A Year of Moving Better

This is a guest post from Kimberly Culbertson, who just celebrated her one year moving better anniversary with The Art of Fitness!! 

Just a little red in the face after our moving better workout this morning!
Just a little red in the face after our workout this morning!

Today marks a full year of movement therapy with Jesse! I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I began the journey, but I’m glad I did 🙂

I wasn’t exactly in the market for a new movement paradigm, but I overheard Jesse talking with a colleague at Orange Coworking, and I was curious enough to brave a conversation with a scary personal trainer. (Okay it turns out he’s not really scary at all. Quirky, maybe.)

The truth is that I’m not “the athletic type,” although, as I type that, I can almost hear Jesse sternly begin a little speech about how every human is meant for movement. After surviving middle school gym class, I had mostly kept my distance from fit people, and to a certain degree, from movement in general. I’ve been gifted in more intellectual pursuits, and movement in the physical world has always been a secondary activity, a necessary evil.

My whole life is marked by seasons of dieting and various spurts of exercise, but it wasn’t until my late 20’s that I started to see fitness and strength as markers of self-care and even self-love. Despite genuine effort though, I consistently began some workout program, injured myself within a couple of months, and then had long seasons of pain and recovery. I had bad knees, a reverse curve in my neck, foot pain, messed up shoulders, and a long line of people ready to tell me that losing weight was the only real solution. But losing weight requires exercise and exercise causes injury, so pursuing weight loss turned me into a depressed, she’s-a-little-bit-crazy person. And that person was in pain.

To make matters worse, about two years ago I injured my shoulder. It was some kind of swollen, tight, pinched nerve mess in my right shoulder blade, and it didn’t go away after a couple of weeks. The pain was severe and made it nearly impossible to lift my arms while seated. I know that’s very specific, but this was a big problem for driving and typing (and since I was working as a freelance writer, typing was pretty important). With pain meds and chiropractic and electro stim therapy andrest and ice, the pain lessened to about a 4 on a ten-point scale, a big improvement from the original 9-intensity, but still noticeable, chronic pain. After a year, I figured this pain was probably mine to keep.

Enter Jesse, The “Movement Therapy” Coach.

Jesse is actually part monkey. He gives occasional speeches about why you too should be able to climb a tree :)
Jesse is actually part monkey. He gives occasional speeches about why you too should be able to climb a tree 🙂

When I sat down with Jesse, my defenses were high. I had a speech ready, and it went something like this: “Look, I know I’m not thin, but I’m not trying to lose weight right now because I like my sanity. I don’t hate who I am, and I’m not trying to earn my right to exist by changing my shape. I do have a 4-year-old, though, and I want to be just as active as he wants to be. And I want to feel healthy. In the past, I’ve genuinely enjoyed working out, but I have an injury that causes me chronic pain, and at this point I’m a little bit afraid to move.”  

I didn’t know it yet, but Jesse’s movement therapy approach was exactly what I needed. His philosophy is that fitness should help a person increase function and enjoy movement, and that any external changes are a side effect. Extra pounds don’t disqualify someone from movement in his book, and really shouldn’t be the focus. This was a relief, since my first experience with a personal trainer was a free session with “Tank” (no, really) during which he told me to ride the seated bike until I lost 25 lbs, at which time he might consider working with me more. Jesse, on the other hand, rails against a fitness industry that is primarily “designed to get you laid as quick as possible” and that often results in injury.

Jesse looks at how you’re moving and assesses where your body has “lost” movement. For me, he immediately focused into how little mobility I had in my lower back, and hypothesized that my neck and shoulder pain were related to this lack of mobility. I was skeptical. But I had been focusing on my shoulder for a year with minimal results, so I decided to play along anyway and see where this went.

At first the movements seemed silly to me, and I told him a couple of times, “This does not really seem like a workout.” He explained, and then explained again, that we are starting with movement restoration, and once we get there, we’ll add in skill and conditioning. In spite of my impatience, I did the silly things, and in about a month I realized I HAD NO PAIN IN MY SHOULDER. What was even happening?! Beyond that, my balance had improved, I had less neck pain, and, oh, turns out I actually could do squats! I was sold on this “movement therapy” stuff.

One Year Later

Jesse and I have been working together for a year now. Today is our training-iversary. It sounds a bit melodramatic to say that Jesse has changed my life, but it’s true anyway.

I’m not thinner, exactly, but my body’s shape has changed. Not only have I NOT injured myself in the process, but I have far less pain, and tools to address any pain that I encounter. I do squats like a boss. I climb things on playgrounds with my 5-year-old. I know how to move after I’ve been typing for a while, and since I actually do the movements(!), I don’t get headaches and lose neck mobility during high-stress times. I cannot even believe how strong my legs are. I don’t look at stairs with dread, because stairs are no big deal now. I can do an hour of heated yoga and not die. This is what it is like to feel strong.

