How to set your body free each and every day to make movement even more of an option.
I am very particular about the clothes I wear.
Anybody who knows me is laughing right now. I’m not talking stylistically, although I am immensely stylish, the world just hasn’t caught up with my sense of vogue yet. No, I’m talking about my ability to move freely and unhindered by my clothing.
I remember the day, it was the mid 80s and I was flicking through the latest copy of Martial Arts Illustrated magazine, when LO! – bursting from the page comes Chuck Norris kicking a man in the head. WHILST. WEARING. JEANS!
The image blew my mind. There was no way I could do that in my stonewashed drainpipes.
From that day onward, I vowed to never wear a pair of trousers that meant I couldn’t kick another human being in the face.
Three and a half decades later and I have held true to that vow.
And it’s not all about the Norris-esque violence. If we can’t move to our full capability in the clothes we wear then, put simply, we won’t. Repeated restriction of movement means we lose that ability over time. Sitting in a chair all the time, never lowering to a full squat position will render you unable. Think about how long it takes us regain a full range of motion after being in a plaster cast for 6 weeks.
Restrictive clothing gives us the false sense of movement freedom. True, we are not stuck in one single, fixed position and we can still move, but we are not moving to our full end-range of movements.
It’s a real case of use it or lose it. When we only move to a limited mid-range, these movements become our new full range of movement.
Look at young kids. Touching their toes is not an issue. Now you try. Congratulations if you can bend over with ease. There will, however, be many of you, puffing mid-way as your fingers hopelessly stretch in the general direction of your toes a good way off from actually touching them. Yes, children are young and naturally supple, but the main reason they can do this is because they are going into these positions all the time, thereby keeping that movement pattern well oiled. They have also not yet restricted themselves to habitual static positions and range restrictions.
And then they go to school.
“Stop fidgeting, Timmy!” and “Sit still, Alexander!”
The pattern repeats.
I won’t wear a shirt or jacket that I can’t hang in, with both arms directly above my shoulders. Trousers must allow me to drop into a deep squat, and yes, kick you in the head if necessary.
This is why I really dislike formal school uniforms. Kids just can’t move the way they are designed to. It’s a huge disservice.
I see my own kids having to wear shirts, ties and blazers, with nylon slacks or kilted skirts for the girls (who thankfully are now allowed to wear trousers after applying a little pressure).
Compare this to wearing a comfortable pair of stretchy trousers and a sweatshirt. Kids of any gender should be able to move as nature intended, as opposed to the restricted movement and discomfort of an outdated costume. And those who wear skirts normally are now able move, leap and spin without the fear of exposing themselves. If there are any headteachers or schools governors reading then I implore you to think outside of the box. Give children their freedom of movement back and I guarantee they will perform better academically too. There is a tonne of scientific research to prove this point.
Stretch fabric (you can now get environmentally friendly varieties), the gusseted crotch (I love saying this for some reason), specific tailored cuts, and even floaty kaftans are all available to help you move more freely. And they are just so much more comfortable.
When I first saw the label that says “made with stretch”. I chuckled to myself believing that these were just for ‘old people’, like the stretchy blue slacks my Nan wore to her keep-fit class, or at the very least, belonging to the realm of the middle-aged, glasses on a cord brigade.
I am now middle-aged and am thankful for the day that I decided to try a pair of jeans (with stretch) on. I think I actually laughed out loud with sheer delight as I Cossack danced my way out of the fitting room and cartwheeled all the way to the checkout. The birth of my children and the discovery of stretchy jeans are constantly vying for the number one spot of life changing events.
And that spectacle chain isn’t looking so bad either now.
When we think of movement restriction we tend to visualise the part of the body responsible for big movements. But that’s not the whole picture.
You see, all the little stabilising muscles of the body are reacting to the natural loads that being a human moving through the landscape brings.
Our feet are a perfect example. If you were barefoot all the time you’d have lovely strong, supple and reactive feet. But because we wear shoes, often hard, narrow restrictive ones, we lose those healthy characteristics.
Why? Well in part because the shoes are doing the job of taking the natural loads on the foot instead of the musculature. Remember, use it or lose it.
So when you decide to give this ‘new’, trendy barefoot thing a go you end up near crippling yourself in the process and trying to sue the minimalist footwear industry all because your feet have forgotten what to do and you’ve not eased them into it. See this post on barefoot shoes.
It’s the same for your testicles. If you have them.
When we testicle owners are able to go au naturel, ‘the boys’ are able to react as nature intended, rising up and down to regulate for temperature fluctuation, building up a natural supportive musculature to cope with the jiggling about of daily life.
Tight pants usurp the role of these muscles, restricting the natural range of movement of said cobblers, and leaving them weak and potentially hanging down to your knees by the time you’ve reached the age and inclination to finally give that nudist beach a go.
Now I’m not a kind of radical ‘burn your briefs’ sort of bloke, I just think a little mindfulness can go a long way when it comes to encasing the family jewels. For anyone who cares, my underwear of choice are the Under Armour Tech BoxerJock. Close fitting around the legs to reduce chaffing when I run but nice and loose around the delicates.
The same theory applies to those with breasts too. By only ever having them trussed up we, in this case not so much me, decondition the natural muscles designed for stabilisation.
For more info on bras and boobs, from someone with more credentials, both academically and otherwise, check out the excellent and inspirational Katy Bowman below.
And as with all movement practices, we start light and progress at a nice steady pace. Just as going into a gym for the first time and deadlifting 300kg is a bad idea, so would bouncing on a trampoline with all your dangly bits released. As with barefoot and minimalist shoes we need to transition slowly.
So next time you are buying new togs, drop and squat, lift both arms up as if hanging, and try and kick the head off that mannequin. Don’t just listen to me, listen to Chuck Norris.
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