All Work and No Play? Adding Unstructured Movement Exploration to Your Routine

We often emphasize the importance of having goals and identifying your motivation.

But that’s not to say that every workout has to be focused on a single-minded ambition. It’s possible to be too focused on particular outcomes and get fixated at the expense of enjoying your life.

Screw the Beach

So today, I’d like to encourage you to put the fun back in fitness for its own sake, and to rediscover what movement is all about.

Dedicate some of your workouts to simply enjoying your movement. This not only recharges and invigorates you, but can also directly improve your physical abilities.

  • Break out of the box of your usual habits.
  • Give your body a break from repetitive patterns.
  • Refresh your attitude and motivation.

Discovering new ways of playing with movements provides a boost of energy and interest that can keep you training when you might otherwise burn out.

I want to share with you a method of practicing new movements within your current level of strength and flexibility. This allows you to focus on the learning and the movement itself.

And it’s fun.


Cultivating the Right Attitude


Don’t Get Chained to Your Routine

It’s natural to have our eyes looking past today and into tomorrow.

After all, the reason you’re training is because you want to be better than you are right now. We all have goals for strength, agility, stamina, and aesthetics – all for a variety of reasons.

And we should have a purpose.

It keeps us on track and training when we otherwise might just plop down on the couch after a hard day’s work. It’s good to be focused on training and your goals, because it’s difficult to get anywhere without doing so.

But you have to be careful. How many times have you heard this?

Keep your eyes on the prize! Work hard! No pain, no gain!

You have enough people in the gym, on Facebook, and on TV shouting this at you. I don’t want to add yet another voice to this noise. Because pretty soon the voice in your head will get too used to all of this and without realizing it, your workouts (which used to be invigorating and fun) start turning into a chore.

Just one more thing you are supposed to do, instead of something you want to do.

I don’t want that happening to you.

Even if my goals are the best things in the world for me, and are exactly what I want and need, I don’t want to end up being trapped by them. I never want to feel burdened by my strict workout like a prisoner in heavy chains, and I don’t want that for you either.

Training should be fun! Not punishing or painful, and certainly not boring.

Yes, your exercise should be challenging (and, at times, it can be downright brutal), but overall, your training should be fun and healthy. Most of us have enough going on in our daily lives with jobs and family responsibilities that turning “working out” into more work is a really bad idea.

You don’t need more of that kind of stress.


Be Deliberate and Mindful


Ok so you probably shouldn’t take it this far and tattoo it on your arm, but seriously, focusing on the present is important, mmkay!

For the majority of people out there, a typical day probably involves a lot of sitting with a bit of walking around just to get from place to place.

If you’re lucky and do have a more physical job you’ll have more of a variety than that, but chances are that you still find yourself repeating the same movements every day.

If you do this long enough, your body can end up going on autopilot and you groove in the same motions day after day.

It’s just like driving the same route every morning, where you space out then suddenly realize you’ve just gone 5 miles without noticing! It’s the same way with your daily routine. Physically you’re moving, but in the same rut as yesterday.

Training and exercise, especially the way we teach in our programs, gets you out of that, which is great! But soon enough, after a short period of learning new exercises, you’ll be working on the same moves and skills, and practicing so that you can get better at them.

And of course that’s what you should be doing!

But you’ve got to keep things interesting so you can maintain deliberate focus in your training. Don’t let your workouts become so routine that you “check out” when you start your session.


Find a Workout That Works For You


Repetition Kills Creativity

Almost nobody likes to do the same thing everyday.

Whether it’s eating the same food or wearing the same clothes, we all need a change of pace. It’s why the average cubicle guy has a calendar counting down to his next two weeks off. He wants to get out of there!

First of all, changing things up is simply good for your mental health.

Just like in our daily lives, tedium and doing the same old thing day in and day out can wear you down. Since how you exercise is your choice, there’s no reason why you should let that happen to you and your training.

Working on new moves and skills that are different from what you usually work on provides you with an interesting break from the norm.

Getting out of your usual routine is invigorating, and often it’s like your mind wakes up out of a trance. It’s not uncommon to have an immediate spike in energy just from starting to practice something new.

And it’s better than a shot of caffeine! Hot damn!


A Good Workout Will Reinvigorate Your Body

Physically, there are many benefits from changing up your usual routine.

Training the same movements for weeks and months at a time has the potential to cause repetitive strain injuries. No matter how consistent and thorough you are in your warm ups and cool downs after training, if you are doing the same exercises again and again at high levels of effort, there’s going to be built up stresses.

