Free Movement - Tree Climbing Shorts

Free movement is playful, practical, and personal. It’s a means of exploring the world at large. The ability to move with confidence and to adapt to any environment. Free movement comes from dedicated physical preparation and holding a child-like mindset of curiosity.  These Free Movement Snacks are meant to help you see the world in opportunities and begin to take movement out of the box.


Seizing the opportunity When the stressors of life build up throughout the day, eventually my focus and productivity start to break down. When this happens I'll take a 30-minute movement break to recharge my spirit and reclaim my focus. These breaks get me moving beyond the context of training and create a new normal for how I move day-to-day. And that's where free movement comes in making climbing trees well within the boundaries of my normal.

These tree climbing shorts happened during a recent movement break a few days ago. I just meant to go for a walk but if I see a climbing tree, I can't resist. The way I see it, what good is training if it doesn’t enable your freedom?

There are 2 more tree climbing shorts from this session on my YouTube channel here and here.  The intention is to help you introduce some free movement into your own practice.

Breaking down the physical skills Vertical jump:  A lot of coordination involved in the jump alone, but the real tricky part here is spotting the catch.  Keep your vision locked on where your hands will catch the branch. Take a test run and touch the target spot a few times.  Assess the integrity of the branch and whether you'll have adequate power.

Hanging & Brachiating: The ability to hold the hang takes a fair amount of grip and wrist strength. Side note: I feel a lot of carryover from working false grip on the rings. Coordinating the swing of the body requires the perfect blend of tension and relaxation. The body needs to be slightly rigid to move in one piece to create the momentum for movement. Relaxing the shoulders enough to fall into each backswing is key to finding the rhythm.

Swing Up:  The classic MovNat technique. This one will take some time, but feels so good when you nail the timing. You learn to love the scrapes that come along with the learning process.  One leg hooks over the branch, the straight leg swings down to produce the upward momentum to efficiently transition on top of the branch.

Balancing: This ain’t 2x4s or logs, the stakes are higher.  So take what the environment gives you.  Take the time to really establish and trust every foothold and hand hold  Feel the shifting of your weight with every movement. Learn to use your shoulders, knees, thighs, and back as points of support.  Always maintain a sense of control.  Move with intention. Breathe.

Slap Landing:  Perhaps a good rule of progression would be don’t climb a tree you wouldn’t be ok jumping out of. The slap landing increases that comfort zone.  This technique disperses the force of the landing across a greater area. The slap uses the ground reaction force in a rebound effect that brings you back upright and on your way.

Benefits Often times I get asked, "why would I ever do this?".  It's a tricky question because climbing trees is about the feeling.  Words simply don't do justice to the experience.  However, here are some of the perks that might get you to try.

  • Sneakiness. You’ll feel like a badass spy once you realize people walking by rarely notice you.  A lesson in restricted vision and low levels of mindfulness. Don't abuse your new super power.
  • An overt sense of human freedom.  People might see climbing trees (or life, in general) as inherently dangerous.  Yet when you're up there being mindful and making solid decisions you come to understand that you are in control - in the trees and in life.
  • Crazy tactile stimulation and novel proprioceptive input. Tree bark feels amazing the same way walking barefoot does. Your sensory system lights up and craves more…pretty soon you’re groping every tree in sight.  As a result your kinesthetic intelligence increases.  Read: climbing trees makes you smarter.
  • Diverse loading patterns and cognitive problem solving. Trees provide a unique context to which we must adapt. As a result, the body experiences unique joint positions and diverse forces. Moreover, our minds are allowed to do what they do best, problem-solve.
  • Ridiculous amounts of fun. If I could only give one reason, it would be this.

Get started Start reasonably. Do NOT go out to the park with the intention of climbing trees like when you were 8 if you have not done so since then.

DO go to you nearest natural area and OBSERVE. Survey the area and take an inventory of the possible opportunities.

If you’re just getting started spend a lot of time hanging.  Find a limb, spend a minute or two hanging and then move on to others. Build your conditioning with lots of attempts and lots of rest in between.

Now, if you’ve got some experience spend some time at one tree.  Figure out a route and practice moving through it with greater efficiency.

Take time to sit & relax. Take in the view. Let the natural curvature of the tree cradle you.  This is life.