But the way that working with Jesse has bled into my life outside the gym is perhaps even more interesting. At this time last year, there were so many things (in working out and in all aspects of life) that I assumed I could not do, and wouldn’t even try. My inner critic was loudest in the gym, but she was seldom quiet anywhere. My fear of failure kept me on the sidelines more than I’d like to admit. Jesse and I have had sessions where the coaching has centered more around my mindset than my muscles, and I am a braver person for it. Over the course of this year, it has become very clear to me that I actually can do a lot of “scary” things, even when I am sure I can’t. Not everything comes easily, but it’s a process, and it turns out that’s actually fine. Normal, even. Just when I am certain that Jesse will give up on me and that I am clearly a giant disappointment, he pulls out his seldom-utilized stern voice and lectures me about self-care, and listening to my body, and being patient with myself.

So I’m a work-in-progress. And I’m actually really enjoying the progress, for once. I’m focusing on becoming strong to be helpful. And to be playful. Because I want my kiddo to remember me in the fray with him and not on the sidelines. He deserves that. And you know what? So do I.

KimberlyHeadshot_9.9.15Kimberly Culbertson is a Team Dynamics and Leadership Coach and Speaker, and she co-hosts the Creation Curve Leadership podcast. She is a recovering approval addict, a paint brush loving workaholic, and a walking billboard for hope in all its many manifestations. She is not afraid to admit that latte art lifts her spirits, and she gets a little melancholy when she doesn’t make it into a coffee shop for a few days.

Check In For Healthy Pain-Free Movement

Whatever workout you have planned for today, take a moment to ask these simple questions along the way:

  • Is this movement appropriate for me?
  • Is it painful?
  • Does this feel safe?

No Pain, No Gain?

As you consider these questions, keep it simple. Pain is always a yes or no question. We tend to qualify and discount pain with “it hurts a little, but once I run through it a bit, it starts to feel better” ; “it doesn’t hurt that bad.” ; or my personal favorite “No pain, no gain.” It is a dangerous game to “push through pain.” The mantra of “No pain, no gain” is often what many people say right before they injure themselves. I prefer the mantra of “No pain, no pain!” or “No pain, all gain!”
check-in for healthy pain-free movement

Pain is the best coach you will ever have… if you listen.

Ask yourself these questions, really listen to your body, and honor the answer. If you’re feeling pain, tune in and listen to why.

  • Is your body asking you to stop?
  • Is your body telling you that this movement isn’t appropriate right now?

Be present with what you are experiencing in this moment. If your body is telling you to stop, then stop, and find a non-painful movement or exercise that feels safe. Painful movement is not healthy movement.

Not sure how to listen well? An experienced Movement Therapist, MovNat Certified Natural Movement Coach, personal trainer, or fitness coach can teach you healthy pain-free movement as well as to recognize and respond appropriately when you do feel pain.

Your Mindset Matters

Where do your decisions to move come from? Most of us choose to move based on where we are emotionally. If we are operating from a place of self judgement, anger, or insecurity, we are far more likely to ignore pain, push it too hard, and/or experience greater physical injury.

For example, the person who goes for a run because they think they are not good enough–they are not operating from a foundation of love, honor, or respect for their body. They are punishing themselves. Every step they take reinforces the mindset of “I don’t like myself.” They are more likely to not only ignore a painful condition, but to push even harder in spite of it. How will this feel over time? They are not moving away from self-loathing by working out. They are reinforcing it. Every painful step drives the self hate deeper. This person may look incredibly fit and healthy on the outside, but every time they look in the mirror, they see someone who is less than.

If you judge yourself harshly, you are less likely to listen to your body. Every movement or exercises decision you make from this place of self judgement reinforces a negative mindset and sets you up for potential pain and injury. These injuries are your body’s way of saying pay attention now! Injury will stall your progress directly in its tracks and drive you deeper into self-loathing! Even worse, it will affect how you recover from injury. You will be more likely to do too much too soon and fall into the injury cycle.

When we are operating from a foundation of loving, honoring, and respecting our body, we make healthy movement decisions around our health and well being.  Changing your mindset will make a big difference in your experience and your outcome.

Healthy Pain-Free Movement

Is there a pattern of self-judgement playing out in your fitness activities? Shift into a mindset of love, honor, and respect and use these simple questions to check in with your body throughout your workouts. Making a habit of tuning in this way will set you on a path to engaging in healthy movement that makes you look and feel fit and healthy on the outside as well as on the inside.

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