Training to be Batman – The Generalist’s Guide to Movement

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The similarities between Bruce Wayne and myself are undeniable.

Bruce Wayne is the multimillionaire playboy orphan, and caped vigilante who, after witnessing the brutal murder of both of his parents, vowed to take on the criminal underworld as the Caped Crusader, Batman.

I, on the other hand, grew up in an ex-council house, currently have £1.37 in my pocket, and my parents are both fine and dandy. My crime fighting usually consists of passive aggressive, slightly cockney-sounding, comments to people dropping litter, like some kind of lovechild of Ray Winston and David Attenborough.

As far as Batman goes, I’d like to think that I was in the realms of Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, or even that fella from Harry Potter, Cedric Diggory, but sadly, on reviewing the footage, I think I am a mid-point between Michael Keaton and Adam West.

Adam West – THE Batman

“So, what are the similarities?” I hear you ask.

Well, we both love us some black lycra, and both have a penchant for a utility belt, or bumbag as in my case.

But, the similarities don’t stop there.

To be a superhero crime fighter, and one that has NO superpowers, Batman has to rely on his own physical prowess in order to get the job done.

And, in order to have the ability to deal with all eventualities, Batman has to be a generalist.

Batman is a Jack of all trades.

This phrase has come to be used as a bit of an insult, but that is because people have forgotten the full phrase.

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.

The more skills he attains, the better he is able to deal with whatever Gotham’s shady underbelly throws at him.

As Robert Heinlein explains:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Throughout humanity’s history, it’s been our ability to adapt that has allowed us to spread to all corners of the planet. We are, or were, the swiss army knife of the animal kingdom.

Our ancestors had to be generalist, they had to have skills in all aspects of life.

But as the industrial revolution took hold, a new strategy emerged; that of the specialist.

Now, don’t get me wrong, when my car breaks down, I take it to the mechanic, not the baker who dabbles with engines. Specialists of course come in very handy. Laser eye surgery by my local butcher is not high on my agenda.

But, the point is that we risk becoming a culture of people that can do anything except that one thing.

I could save so much money with a small amount of mechanical knowledge about my car rather than calling in the expert at the first sign of a squeak.

Whether it’s Batman, Lara Croft, or Jason Bourne, the common feature of our heroes is that they have lots of skills and abilities.

And this becomes even more important when it comes to health.

Mimicking your favourite hero can be a great way for developing yourself in many aspects of your life (see this post), but it might just improve your health and longevity too.

WARNING: Leaping from rooftops and fighting criminals may NOT lead to a healthier and longer life.

We have discussed the importance of variety a number of times, in both food and movement.

The human body is a wonderous piece of natural engineering, but it cannot compete with other animals at any one thing.

There are better swimmers, better climbers, faster runners. Other animals have fangs, horns, claws, or venom.

We have soft bodies, fragile heads, and relatively weak limbs.

But, we are the jack of all trades. We can do it all, and we can switch between them in a second.

We owe it to ourselves to celebrate the biomechanical genius that is our bodies.

When I’m planning a movement/exercise session, I ask myself two questions.

  1. What would my ancestors do?
  2. What would Batman do?

By thinking this way, I can incorporate a huge amount of movement diversity into my sessions. I can use a variety of modalities and tools to craft a well-rounded, generalist body.

Sport is great, and if there a sport you love then go for it. The issue comes when we start to specialise in that one thing, and only that one thing.

Very few of us are likely to be in the running for a world class podium finish, yet so many us train as if we were.

Take cyclists. Weight is a premium.

Cyclists need powerful legs, but rely very little on powerful arms. There is little benefit to having massive biceps, in fact it’s likely to hinder them.

But when it comes to climbing a high wall to evade a gang of thugs, or saving a damsel in distress clinging to a ledge, having a little more muscle might be appreciated.

Or the muscle-bound gym Bro; strong, muscular, imposing. The very image of a Greek hero. But, get him to run up 4 flights of stairs and he’s left gasping for breath. Because “cardio ruins your gainz, bro!”

If you want to get good at a specific sport or skill, then of course, do that specific sport or skill. But if general health, and general badass-ness is your priority, then mix it up.

In fact, several studies indicate that specialization in young training athletes can lead to increased risk of injury, and a higher likelihood of quitting.

For myself, I want to be able to:

  • run satisfactorily at a variety of distances
  • swim well
  • lift heavy
  • manipulate my body over a variety of environments
  • jump
  • climb
  • balance
  • carry loads over distance
  • fight
  • walk for miles
  • shoot grappling hooks
  • throw Batarangs

And so, I try to fit this into my movement schedule.

