This Monday I was recording a new podcast episode with Clifton Harski.
Cliff is an interesting character. He first gained prominence in the industry with MovNat, but has moved on to work for Animal Flow, Kettlebell athletics, Fitwall and most recently the Pain Free Performance Academy. Cliff has taught over a thousand workshops and run multiple fitness businesses.
In laying out his perspective he described MovNat as Romantic and Group Fitness classes as practical. I found this an interesting way to describe those two modalities and asked Cliff to expand on it. It reminded me of a similar difference that I remember Frank Forenich had written about.
Frank wrote about the difference between the romantic and classical approach to training. IIRC Frank’s distinction was around the differences between intuitive & qualitative vs quantitative approaches to training, and inner vs outwardly measurable transformations.
Cliff’s distinction was slightly different, it seemed to root around the differences between an approach to training that was focused around a big idea, vs something that was optimized to make it really easy for most people to adopt.
EMP might be the most romantic brand out there from that perspective.
The conversation was great and I think you will all enjoy it, but it got me thinking about how I am balancing the romantic and practical/classical in my own training.
This basic question has been something I have been working on balancing in our teaching approach as well as in my own training for many years. In fact it was the crux of the first episode of our podcast ever with Kelly Starret.
The evidence of the human past and the ethnographic record shows we do not need classical approaches to achieve great movement capacity, but there is clearly utility to some level of quantification and the leveraging of more modern tools and conceptualizations. Most of the best athletes in the world are leveraging these tools heavily.
This has all been particularly interesting to me over the last six months because while my aspirations are deeply romantic I have needed to leverage very classical and practical tools to sustain myself and then to progress.
My goals are the pursuit of meaning in life through better integration of self, deeper connection to nature, to other people and to the spiritual.
What that has looked like over the last six months though has been tracking calories, my steps, my heart rate variability and resting heart rate via a smart watch. Training in two gyms regularly and tracking all my training via spreadsheets.
I also have a spreadsheet where I track the symptoms of the chronic inflammatory response syndrome I have been working to overcome.
I have spent hours on a treadmill and using the strength training tools at Training Grounds here in Bellingham. From November to February all my skill training was indoors at Lifeforce Ninja.
Now, because of all that work, I am back out training 2 days a week minimum in nature. Yesterday was a tree running day, Saturday was a creek running day, including a climb through the waterfall tunnel which was exceptionally intense in the cold water.
It feels amazing to be back at it. The amount of flow, joy and connection I feel in my training is so different, but I could not be performing at this level without the work I put in, in the gym.
I have built my practice for years around play and nature. But when my health was at its lowest ebb I was completely without a drive to play and I could not practice the core skills of my practice outside without pain and fatigue issues.
On my worst days this fall even walking a mile would leave me shaky and fatigued. On the better days though I discovered that while the joy of play was leagues away there was a reward to simply putting in physical effort and being able to see progress.
I have renewed respect for the tools of conventional fitness, even an elliptical machine can be godsend when you need exercise coming off of a sprained ankle.
Tracking my training has helped me make exceptional progress for an athlete my age and coming back from significant health challenges.
The clear and regular feedback helped me understand what was happening with my health and performance and helped me notice and take heart in the small changes as they began to accumulate.
At a certain point though I have begun to ask whether I am entraining my mind to be excessively motivated by measurable progress.
That might sound strange, but my sense is that being able to put a green mark in my log book activates a productivity focused reward system. This is very effective in helping me make measurable progress in physical skills over time but I think it might actually compete to some degree with motivational systems around play and connection. It’s easy to simply work on the stuff I have on my goal sheet some days and fail to engage with my training partners and their creativity.
I may be approaching a time where I will need to dive more fully into a purely romantic training mode. If so I will enjoy that, but I will remember practical methods are helpful when needed, and that having strong systems to track and support progress is a great thing even if it means daily time spent on spreadsheets.
Of course in many ways our online courses are a way of providing this clear structure aimed at romantic aspiration, and I am looking forward to a future where we can turn some of the systems I have developed recently into an app to support our students.
The goal of EMP is not simply to go back to the old ways but rather to transcend the limitations of our modernist mindset while including the useful tools we will need going forward.