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A Beginners Guide To Restorative Arts

Everybody needs a little place they can go to collect their thoughts and get themselves together from time to time. When it comes specifically to fitness, you need not venture off any further than Restorative Arts training. It’s probably the greatest escape you’ll ever come across.

Evidenced by the word “restorative,” you can bet your bottom dollar that this type of training helps restore your function in more ways than one. But before you learn about it’s benefits, you have to start at the beginning.

It will then all make more sense to you. And once you DO learn about it, you will likely want to incorporate this type of training into your regimen the next time you step foot into a gym!

History of Restorative Arts

Do you realize that every single thing you do in the gym can be traced back to history? Well, it can. And back in history, there was no screwing around. People were dedicated, motivated and they had purpose.

Workouts were called practice sessions and they often spanned over two hours in duration. There were no egos, no loud-mouths, no troublemakers and no hotshots.

Everyone had each other’s back and they would far exceed themselves to insure everyone had a safe and solid training experience.

This is because during the Golden Era of Fitness, which was roughly between the years of 1880 and 1920, people didn’t have much of a choice.

Manual labor was the norm in households and you could be here one minute and sent off to war to fight for your country the next.

You best be in shape when this time came around or you would be asked to get in shape fast. And the latter wouldn’t be nearly as easy if you had just prepped yourself in the first place.

Needless to say, people took their health and fitness very seriously, and it became a daily mission to stay in shape, both mentally and physically. Their goal was not only to be strong, but to have good posture, balance, flexibility, agility and be free of pain.

The training was all restorative in nature, which means it helped restore the function of the body from head to toe. Although, in classical times, they didn’t really look at it that way. It was all just practice to them. 

Smooth Moves

Back in history, there was little attention paid to how much weight you can lift overhead. Sure, that can define you as a strong man or woman, but will it get you to jump into a foxhole any faster? Probably not.

The goal was to be as agile as possible, while still having a high level of raw strength. One of the main things utilized to achieve this with the body was just that—the body. It was used in many forms of exercises on the ground and off the ground.

Of the two forms, off-the-ground training was probably the most popular. As the name leads you to believe, this consisted of drills performed with your body suspended off the ground by an apparatus.

A lot of the drills performed were based off gymnastics and everything from pummel horses to rings to parallel bars to pull-up bars to stall bars were utilized. This style of training even got into the clinical arena where it was called “medical gymnastics.”

Patients who were laid up for a while got sent to various fitness facilities that had gymnastics equipment to get stronger. You can say this was actually the start of physical therapy.

The benefits of on-the-ground and off-the-ground training are hard to ignore. First of all, both forms teach you how to move your body really well. And in order to throw around barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and sleds, you have to move well. If you can’t, then you have no business reaching for added resistance. Plus, you open yourself up for injury.

From the ground, all the basics were well represented, such as push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats and any number of crawling variations.

All of these moves led to stronger upper bodies, lower bodies and abdominal areas. But once you got suspended, that’s when the real action started!

Any time you hang from a bar, your shoulders get a really nice stretch that helps improve your mobility and range of motion. If you hang from a bar and do exercises like pull-ups, pikes, windshield wipers and skin-the-cats, your core gets worked harder than any ab crunch machine can even think about.

At the end of the day, the combination of on-the-ground and off-the-ground training can turn your body into a solid, stable, block of iron with perfectly good posture and a strong set of shoulders.

Not only does this make you a complete package, but it can also lend handy to injury prevention and correction—that’s where the restorative aspect comes to the table.

Tools Utilized

When you are addressing someone who is a bit of a jerk and starved for attention, the word “tool” often comes to mind. But, a tool can also be a good thing when used in refence to Restorative Arts.

Alongside bodyweight and gymnastics drills were classical training tools like Indian clubs, health wands, medicine balls and light dumbbells. Collectively, these actually came to be known as the Four Horsemen of physical fitness.

If you happen to be a wrestling historian, you might also know that Ric Flair named his stable of henchmen the Four Horsemen back in the early 80s. They were quite entertaining too!

The actual tools known as the Four Horsemen were the trademark of restoring the function of the body. And it was all based around the movement patterns performed with said tools.

Nothing was linear. When you hear the word “linear,” think straight line. A biceps curl, for example, is a linear pattern. Your elbow bends and you move a dumbbell toward your body. But it is in a straight, linear movement.

Exercises like curls are great to build a single muscle, but that WAS not and IS not the intent of using classical training tools in your practice. The idea here is to move them in circular, spiral and figure-eight patterns. That’s where the real magic happens.