I love to run, trails and mountains in particular. And when I’m out, I’ll incorporate some of the other skills into my run.

I’ll climb trees. Try to get over branches. Leap rocks and other obstacles. Lift, carry, and throw rocks. Crawl under obstacles. Roll on the ground. Basically, if you see a kid doing it when they play, I’ll be doing it on a run.

Even on urban runs, there are walls to climb, railings to balance on, scaffolding to swing from. The world is our literal playground.

I swim once or twice a week, either in the pool or out for a wild swim.

I lift three time a week, utilising a number of different modalities and tools, like bodyweight calisthenics, barbells, kettlebells, and unconventional tools.

I use balance beams and slacklines as part of my daily mobility work, and for general shits and giggles.

To get some extra volume, and to build some mental toughness, I have a preloaded backpack for weighted rucking that goes on when I walk the hound.

And everyone should learn to fight. It builds confidence, is an amazing workout, and adds a layer of personal protection not found anywhere else. Where else can a socially awkward grown man go and embrace another socially awkward grown man for extended periods? The benefits are huge.

I’m not currently training in any combat system, but I am keeping up with my striking on the heavy bag.

My week of training is incredibly varied and it covers most bases.

The downside to this is that I won’t be great at anything in particular, and my progression in each aspect will be slower than if I focused on one thing.

I’m okay with this. I am training to be a better human, not a runner, or a weight lifter, or any other specific title.

My plan is to be the Batman of my own story. Strong enough, fast enough, agile enough, tough enough.

With a typical linear progression programme, focusing on just one aspect, it is easy to gauge our improvements.

It is harder for me to do this, because my routine is so varied. So, in order to know that I am moving in the right direction, I have a number of benchmark workouts that test me in all the different aspects of my health journey.

These include:

  • Mobility assessments
  • 5km run times
  • 1600m swim times
  • Max pull ups
  • Dead hang times
  • Deadlift/squat
  • Numerous conditioning benchmark workouts

For each of these tests, I have a minimum standard. As long as I’m above the minimum standards, I’m happy.

If I drop below that minimum, then it shows that I have some areas to focus on.

I don’t share my actual tests or minimum standards, because they are only relevant to me. With social media, there has been this need to compare ourselves to others; to try and mimic the exact same standards as others.

You are you. Explore your own boundaries and limits, and determine what is relevant for you.

The video below gives a pretty good array of tests that one could do to gauge where they are at.

Remember, it’s fine to not meet the minimum standard, as it gives you something to aim for. Improvement is the name of the game.

If you are a total beginner to training and working out, approach this varied way of training with a little caution.

There is definitely a strong case for focusing on one thing at a time when you start. Strong foundations lead to strong growth. Get the fundamentals down first. Focus on good lifting technique first. Get your running form on point from the start.

That said, it is entirely possible, even advantageous, to add some extra variety into your movement practice.

Concurrent Training, combining both resistance training and cardio-vascular training into your programme, will allow you to hit much of the health requirements of a healthy human being, whilst still being able to follow a periodized, linear progression.

Add in some mobility, agility and balance work, some free play, and plenty of recovery, and you’ll be doing well.

My best way of training is when I am competing in an obstacle course race (OCR). OCR is the only sport that I have ever had any talent for. It’s perfect for my body-type and mindset, and I’d say pretty good training for most humans.

In OCR you run (lots), you climb, you hang, you crawl, you jump, you balance, you carry, you throw, you drag. You do it all. It’s gruelling, painful and extremely fun.

Sadly for me, there aren’t too many competitive OCR races in Ireland, so it’s not something I get to do that often.

I am currently getting my fix of multi-disciplinary movement from CrossFit.

CrossFit sometimes gets a bad rep for injury. This is mainly due to the competitive nature of the sport, where quantity is often the goal, and form can take a back seat.

It’s also pretty intense, and for someone going 5-6 times a week, it can lead to burnout.

But, much of the issues comes from the ego, not the methodology. And my CrossFit box (gym), CrossFit Balor, are on the ball with form and attentive throughout.

I go a couple of times a week as part of my strength and conditioning aspect of my training, and it’s great. I lift heavy, sweat my balls off, do handstands, climb ropes, and jump over stuff. It’s basically like P.E. at school in the 80s.

source: Brian Smith –

With this approach to training I’m highly unlikely to progress beyond the middle of the pack for any one endeavour. But, I am now running with multiple packs, which is pretty cool.

I feel like I am far more able to deal with the little surprises that life throws at me. I may not be up to the standards of the Dark Knight, but every day I’m getting closer.

Why not join us in our FREE 14 Day Health Reboot online programme starting on Monday 30th January? Just fill out the form below to stay up to date.

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