When you work on your movement or physical function, are you trying to learn how to move better, or are you just exercising and placing a healthy form of stress on the body? Maybe you are doing both at the same time, or maybe you are focused on only one of these elements. Either way, thinking in these terms is an interesting way to look at the difference between various types of physical training strategies, such as the Feldenkrais Method, “functional training”, or High Intensity Training (“HIT”). Here’s what I mean.
My definition of exercise is that you move in some way that puts the body under enough stress to provoke a compensatory adaptation, such as making a muscle bigger, or more capable of generating energy. The best exercise is simply the one that applies the right type and amount of stress to get the sort of adaptation you want without hurting yourself in the process.
Motor Learning means you move in some way that provides the brain with experiences that will teach it how to move the body with more skill, coordination or efficiency. This process is far more complex, subtle, and individual than exercise.
The purpose of this post is not to argue that one process is more important than the other. Of course each is a very valuable tool in helping you improve your physical function. My point is that understanding the differences between these two tools is a good way to decide which one is right for the job you have in mind.
Feldenkrais: all learning no exercise
The Feldenkrais Method is concerned exclusively with learning and not exercise. That is why Feldenkrais referred to his work as “lessons” and his clients as “students.” One common feature of a Feldenkrais lesson is minimizing physical stress, because stress interferes with the learning process. Imagine how hard it would be to learn to play the piano if you were hitting the keys as hard as possible and jogging in place during practice sessions. Or to use a less ridiculous example, imagine trying to learn proper squat form with a weight heavy enough to hurt you if you make a little mistake. Not an optimal learning environment. So the movements in a Feldenkrais lesson are typically done as gentle and slow and easy as possible. Other similar training methods would include Alexander Technique and some forms of tai chi.
HIT: all exercise no learning
High Intensity “HIT” style weight training takes the complete opposite of this approach, focusing exclusively on safely stressing the muscles. This is done in part by minimizing the necessity of using any skill to perform the movements. This is why HIT advocates often prefer machines to the use of free weights or other exercises that require more skill and balance to perform. For example, in a squat or lunge you must use proper form, and you risk injury or even falling over if you don’t.
Thanks to Todd Hargrove-
Ok now let’s put that to rowing!
If you develop lots of fitness but cannot use it properly to move a boat to row fast what do you want this fitness for? Really the only way you can really win races is by going fast on the water.
The reality is that the only way you can make a boat go fast is by rowing it properly and being fit. So if you don’t develop the right skill to move the boat, you won’t be able to really use your fitness to go fast on the water.
So the key is to develop the right movement that makes the boat go fast and become very specific on your training so what you do helps you to row fast.
Now compare these 2 videos and see how the rowing movements are different and understand that a good split doing your rowing poorly won’t help you to row fast.
It is very important to keep your technique on the land so you can take your real score to the water.