When you perform movements like this, it’s not the size that matters. The load is actually secondary. You can get a lot of benefit from a mere 1-lb. set of Indian clubs. It’s the graceful, flowing motion that brings the most benefit to the body. More specifically, to the joints.

You see, when you move through multiple planes in a circular-type pattern, you bring a lot of oxygenated blood flow to your joints. More than you would with any other exercise performed with a linear pattern.

This, in turn, strengthens the joint, promotes faster healing and improves range of motion better than anything else on the gym floor. Indian clubs, dumbbells and medicine balls were all used in these non-linear ways, and that’s what gave them their fire power.

The health wand is basically a wooden dowel that is 1” in diameter and 5’ long. It is moved again in patterns that resemble circles, spirals and figure-eights, and it’s also held on to while doing various types of stretches with the body.

All of these tools, along with the gymnastics drills, were incorporated into workouts to give the body the best chance of becoming as fit as possible. And if you ever seen historical pictures of military troops, college sports teams or high school PE students, you can clearly see that they got the job done.

And just for the record, here’s an interesting story about the medicine ball. Have you ever wondered where it got its name from? Well, you can thank the great historical medicine man himself, Hippocrates.

In his run as a physician, Hippocrates needed to find a way to strengthen patients back to health. This was at a time when medical gymnastics wasn’t even on the radar screen. So he needed to get creative.

He ended up sowing together animal bladders and stuffing them with skins, pebbles and other substrates that carried weight with them. Once he felt a patient was “able,” he’d have them toss this object around to regain strength in the upper body and core.

Turn the clocks forward and you now have a perfectly round, hard-rubber, weighted ball known as the “medicine” ball. So think about that the next time you’re in the gym and want to bedazzle the other participants in your ab/booty class.

The Six Postures

Another piece of the restorative puzzle hinges around the six postures of the body. Chances are you either never heard of this or you did, but never really thought about it. Well, it’s time for a history lesson, again.

People would train in six different positions, or postures, of the body. They consist of vertical, horizontal, flexion, extension, brachiation and inversion. An exercise in the vertical posture would be anything from a standing position, such as a dumbbell press, lateral raise, side bend or lunge.

Anything from a lying position on the stomach or back would be in the horizontal posture, such as a plank, push-up, bicycle crunch or superman.

Flexion meant it involved flexion of the spine. A basic standing forward bend would be an example of this or a full sit-up while lying on your back. And yes, some movements can be counted as more than one posture. A sit-up, for example is horizontal and flexion at the same time.

Extension would be the opposite of flexion. These drills involve arching your back and decreasing the distance between your head and butt. A standing backbend or full wheel yoga pose would be a good example of an exercise in extension.

Brachiation is a term used in reference to monkeys. Technically it means moving from branch to branch while hanging from them. This would be equivalent to moving from one rung to another on a set of monkey bars if you are a human.

But, in reality, any exercise that involves hanging from a bar or other suspended object is known as brachiation. A basic pull-up would be a good example of this. Or any variation of an ab exercise while hanging.

Inversion involves any drill where you are upside down or inverted. This is probably one of the least utilized aspects of training today, but by far one of the most beneficial. It helps elongate the spine, create space in joints and improve circulation.

In history, handstands were popular inverted exercises, as well as doing turns on parallel bars and rings.

Nowadays, one of the easiest ways to do inversion is by getting an inversion table or strapping a pair of gravity boots to your lower legs and hanging upside down from a pull-up bar.

And here’s one more interesting story about our boy Hippocrates. It was also said that he is one of the inventors of inversion therapy. Rumor has it that he would tie grapevines to patient’s lower legs and hang them from tree branches to relieve tension in the spine.

That might sound a bit hardcore but consider the provisions he had to work with back then. It’s actually pretty ingenious if you really think about it.

Do you remember the gymnastics training from above? Well, now you can clearly see how the six postures of the body were fully integrated.

Final Words of Wisdom

Now that you have a better understanding of Restorative Arts and Classical Fitness, it is in your best interest to treat your workouts differently. Think outside the box, get yourself involved with some old-school training tools and also incorporate your bodyweight into the mix.

At the very least, aspire to perform exercises in all six postures of the body in every training session you do. This is how you change the game and can restore your function better than any training modality.

The end result is you will excel at all the stuff you do outside the gym like tennis, golf, rock climbing, swimming, biking, hiking and running. Not to mention, you will be straighter, fitter and more fine-tuned then you’ve ever thought possible.

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