Friends, I am forever trying to work myself out of a job. I do that by asking what skills someone could learn to make a personal trainer or coach redundant. You might suppose that I would want to avoid those roads at all costs. But they’re the most interesting and rewarding ones—both for myself and the people we work with. Those roads begin internally.
Last week, I talked about movement and technique. Today, I’m going to go a layer deeper and talk about how to get more out of these things. Ultimately, we’re talking about a type of awareness integral to the full suite of physical intelligence.
Physical intelligence is an important phrase to me. It lets us know that cognition, our cultural darling, is just one part of what true intelligence is. If you want to be smart—beyond standard ideas of academics, work, money, and status, you have to tap into what your body can bring to the table. This isn’t a one or the other thing. It’s an “all of the things” thing. Using your full self allows you to process and experience life more completely.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect over the past year and a half. One of the things I’ve thought about a lot is communication and learning. We are polarized around so much. We want to have the correct answer to everything. Yet, we know in our hearts that we simply can’t be right all the time. The challenge is that we struggle to be open and brave enough to be wrong. To allow ourselves to feel and learn from the mistakes we’ve made and then do better. So, how do we get there?
I believe that the most foundational skill in learning hard things is self-regulation. It’s what they teach my son at kindergarten. It’s what people practice through meditation or therapy. It’s what we need most in moments of high emotions of stress. Self-regulation is the ability to return to baseline. To shrug off negative emotions and reflex responses. To demonstrate, as they say, true grit.
Self-regulation is what allows you to quiet the pounding of your heart and road raging, all-caps pounding, white-hot screaming, inconsolable, blood pressure ratcheting part of your DNA. It’s also what keeps you from shrinking away and withdrawing from the work that you truly need to do. Self-regulation is not about ignoring emotions—or our physical reactions to them; it’s about meeting them as they are. Making gold out of coal. Diamonds out of rhubarb. I don’t know; internal geology is complicated.
What does all of this have to do with squats and rows? The answer is a pair of five-dollar words: proprioception and interoception. These are the link between the skills of movement to the skills of self-regulation. Proprioception describes our sense of where our body is in space. Interoception describes our ability to feel what is going on inside. These senses are at the core of physical intelligence. The reason is simple: if you can’t feel what’s going on, everything else is guesswork. That’s why helping people cultivate their awareness is one of our priorities at Bang.
Data is not the destination
My Fitness Pal is a super-popular app. It allows people to track their calories and macros with a fairly high degree of precision (assuming that they’re weighing and measuring everything properly). A few years ago, the app had a server issue that took it offline for a day. People flipped their wigs. They didn’t know what to eat—or when. I was one of them. I just happened to be following a hyper-structured nutrition plan at the time. So, when the app wouldn’t boot up, I recognized the mild panic I felt as not particularly helpful.
As tech has progressed, we’ve gained more and more opportunities to quantify our lives. From barbell velocity to heart rate variability. The goal here, always, is to gain insight into what’s working for us and to optimize it. In fact, the oldest piece of tech out there might be the mirror. We use mirrors to check our positioning and technique, among other things. Like all of the other examples, this is immensely helpful when our internal sense of what’s going on is markedly different from the data. Ultimately, these tools help us calibrate.
If you think you’re standing straight but are leaning forward like you’re facing a stiff wind, a mirror is a gift. If you think you’re eating 2,000 calories a day but it’s more like 2,500, tracking is quite helpful. But once you’ve learned from these lessons, the returns diminish pretty rapidly. And if you begin to consult tech before asking yourself what you feel, the returns reverse and the whole thing becomes counterproductive.
We begin with foundational techniques at Bang because calibration is so important to the process of developing awareness. Instead of tech, our human™ coaches help position you. We begin with relatively structured exercise selection and coaching because it serves as your baseline. Over time, we leverage it to help you hone your senses of what’s working and what’s not. I don’t just mean this in a biomechanical sense either. It’s about your energy. Your intuition. Your emotions. All are contextualized and organized through the execution of challenging physical movement.
If you want to exercise effectively for as long as possible, you can’t get blindsided by pain, chronic under-recovery, or not getting the most out of your time. You need to be able to move with a clear sense of what you’ve got in the tank on a given day and how your body is responding to exercise in a live and dynamic sense. Tech can help but awareness must lead the charge here.
Knee doesn’t feel quite right during a run? Can you adjust your stride to fix that? Exercise loading or intensity feels daunting? Can you adjust things to make your workout energizing and effective? In a funk? How do you adjust things to level up your mood and cognitive processing?
All of these are incredibly important decisions that contribute to your longevity and physical experience. They don’t rely completely on one aspect or another—but take in the full sensory, cognitive, and emotional experience as the complex, fascinating, and interrelated system it is. All while keeping you healthy and engaged.
Awareness isn’t everything but everything begins with awareness.