While nowhere in the definition of fitness does it say “shredded” or “ripped,” culturally that’s how many define it. A quick glance at the fitness media landscape seems to validate the claim that fitness is by and large a quality of looking the part. To be sure, the fitness business is more than happy to oblige the aesthetic desires of consumers promising to pave the way in melting fat, toning muscles and delivering the six-pack that many covet. But behind the fitness fads, fancy gimmicks, and glossy before and after photos, fitness in the long run isn’t really about how you look — it’s about how you feel. To that end, fitness is also about how well you perform and how well you move.
Indeed, moving well has a lot of benefits, and ironically one of them is that doing so will likely help you get the physique you desire. Take one look at the athletes and artists who move with grace and effortless ease (dancers, surfers, martial artists, rock climbers, etc.), and more often than not, these individuals are toned. That said, whether a functional body leads to a defined body or it’s the other way around isn’t the point. Regardless of why or how you work out, moving well should be near the top of your list.
Here are a few reasons why you should train to move well.
You’ll live longer.
A Brazilian study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology had thousands of participants sit down and stand back up from a sitting position on the ground. Those who stood up unassisted and with relative ease scored well, while those who required assistance did not. The findings were startling. Those who scored poorly had twice the chance of dying within the next six years when compared to those who scored well. The take-away? How well you move directly correlates to how long you will live.
You’ll live better (build resiliency).
In the United States, the typical health-care model or bell curve of life longevity tends to be shaped more like a downward staircase. That is, the body deteriorates as we suffer health setbacks, and at each step down the staircase, our quality of life deteriorates, as well. Most would agree it would be much better to live a robust and healthy life full of graceful physical expression and then not wake up one day when we are 100 years old. Resiliency is about riding that wave to stay on top of the curve and living a healthy life until the wave crashes with a sharp drop off at the end. When you train your body to move well — in an unpredictable, fluid and dynamic way — you prepare yourself to ride the wave for as long as possible.
You’ll stay motivated.
Part of the inherent problem in defining fitness by aesthetics is the lack of long-term sustainable motivation. Aging simply isn’t a good companion for the “bigger, faster, stronger” mantra our fitness culture is largely predicated on. On the flip side, you can be a more proficient dancer with the passing years, and you can be a better martial artist with longevity and practice on your craft. Ultimately, getting better at something provides lasting motivation.
So how should you go about moving well?
Hire a performance coach and/or take a mobility class.
Taking a mobility-focused performance session is a far cry from your standard fitness class. Instead of burpees, push-ups and biceps curls, the focus is on agility, multidirectional movement and acceleration. Each movement is broken down piece by piece until it’s perfected. There are many benefits to such training — improved performance, reduced injury and greater efficiency in movement, to name a few.
Train in mixed martial arts (MMA).
MMA is actually a combination of four sports (wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing). A few years ago, ESPN ranked the most difficult sports based on a matrix of data from speed to agility to hand-eye coordination. Three of the top six were boxing (No. 1), wrestling (No. 5) and martial arts (No. 6). While MMA is particularly challenging and dynamic, cage fighting and the rigorous training of MMA is certainly not for everyone. That said, martial arts of any sort will help you move better. Lastly, proficiency as a martial artist is also about learning to breathe correctly, which also correlates to moving more efficiently.
Get up and dance!
An interesting study in the Journal of Neurophysiology concluded that professional ballet dancers enable their nervous system to coordinate their muscles. The study also suggests that dancers have improved balance compared to those who are untrained. The report suggested that years of training actually changed how the nervous system coordinated muscles for walking and balancing motions. In a nutshell, dancing will help you move better. If dancing is not your thing, try gymnastics, yoga or, again, martial arts.
Train with high-speed resistance training (HSRT).
A study published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging concluded that HSRT in elderly women resulted in clear improvements in balance, strength, power, functional movements and perceptual well-being. The take-away is you don’t have to be a Mikhail Baryshnikov or Jet Li to move well. Training with traditional exercise such as medicine-ball throws, dynamic weight training and countermovement jumps will help you be a better mover, as well.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a desire to look your best, but if health truly is your most valuable possession, how you move is more important than how you look. Moving well not only helps you stay healthy, get fit and potentially live longer, but you also typically look pretty darn fit!