So we are back this week looking at the concept of the Wild Gym; practising and celebrating our body’s ability to move through it’s natural surroundings.
In last weeks post we looked at just a few of the movements and naturally occurring things that we can utilise in our movement practices, from gentle balance and agility to the weight training techniques of champions and heroes of old.
This week we will look at the reasons why you might want to venture out into nature rather than stay in the comfort of the sweat infused sanctuary that is the indoor gym. But first we will cover some of the codes of practice that come with heading outside to move.
First up is staying safe. This goes for any gym experience. Get the go ahead from a health professional, learn good form from an established Personal Trainer (hello, to you), then commence with due care and diligence. Be aware that training outside in nature brings with it a whole host of new challenges, so start easy and if in doubt, leave it out.
Be aware of natural hazards in the environment, both for yourself and other users. Don’t leave yourself open to difficulties from people or animals, and always tell someone where you are going and what you are doing. Well, as much as you are willing to divulge.
Don’t be a dick. Remember this gym is for everyone not just you. Lobbing rocks around, grunting and howling like a wolf is only fun for you, not anyone else, so be respectful to others.
And be respectful to the environment you are in. Do not damage stuff, or leave it in any other way than the way you found it. If you lift a rock or a log put it back in the exact spot where you found it. If you lift one to discover a whole host of critters beneath it, then politely put it down. This piece of gym equipment is already being used.
Our wild spaces are a privilege to be part of, it’s not a given. You will have your membership card revoked for misconduct.
Now I am in no way insinuating that you should cancel your gym membership, don some sensible shoes (and maybe a kilt) and make the Wild Gym your only training venue. Although you could, and many people do.
No, the conventional gym, with it’s conventional (and unconventional) training equipment is bloody handy. Sometimes I want nothing more than to hide away in my gym space, the Shred Shed, and lift a barbell, or hang from the rings, or just roll around on the matted floor. It’s my Bat-cave, my Fortress of Solitude.
A ‘normal’ gym is great. But it is just one dimension of how we can move our bodies.
When we enter the gym the lighting is fixed, the temperature is constant, the equipment is where it always is (sometimes), the grips are all a standard diameter, the floor is level. This is great and allows us to have a level of homogeneity whereby we can tweak the individual variables within our control. This is in essence the art of linear progression. It is the ability to make small increases in weight, time, speed, etc, whilst keeping all other variables static.
This is how, with due diligence, we can create good form, and stay safe with our movement practices. This is all hugely important stuff and a step not to be skipped.
So why bother with the Wild Gym? Because life does not work on certainties. Life does not fall in with homogeneity. Life is constantly varied, endlessly undulating, and usually totally unpredictable at some point. If the last 2 years have taught us anything it’s that the only thing that is constant is change.
So predictability and regimen have their place, but I strongly believe we need to inoculate ourselves to change; to make ourselves as adaptable as we can. To become anti-fragile.
So how does the Wild Gym help us?
When you truly commit to taking your movement practices outside you have to have a change in mindset if you are going to succeed.
You will be at the mercy of the elements, and Nature doesn’t care what you have planned. The temperature will vary. You might get a bit wet. You might need a sun hat. Natural objects rarely have convenient handles and may be awkward and uncomfortable. There is no gym attendant there to wipe clean that rock or log, so you might get a bit dirty. There is rarely an optimal lifting surface. There is potentially more risks to consider.
None of this is bad, it just is. We learn to deal with each situation as we encounter it. Not a bad strategy for life in general.
When we accept that there are a whole host of things entirely out of our control we come to realise that rain is neither good nor bad, it is just wet.
Rain is neither good nor bad, it is just wet.
Contact with Nature
Countless studies have shown the positive effects of spending time in nature. From the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) to Western Ecotherapy, our understanding of the benefits to our mental health have grown exponentially. And it is now understood that this interaction, however small, has a significant impact on our physical health and healing. As Scientific American reported, ‘patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees healed, on average, a day faster, needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer postsurgical complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall.’
Add a movement practice to your time in nature and you’ve got yourself a pretty robust system there.
