow your own path. The paradox is, of course, that you will still find many teachers, but you will no longer be subservient to them without question.
The real question now is this:
How do you strike a harmony between training and applying, or preparation and application?
I’ll get to that soon. 🙂
In the next post I’ll actually break down the structure of the Heroic Daily Practice. And I’ll be sharing with you a manifesto you can use to continually stay inspired.
Here’s a sneak preview…
No bullshit shortcuts or false promises – this takes work and devotion
Now, I know that all of this might feel like a lot. The reality is that it is a lot.
I could easily simplify this process and make it seem really neat and cookie-cutter. But that would be perpetuating the lie of the old paradigm of fitness culture: five minute abs and bullshit shortcuts that don’t work in the long term.
I’d rather give you the full, real, honest truth about what it takes become a truly heroic mover.
If you’re still reading this, I know you’re the type of person that wants to do the work and go all the way.
With that said, remember that this work is broken into stages for a reason. You don’t have to do this all at once, nor should you.
Start wherever you are. Take the first step.
My challenge to you: take this first step now:
- Leave a comment and share with me the type of character you want to become. Getting clear on that future positive version of yourself is the best way to create a sustainable source of motivation.
I challenge you to dream big and not hold back.
Say yes to your heroic journey. Everything you’ve done in your life has brought you to this point.
PS: Want a simple program that helps you master the fundamentals of ground flow, and paves the way for advanced skills like handstands? Check out GMB’s program Elements. I’ve used their stuff and personally vouch for it.
If you do end up purchasing it, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.