Taking shape: The Flexible Body

Roger Frampton's new book teaches us how to move again

(Image credit: Tom Leightonwww.photosbytomtom.com)

I signed with Select Models when I was 19, and at the time I was doing a lot of weight training, aspiring to achieve a figure like Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, to be a fashion model back then you needed to fit a size 38 jacket and 32 trouser, so I was told I had to 'trim down' if I wanted to be on the major catwalks.

All I'd ever known was walking into the gym and going straight to the weight section – I didn't go to the stretch section, because I used to think it was for girls. But when I stopped doing weights, I realised I had to find exercises I could do that weren't going to make me bigger and bulkier.

To stay strong without pushing anything that's heavier than you, you can use your own body; this realisation led me to discover gymnastics. Gymnasts are incredibly strong and bendy without lifting weights. When I was learning gymnastics there was a kids class right next to mine, and the coach often used the kids as examples to teach us adults how to perform movements such as bridges, because children are much more flexible than adults.

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(Image credit: Tom Leightonwww.photosbytomtom.com)

This was a light bulb moment for me. I realised I needed to go back to how I used to be able to move. At four years old, we're all flexible, but when we become adults, our muscles have become tight because our lives have revolved around sitting throughout school. In fact, even as young children we are strapped into prams to stop us from moving and constantly being kept still, but having over 300 joints and 800 muscles in our bodies, it's obvious to me the human is designed to move.

I decided to create the book The Flexible Body because, as a personal trainer, I developed my own methods of training, and everyone I trained said: "I've never thought about exercise like this before, this seems very different. Instead of aspiring to something outside of myself, I'm aspiring to the movement I was born with."

People often ask me how I know how humans are supposed to move, which is easy: I could get two year olds from three different parts of the world and put them in a room together and they'd all choose to sit on the floor and sit in a squat position. It's innate for humans to be able to sit in a squat as a resting position.

(Image credit: Tom Leightonwww.photosbytomtom.com)

Throughout your whole life, whether you're four or 90, you should be able to maintain the squat as a resting position. If you can't, there could be consequences, and consequences can come in the form of knee problems, back pain, ankle issues or eventually a hip replacement. So, instead of telling you to "correct your posture", instead I'd ask if you can sit in a squat as a resting position.

My book shows how you can make improving your body part of your everyday life. For example, when you're watching TV in the evening, instead of sitting on the sofa, you could sit cross-legged on the floor. You could also stretch at your desk at lunchtime. I've produced a video series of life hacks (available on my website), to run alongside the book and demonstrate how to incorporate stretches into everyday life, such as on the train, in the office or at home.

You don't need to push yourself hard and my approach is very slow and steady. Every exercise in the book should be done consciously, so you've always got to move slow enough that you're completely conscious of how you feel at any given time.

A lot of people set themselves New Year's resolutions in January, but I don't advocate short-term goals. Instead, make your goal something that's achievable in 5-10 years. For example, if you can't touch your toes, make it your goal to touch your toes. Within five years aim to put your palms on the floor, and in 10 years aim for your head to touch your knees with straight legs. It could be mastering the splits, the side split or a handstand but aim for something big that will really challenge you.

We're living longer then we ever have. Remember, if you're under the age of 50, you still have at least 40 years to achieve that goal. If you think about it that way, anything is possible.

ROGER FRAMPTON is a movement coach who has been an international model for over a decade, appearing in ad campaigns for brands including Ralph Lauren and Orlebar Brown. His TED Talk 'Why sitting down destroys you', has accumulated over 1.9 million views to date. The Flexible Body: Move Better Anywhere Anytime in 10 Minutes a Day is published by Pavilion Books. Available to buy on Amazon; roger.coach

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