Locomotion: Purpose in Movement

Recap of episode one from the six-part Locomotion series, a show exploring the roots of athleticism

Broken Bodies Designed by Broken Systems

As adults, we can define those childhood moments that contribute to who we are today. For me, it was looking up at the Swiss Alps and being inspired by those huge, snow covered peaks. This was the catalyst for my lifelong interest in training and how to move the needle on my body’s performance. 

Now, I’m a coach to a diverse group of some of the world’s best athletes – individuals from all walks of life. What’s interesting is that despite this diversity, these athletes often share the same problems.

Today, so many of our bodies are broken. Science is constantly trying to catch up with all of the new diagnoses, from plantar fasciitis to low back pain. Our response as a society is to create bandaids – like pills to help us sleep better and vibrating gadgets that help our muscles recover. 

In reality, we’re experiencing a dramatic shift away from nature. Not just from nature outside but from a connection to our own physiology and an understanding of how our bodies evolved into the shape they are in today.  

Photo: Mark Fisher

When we think about modern training, we’re usually thinking about preparing for a specific sporting event. But at Samsara, we’re thinking about the word training as being how we reclaim our natural athletic abilities – the ones that we’re born with and our ancestors spent millions of years developing.

The meaning of the word locomotion is “the accumulation of patterns of movement that humans use to cover natural ground. All of those patterns are woven into our DNA and training is the process of reclaiming those patterns.

As modern day humans, it’s easy to feel separated from the rest of the natural world but in reality, we’re still biological organisms. We develop skills that help us adapt to the environment we live in. Some of these adaptations are quite remarkable and tell us a lot about our natural abilities. 

Humans have accomplished incredible feats, including sub-two hour marathons, the capability to run 100 miles without food, and sprint 100 meters in under 10 seconds. These abilities are rooted in our evolutionary story and serve as the foundation for all sport. 

Photo: Fred Marmsater

The Solution in Our Evolution

Our journey began millions of years ago when we became bipedal. The ability to walk around on two feet led to the expansion of our roaming range and desire to explore the world around us. But perhaps the central feature of our evolutionary story is when we became runners. 

Evolving into runners drove all of the changes in our body – from the length of our Achilles tendon to the size of our pelvis – and the quest to run was connected to hunting. Because we would never be the most powerful or fastest hunters, we evolved to become the most efficient, able to chase our prey for long periods of time. 

It’s easy to see how our bodies are adapting to life today the same way they did for hunting early on in our evolution. Where before our spines adapted to being upright to walk and run, now they’re adapting to desk chairs and couches. Where once our bare feet used to cover miles of natural terrain, now they’re being programmed to be cushioned by modern shoes.

This acceleration of modern adaptations is creating a lot of dysfunction, from knee valgus, to ADHD, to low back pain. And this dysfunction is a product of our very rapid dissociation with nature. 

But it’s not all gloomy news. As much as modern life is causing us a lot of pain and dysfunction, we also see how athletically there’s so much of who we have evolved to be that’s showing up today.

The most popular sports in America involve running and throwing, two evolutionary traits we developed as hunters. As mountain athletes in particular, we’re connecting to something extremely ancestral – the urge to roam, to cover ground. 

Photo: Fred Marmsater

We can derive from this evidence that every human being is an athlete – not because you play for a certain team, or you went to a certain college – no, we’re athletes because we’re human beings.

As we transition to talking specifically about training, many questions arise about the type of training that’s best. You may be wondering, should I do yoga? Should I do crossfit? What about HIIT training? What about Olympic lifting? 

The goal of Samsara is creating a framework for thinking about how our bodies operate so that you can answer these questions for yourself. We want you to consider what forms of training support the innate patterns of human locomotion. 

This is important because when our training methods align themselves with the multi-million year journey that our bodies have taken to get to where we are now, what happens is quite magical. What we find is that we resolve our pain when we align ourselves with our inherent movement patterns. We transform our performance – not just at a particular sport, but at the root of all sport – by improving our athleticism.

If this resonates with you, stay tuned. Next week in Episode 2, we’re going to look at some of the myths that are reshaping the way we think about our bodies and therefore the way we train. Chief among them is this myth of “wear and tear” – the idea that the more we use our bodies, the more we wear them down.

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