LIVING IN MOTION
WORDS BY TUCKER HOWE
While doing research on the body’s natural movement, I typed into Google “origins of gymnastics,” hoping to gain a spark of thought that would lead me into finding the natural flow of my body and how I could apply it to my own training.
Straight from Encyclopedia Britannica: “the term gymnastics, derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to exercise naked,’ applied in ancient Greece to all exercises practiced in the gymnasium, the place where male athletes did indeed exercise unclothed.”
Which…I love, of course. Brings me right back to the high anxiety days of changing in my high school’s locker room after cross country practice (the wrestlers changed at the same time, just FYI). Let’s just say I would never have survived an ancient Greek gymnastics class. Anyway…if you’re giggling right now and/or picturing ancient Greek men doing jumping jacks nude, join the club. After smiling to myself and having the same thought for a number of minutes, I began to really think about exercising naked. No, not in the nude per se, (but do what you want). Though instead, stripping away all the equipment, gyms, dumbbells, and other stuff we are told we need to build our bodies. Let’s go back to exercising naked! The original nature of gymnastics and calisthenics was the sole use of your own bodyweight to provide resistance for training. Think push-ups, squat jumps, dips, etc. Basically, calisthenics allows you to get out and move anytime, anywhere.
For those, like me, that started out in a gym trying to be like every other muscly-hopeful gay, going back to the basics was a challenge. You learn about your body so much more when you are forced to use all of it to perform one rep of, let’s say, a push-up: toes on the floor, legs zipped up, hips rolled forward just a bit to prevent your back from arching, tight core, strong shoulders over your wrists (not shrugged up to your ears), palms planted flat, etc etc. I only have to use about half of that description when talking about the perfect bench press. My point being, going “back to basics” with your exercises forces you to learn about your body in a way you may not have yet, to engage muscles you may not have used before and become mentally present with your physical state and how it is operating as a whole. For me, this has been a pretty cool realization and has completely changed the way I train my body.
“Let’s get back to exercising naked and becoming masters of our own self, both in your muscles and your brain.”
Going further down the nude Greek rabbit hole Googling led me to (no, not that – get your mind back here) the Greek phrase Kalos kagathos, essentially meaning the “ideal gentleman.” It’s a rough description, but Prussian classicist Werner Jaeger speaks of it as “the chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action”. I’m just going to glide right over the battle and song part and focus on the “harmonious in mind and body.” Now you have a test: grab a friend and go to a park and complete a calisthenics workout and compare how you feel after this to how you feel after you have completed a similar workout at your normal gym. I can guarantee that being outside, moving intentionally through a bodyweight workout feels 10 times better.
So, how do you do this!? There is no need to cancel your membership and only workout outside, but start incorporating more bodyweight movements into your training. Why do a squat with a heavy barbell if you haven’t mastered a perfect bodyweight squat for 100 reps? I begin most workouts with 3 minutes straight of push-ups – some days I have to rest and some days I can go straight through. Flowing through basic movements like this will allow you to start feeling your body and noticing when you get stronger and the areas you can improve in.
Let’s get back to exercising naked and becoming masters of our own self, both in your muscles and your brain. Enjoy your next Google search. 😉