Five Simple Moves To Get Your Body Stronger, Fitter And More Mobile This Year

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Five Simple Moves To Get Your Body Stronger, Fitter And More Mobile This Year

Words by Mr Jamie Millar | Styling by Ms Otter Jezamin Hatchett

17 January 2022

You don’t merely watch an athlete compete, a dancer perform or a child play, writes Stanford University psychologist Dr Kelly McGonigal in her book The Joy Of Movement. You sense their actions via your mirror neuron system – part of our human instinct to try and understand others. And watching Mr Alex Sesto (@sestoflow), you want to move.

Helpfully, Sesto is a teacher of “movement”, a vague-sounding term that he admits can be hard to convey in words. The best way to understand it, he says, is to try it. Newcomers to the classes by his Flowstate Collective at various locations across London can’t believe the many, varied and novel ways in which they find themselves moving. In this restricted age, with so many of us sat if not locked down, it’s “liberating”.

Sesto was a promising young footballer at Premier League club Arsenal until derailed by injury. He played “soccer” and studied marketing in the US, then found himself behind a desk at a marketing agency back in the UK, “medicating” by organising events on the rave scene. After an epiphany (involving the hallucinogen DMT), he quit his job and qualified as a PT. Bored of simply lifting ever-heavier weights, he got into gymnastics then discovered cult movement teacher Mr Ido Portal, who became more prominent as a sort of Mr Miyagi to UFC fighter Mr Conor McGregor. Reaching Portal’s advanced level promised to keep Sesto busy – and engaged – for a long time.

Cranking out reps in Hiit classes, we don’t think about how well we’re moving, says Sesto. “It’s easy to beast people,” he says. “But it’s harder to teach them how to control their bodies and get stronger properly.” If you want to move better, or as well as him eventually, make these moves first.

Get mobile

The most generally overlooked element of training, according to Sesto, mobility is “active, controllable range of motion”. If you have range of motion but not control, you can get injured. And movement-wise, mobility “unlocks possibility”: working on it is key.

Sesto starts his day with 15 to 20 minutes of movement, much focused on his spine: an area greatly neglected by many training programmes. Set a timer for 90 seconds on, 60 seconds off, then stand with your feet hip distance apart, knees “soft” (slightly bent), arms in an X on your chest, hands on opposite shoulders. Twist as far as possible – and feels good – to one side then the other, leading with the head and moving from above the waist, slowly, smoothly and deliberately. Then flex (bend) and extend (arch), then rotate. When the 90 seconds are up, stand with arms by your side, breathe through your nose and tune into your body. Repeat for another two rounds, exploring more each time.

Log some hang (and squat) time

Flowstate Collective divides “movement” into three main areas. “Linear strength” consists of gymnastic bodyweight exercises – push-ups, pull-ups, handstands – performed in a more rigid structure of sets and reps. Sesto will typically dedicate an hour and a half a day to linear strength (usually working on a skill such as a handstand press-up or one-arm chin-up) or free-flowing movement. Or a combination thereof.

Not ready for handstands? Start with the two fundamentals. The first is hanging, both “passive” (just hanging) and “active” (lifting yourself up by pulling your shoulder blades down). Weak shoulders and tight chests are common symptoms of too much keyboard and bench pressing; hanging simultaneously stretches, strengthens and decompresses. At home, Sesto will hang from his doorframe pull-up bar whenever he makes tea.

The second is the squat, a traditional resting position that, adapted to chairs, many of us now find uncomfortable; the squat is also central to Sesto’s morning movement session and a lot of his advanced flows. So get comfortable whenever you can: while watching TV, in between hangs while brewing your tea. Hanging and squatting is “not the sexy, pretty work”, says Sesto, but is fundamental to hips and shoulders that function.

Take a 360 approach

Flowstate Collective’s second main area of movement is “nonlinear strength”. You might be phenomenally strong in the conventional gym movement patterns, but what happens if you move an inch or two to either side? Sport – and life – aren’t linear. Nonlinear strength is about loading joints in unusual patterns to build resiliency.

Imagine you’re at the centre of a compass with eight possible directions of travel. Set a timer for 60 seconds then, balancing on one leg, tap the other toe out as far as you can north, then south and so on, constantly thinking about how to stabilise your body; perform three rounds on each side. Another drill, that Sesto has given to a lot of older clients, is to set a timer for two minutes and see how many times and ways you can go from standing to having your back on the ground without using your hands.

Whatever the activity, your north star should be to always move with grace – “a very underrated quality” possessed of gymnasts and dancers, says Sesto. “It takes so much strength to be graceful.”

Do the locomotion

Flowstate Collective’s third main area of movement is “locomotion”, AKA crawling: something that, like hanging, came easily, instinctively, as a child, but much less so as an adult – in this case, because of the coordination required to move your upper and lower extremities at the same time. And there’s a veritable menagerie of different crawling styles to tame, from the “beast” (on all fours, legs bent, knees just off the ground) and “crab” (chest up and backside just off the ground, legs bent, hands behind you) to the sinuously slithering “low lizard” (nope, no idea how he does that, sorry).

Starting in your resting squat, imagine you’re at the centre of a compass again, but your feet are fixed: they can pivot but not leave the floor. Crawl out as far as you can to north then back, then another direction, then another. Some will be trickier than others, posing you a “physical riddle” to solve. And don’t just slap your hands down: be precise. If you want to up the difficulty, add a press-up at your end range, lowering one ear to the ground.

Break for snacks and play

During the first lockdown, Flowstate Collective introduced its community to “movement snacks”: micro-doses of activity (such as the compass drills above) to drop throughout the restricted day. As Sesto says, “You’re in this body all the time.” So why confine movement to a one-hour workout? Why not move whenever the mood takes? Explore? Be playful? (For this reason, Sesto is “pretty much always in tracksuit bottoms or shorts”.)

That’s “playful” not as in “completely unrestricted” or “wild”, but trying to improve in a less rigid, more experimental way: what Sesto calls “serious play”. To us hard-working adults, play can seem unproductive, frivolous. But play is how we developed as children, when we didn’t hesitate to do things that can intimidate now, like attempting a handstand. And we didn’t let a little thing like failure put us off – otherwise we’d never have learned to walk.

Play is about testing boundaries, seeing if you can go a bit beyond, grow: “We should never stop playing.”