The common cure is to take a break, but this doesn’t mean you need to take a total rest from exercise. Decreasing the intensity of your training and working on new things can transfer those forces to different areas, and is often just enough to allow your body to recover and heal.

You’ll also be improving your body awareness [the fancy term is proprioception, which is the moment-to-moment information transmitted from the senses about your body position and how you are moving through space].

The first few times you go through something new is a field day for your senses! The learning curve goes up steeply, until you get used to what’s going on.


Workouts That Don’t Allow For Mistakes Aren’t Doing You Any Favors

Finally, moving without fear of making mistakes improves your learning speed.

In an article we wrote for Performance Menu, we talked about how being constrained in your movement actually decreases your potential. If you get so caught up in moving perfectly when you are just starting something, you are holding yourself back.

Yes, you absolutely should be working hard on your form and “making it look pretty,” but if you could make it look awesome from the get go, it’s probably too easy for you.

When I coach people, I choose just a few things to cue them on, and as long as it’s not dangerous, I’ll go ahead and let them make some mistakes. You have to learn what it is to overcorrect and undercorrect before you find a happy medium.

If you’re not giving yourself the freedom to make mistakes, you’re not really going to progress.

So how do you find a workout that works for you?

  • Well, it’s not sticking workout cards in a hat and picking a random one to do each day. I still don’t get why people think that’s such a great idea.
  • And it’s certainly not “balancing” your program out with every exercise that you can think of for every body part. Random training and “buffet” style exercise  is a sure way to get nowhere fast.

You need another way to get out of your shut-in exercise box. I recommend stepping out into the bright sun of freedom and play.


How to Integrate Movement Exploration with Your Routine


So, what does unstructured movement look like? And how can you integrate it into your life? This video demonstrates what movement exploration and play are all about:



Work on a Challenge that’s Within Reach

The best way I know to work on integrating movement exploration involves training for goals that aren’t beyond your reach, and that you can learn within one workout session.

For example: A variety of pull-up variations on the rings may be a fun way of exploring movement for one person, but if you have trouble doing just a few regular chinups on a bar, that’s not going to fit this purpose for you at all.

The moves should be adaptable to your current level of strength and flexibility, and new enough (to you) to be challenging and interesting.

It’s more than just switching some exercises around or doing some curls facing a different direction!

You’ll want to be working on actions in which you need to concentrate to make them happen. Switch off the autopilot and take back control of the steering wheel!

Going through the motions is what most people do all the time. Let’s get out of that and start making things interesting again.

While the moves you work on have to be intense enough to be challenging, at the same time they can’t be so out of reach that you can’t even come close to doing them.

Creating frustration and failure is not fun and it’s not what we’re after.

It’s a fine balance and can take a little while to finesse, but once you do, it’s something that will stay with you and that you’ll benefit from for the rest of your life.


Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

I have a client right now who is an incredibly focused and hard worker.

He knew what he wanted when he came to me, and has his goals all laid out and wants to take every step he needs to get there. This is pretty much what every trainer wants to see in a dream client. He not only listens to what I have to say, he does what I say to do!

But there is one thing that is throwing him off right now.

Because I know that he’ll train hard and I don’t have to coddle or coax him to do the work, I’ve purposely added some “freestyle” movement practice for him at the end of our sessions.

I said “Okay, now I want you to take what we’ve been learning and just mess around with it. Have some fun.”

He looked like a deer caught in headlights.

 “You mean you aren’t going to tell me what to do?”

He’s been so focused and goal oriented about his training – and in the rest of his life outside the gym as well – that he simply froze when I told him he could play!

It’s as if he’d never given himself permission to let loose and explore what he could do.

But we’ll get him there ;)


Redefine “Progress”

“Progress” with anything fitness-related is often defined in terms of increased reps or sets, increased weight lifted, decreased numbers on the scale – or a slew of other arbitrary, numbers-based terms.

When it comes to movement exploration and learning to play again, we have to define progress differently.

Instead of looking at progress only in terms of how many reps you can crank out, think of progress as letting go of the numbers and moving for the sake of movement.

It’s an uncomfortable idea for most people to come to terms with, but you don’t always have to be working toward a particular goal.

Sometimes, it’s not about the results. It’s just about the experience.

It’s time to break free from arbitrary and harmful expectations, comparisons, and measures, so that we can begin to focus on living in the present moment.

Okay… I realize that may sound like a Buddhist mantra, but really, what I’m talking about is the difference between work and play.