Some of the obvious physical benefits of the Wild Gym are:
- Vitamin D – we get this from exposure to sunlight ( as well as some foods) and it is vital for a whole host of bodily functions, including immune support and calcium absorption. Much of the population these days are deficient in it, and if you have darker skin, especially at these latitudes, the risk of deficiency is greater. Working out in nature and getting sensible sun exposure is a great way to top up your levels, and you get extra bonus points for going totally naked. See this post for more info.
- Good air flow – forget the stuffy gym, what could be more airy than outside? In our current health climate having good ventilation and air flow is a real win. Add to this the UV radiation from the sun and we may further reduce the risk of infection.
- Gut Microbiome – Hypocrates said, 2500 years ago, that all disease start in the gut. It turns out that he was on to something. Our gut health, and that of the micro-organisms that reside therein, is a vital component to our overall health both physically and mentally. This study shows the vital link between soil and our gut microbiome. So getting down and dirty in the Wild Gym may be a great supplement.
I’ll admit, this one does sound a little woo-woo, but stay with me. Grounding, or earthing, is a therapeutic technique that involves doing activities that “ground” or electrically reconnect you to the earth. The idea is that the negatively charged ions of the Earth counteract the build up of positively charged ions in the body, that may lead to inflammation.
I know, I know. It sounds like I’m peddling pure snake oil. I felt the same. Until I saw this technique being used by cyclists in the Tour de France. There is a lot of money and research pumped into this industry, as well as many performance enhancing substances, so I figured it might be worth investigating it further. Although there isn’t a huge amount of scientific studies as of yet to the efficacy of grounding, those that have been carried out seem to be pointing towards a positive outcome in terms of health. See this meta study.
So I have firmly embraced the practice of grounding in my daily life. And it’s really easy to do and totally free.
Simply find a natural surface like soil, rocks, grass etc, and expose your skin to it, be that your bare feet, your hand, or your bare naked buttocks. That’s it. The Wild Gym is one big grounding surface, whether it’s frolicking in the mud, lifting rocks, or swimming in the rivers and seas.
I mentioned previously about the importance of voluntary hardship as a means to cultivate a robust, adaptable, resilient body and mind. The Wild Gym is the perfect venue for developing this.
Everything is a little more difficult in the wild. We are faced with unstable, undulating surfaces to work with. The natural objects that we lift are awkward, uncomfortable, dirty, slippery, and every repetition is subtly different.
It’s not just a case of ‘grip and rip’, we have to think about every movement, figure out each little problem, and then stay focused throughout the the whole session. The conventional gym setting can lead many to glaze over and space out. This is far less likely to happen in the Wild Gym.
The extra challenge of the many variables taxes our minds and our bodies in new ways, causing us to adapt to the multiple stimuli. In short we get a lot of bang for our buck, becoming creative, adaptable, tough mother hubbards. Grrr!
You are Never Gymless
By being adaptable to the Wild Gym, both physically and mentally, we find ourselves with membership to a gym that never closes, that always has equipment available, and with a toilet that’s always vacant. Even on trips to the city your membership card is valid to the city franchise of the Wild Gym, the Urban Gym. The only cost of admission is a little imagination.
It Makes You Feel Like a Kid Again
Children get it. Put a child out in nature and they are instantly exploring, climbing, running jumping, rough-housing. Why? Because it’s bloody fun. Where is the memo that states that workouts always had to be gruelling and painful? It was never sent. It doesn’t exist.
When we ‘play’ we use our bodies for the sheer joy of it. Not for a PB. Not for the gainz, bro. And not for the ‘gram’. FOR FUN! Go and play.
We Access Our Wild Selves
You are wild. Yes, you. We all are. Don’t fall prey to the lies of domestication.
Inside every accountant, check-out staff, or software designer, there is wild human poised, ready to pounce.
You feel it when you look at the distant mountains. You feel as you taste the salt of the waves crashing against the rocks. You feel it in the electrical excitement you experience in a thunder storm.
It’s in there. It always has been. That pulse you feel is 3 million years worth of evolution culminating in you. You are a beautiful specimen, perfectly adapted to deal with any environment. Yeah, I’m still talking to you.
You’re not meant to be caged in a pen of chrome and rubber, endlessly running on a hamster wheel.
They can’t cage you.
Your true nature IS nature.
So head out there and unleash the beast. Go get it tiger.