In a world without dance and gymnastics, who would think of doing these things? Who would look at a human being and think – I know, acrobatics! Cartwheels! Walking on our feet is too easy, we should walk on our hands!
The thing that really astounds me is what we’re capable of without even thinking about it. We move consciously, but even in all conscious movements, so much happens without consciousness, without awareness. If we were aware of every muscle, we would never get anything done. The reactions would be too slow, first we’d have to engage the rotator cuff, then the larger shoulder muscles, then the arm. All this happens automatically when we spontaneously decide to move our arms. This becomes uncomfortably apparent when you are injured and you keep accidentally hurting yourself.
And the reason we do not collapse when we walk down a staircase is not because of consciousness. It’s because of a nerve response, the stretch reflex that keeps our knees from buckling. We will ourselves not to collapse, but so much is automatic.
If you’re a short distance from a target and you throw a dart – maybe you miss the centre. Our ability to adjust! Even without training, but completely intuitively. Even if you don’t master it, you don’t nail it, you can still adjust. The tiniest of changes in so many joints and muscles, in speed, in leverage and power, the way we carry our weight and correct with our eyes – so much happens without conscious thought – only to improve the outcome. And the body works it out.
How subtle! How profound and powerful. The human computer if you like, the changes that happen automatically to improve our ability to hit the target, and the amazing strides in progress that can be made through the simple act of repetition, of practice. A fraction of a millimetre here or there, and you may hit or miss. To compensate for error, to effectively retain control of the dart even after it has left your hand.
To understand in your body the way the wind will catch a ball.
Golf! It’s one thing to throw a ball, another entirely to dictate the trajectory of a ball through the swing of a long stick and the quality, angle and power of impact. A hair-line difference in the body and mind, and the ball is on target or completely lost.
Is it just me? Or is it actually astounding? When you think about it – even without much training, without formalised training methods, the skills we have as humans to correct and compensate are astonishing. Being able to control the trajectory of an object, it’s as if we can control it after it’s left our hand, because we are so damn good at setting it up in the first place. And we know, the instant it leaves our control, whether it will score a point or not. Even those of us who can’t throw, who aren’t any good at sports – I don’t have good ball skills. Can’t catch easily. Even those of us who are bad at it are pretty damn amazing.
It comes down to such subtle, unconscious work. I don’t know how you could measure it all. But we can automatically adjust. We think too much, and coordination becomes hindered, inhibited. But if we play to our natural strengths, and practice, so much works itself out. We know whether to move faster or slower, to change our alignment or structure, and we automatically compensate for weakness and the constraints of limited strength or mobility.
Training is only the completion of the smallest of actions, repeated in such a way that they serve your development, not in such a way that they inhibit you or cause you problems. It is only the practice of a thing. It is thoroughly contrived and mundane. It is not glamorous in the least, but it is incredible.
I’ve been speaking with clients a little lately, reminding them to treat fitness and strength training as skills development. But what does that mean? Training is about getting better at a thing, it has nothing to do with whether your body is right or wrong. It means fatigue isn’t everything. It means that practicing the little things is just as important as the big things. It means that the point is not your own body, but often only a simple task, and it puts the concept of hard work or commitment in a totally different context. For development in some areas, hard work is not appropriate. You may be dedicated or consistent, but you can’t “work hard” at fluid movement patterns. Practice is a simple thing. Relaxation is valuable.
We may not be the most impressive creatures on the planet in a certain regard, but when it comes to coordination and dexterity, even the most uncoordinated of us totally kicks ass. If, like me, throwing a ball is not your strength, to dwell on this is pointless. All people have a talent for one thing or another. In the Olympics, people shoot with bows or guns, they run and wrestle and fight, they swim and jump, they throw and hit balls. No single sport is superior, but instead we are reminded of the remarkable range of physical skills a human can master.