All work and no play might make you very good at some skills, but over time, two things will happen:

  1. You’ll start to hate the process, as it wears you down.
  2. You’ll risk becoming a boring, uptight, and annoying person that nobody wants to hang out with.

Start to look at progress in a whole new light, and you’ll find you enjoy the process so much more.


Give Yourself Some Time to Play Each Day

I’ve always loved this quote from Dan Gable:

“If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it all.”

And that’s how I feel about exploring the way you can move.

There is no substitute for daily movement in novel and exhilarating ways.

Give yourself even just a few minutes each day to enjoy and immerse yourself in relearning the unconstrained agility you had as a child.


Do we really have to spell it out? Just go have fun!

Those that spend time around young kids have seen this – from learning to walk, jump, skip and spin around, children experience such joy in their movement!

And there’s no reason we can’t recapture that.

At the end of your workouts, give it a shot, play around with what your body can do. You’ve been working on your strength and flexibility, you don’t have to wait until you achieve your “prize goal” before you enjoy the benefits of what you’ve achieved so far.

In my next post I’ll give you specific ways to do this with some moves that I enjoy playing with. But you don’t have to wait on that to get going now.

Go ahead, it’s okay, you’ve got my blessing.


Remember Your Reasons for Training in the First Place


Please don’t get so caught up in what you think you need that you forget that you should be enjoying what you are doing in the first place.

Unless you are a professional athlete, this is not your job, and it’s not a life and death situation if you don’t get two more reps in or get that muscle-up by next week.

Adding in movement exploration and body awareness training to your workouts brings many mental and physical benefits of breaking free from your imposed regimen.

Movement exploration takes us away from external physical goals, such as strength and stamina, and back to our internal goals of the essential enjoyment of life with a body that allows you to do as much as you can whenever you want.

Keep sight of that and you’ll realize what being fit is really about.



Ever felt trapped by your routine?

Daily-Movement-PracticeSo many people have forgotten how to move for movement’s sake, and have never given themselves the opportunity to approach fitness with a fun and flexible attitude.

Movement Multivitamin is a course designed to teach you how to play again. If you feel trapped or held back by your fitness routine, Movement Multivitamin is the prescription you need.



Photos via massimo ankor,, cuellar

Ryan Hurst

GMB Program Director - Ryan has a passion for movement, playing with his kids and being outdoors. That's why you're more likely to find him running, lifting, jumping, balancing, and climbing than anywhere online.

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All Work and No Play? Adding Unstructured Movement Exploration to Your Routine by
  • John Belkewitch

    Love it!

    • Andy Fossett

      It loves you right back, John.

    • RyanHurst

      Thanks brutha. :)

  • Jean-Luc LC

    Awesome article, thank you so much! :)

    • RyanHurst

      Thanks for reading Jean-Luc.

  • Doug Emerson

    Good stuff! It’s taken me a long time to buy in, but you guys as well as some others have changed my outlook on fitness…Thanks so much for doing what you do!

    • Andy Fossett

      Thanks, Doug. We’re glad to help out.

  • Mike

    Great article and right on time. Although I can’t do a muscle up yet, I played around with some deep dips today to mimic the dip phase of it. I basically pretended that I’d made the transition from lower to upper, then performed a dip from there. It really gives you an idea of how much strength it takes and the muscles involved to eventually nail it. It was fun to play around with it – though hard as heck!

    • RyanHurst

      Ha! Yep. Something “play” sure can be tough.

  • Kieren Callaghan

    Love the movement … As always the insightful instruction right on the money !

    • RyanHurst

      Thanks Kieren.

  • Vlad

    I think the importance of this message becomes more evident as i grow older and wiser. When i was 20 or even 30, i would not have even considered putting fun into workout because i was too serious about training (and probably life in general).

    • RyanHurst

      Yep. I hear you there. But life’s too serious to be taken seriously.

  • Kevin Knox

    I’ve long thought you can tell the age of any animal by looking at how much energy it wastes. Puppies and kittens run for no reason. Dogs and cats run for good reason. Older animals run when provoked. Animals that can’t run aren’t much longer for this world.

    I’m rather like the guy in your story, Ryan. I like having a program and I take great joy from motoring through it. It’s been a very present experience to me to incrementally improve my rep counts, and graduating to the next progression is reward enough to keep me going and going. Now that I’m rehabbing 3 separate RSI injuries, though, I’m having to revisit my goals and methods. The little grey cells will be munching on this article for a while, and I look forward to your follow-ups.

    Thanks again.

    • RyanHurst

      Cheers Kevin. Just keep plugging away and remember that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. ;)