The most promising trend I see in the fitness industry today is a focus on absolute, pure human movement from two innovators – Erwan Le Corre and Ido Portal.
And it makes perfect sense because movement is what we train for, isn’t it? Sometimes we spend so much time training in the gym for a bigger bench or a bigger squat, that we forget the whole point of fitness in the first place.
For the weight loss crowd, you might spend hours out of your week doing HIIT training, bootcamp in the park, Zumba, whatever it may be. It’s easy to think that one day you’ll be fit. That you just have to keep training. Then one day you can finally do what you really want to do. But what is that exactly?
Allow me to provide you with my unsolicited opinion. I think that the whole point of fitness is to maintain a high quality of life by moving your body. That’s it.
But we have become so distant from this disposition that we think we have to allow ourselves time to move. We say, “OK, from 5 pm – 6 pm on Monday night I have my fitness class.” On either side of that it’s back to the daily grind. And so that during the rest of our day we spend time sitting in a car for a 5 minute drive or waiting for an elevator for only 2 or 3 floors.
There are two fitness philosophies I’d like to highlight in this post. Both of which have had profound effects on my own training and methodologies.
Proceed at your own risk, these methods may change the way you view fitness – for the better!
I first learned of Movnat during its early years in an article in Men’s Health magazine. If the article was the bait, then the video below got me hooked. Immediately, I was drunk on the Kool-aid. I had never been a runner, but after watching the movement of Erwan Le Corre I felt inspired like never before.
In fact, I credit Movnat with kick starting the sequence of events that got me to where I am today. And after a stress fracture in my foot it taught me to look inward and understand my movement rather than my ego.
If the video above reminds you of the types of activities you did as a kid playing in the backyard, then you’re on the right track. Movnat encourages natural movement. Now, this isn’t to say that strength training is out of the question. But instead of barbells and cable machines, the choice tools are logs, rocks, tree limbs, etc.
For me, a Movnat comparison rang true a couple of years ago. I was at a triathlon and as I watched the competitors cross the finish line I noticed an interview in progress. A local television studio was speaking with a race finisher and he was preaching the benefits of staying healthy and having fun in the race, etc, etc.
But what really caught my attention was what was happening in the background. There were a couple children playing on the playground. One was hanging from the monkey bars about a full body length off the ground. Swinging from arm to arm, these kids were just having a great time.
They were running, jumping, squatting, doing all the basic human movement patterns.
Quite a comparison to the triathletes, don’t you think?
Ido is a relative newcomer on my radar. He’s doing some really amazing things with regards to getting folks back to their natural movement patterns. But the reason it made this blog post is that after watching the interview below, I felt similar to the way I did after watching the Movnat video. Immediately afterwards, I took to the floor in my living room to play around with crawling.
What Ido has made popular is the concept of self dominance.
Think body weight exercises and manipulation. Think improvisation. Think playing around outside in the grass, jumping, crawling, all that good stuff. What really resonates with me is that this idea of self dominance is a prerequisite to traditional weight training. Put rather bluntly, what business do you have lifting a barbell if you can’t do a handstand?
You must master your own body before you can lift heavy things and put them back down again, claims Ido.
My only criticism is that yes, some of us actually like bench pressing! 🙂
Portal is definitely someone to watch in the coming years.
Where do you start?
Depending on your background, the two fitness philosophies may seem either extremely approachable or intimidating. If you’re leaning towards the latter, let’s break it down.
You’d be surprised at all the opportunities you have around you to move. Here are two examples:
1. Getting up
You may not spend much time thinking about how you get up from off the ground, but I guarantee you will when you are 65 years old. Moving your body from a seated position on the ground to standing is the simplest thing, but it’s often the first thing we lose as we grow old.
Not surprisingly, this is somewhat prevalent in Western societies. Why is that? Well, we have a lot of chairs. We sit all the time. Sometimes we have to (I’m seated on a plane as I write this) and other times we do because we are just plain lazy. But all this sitting works to lock up our hips, legs and lower back.
Let’s say that you are seated cross legged on the floor and want to get up. Hmmm, now you need that mobility in your hips, don’t you? It doesn’t take a wild imagination to dream up what people do when they have difficulty just standing up, does it? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not very active whatever it is.
Here’s something you can do and you don’t even need a gym membership. Next time you’re watching the tube (or waiting on Netflix to load) and a commercial break hits, get out of your chair and sit on the ground. Sit however you like. Now, get back up and stand.
And sit back down.
Now stand back up, but do so in a different way.
Maybe you rolled to the right the last time, try the left this time. Get creative and see how many different ways you can come up to standing.
Relax, I’m not talking a back squat here, I’m talking about the simple movement pattern we were all so found of as children and the one that many in the world depend on because there simply isn’t a chair available. I’m referring to the squat that we can call our portable chair.
A full range of motion squat is a wonderful thing. Olympic weightlifters pop in and out of this position with ease, but for many this can be a painful position. Many folks may have difficulty getting into a squat because of their knees. If you have underlying issues, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re healthy, here’s what I want you to do: Get up from the computer and try squatting down.
Here’s a good cue if you need it – squat through your knees.
What that means is that if you put your palms together with your elbows out to either side, then when you squat your elbows should pass right on the inside of your knees. In other words, your feet are not going to be hip width apart, this isn’t how people squat. We don’t fold up like an accordion.
If you’re trying this in your living room because your knees are A-OK and you still can’t make it down to a nice comfortable position with your feet flat, then I’d hazard a guess that the bottleneck is your ankle dorsiflexion.
This is another area where many of us in our 30’s will discover mobility issues. Sometimes the root cause is flexibility in your calves and sometimes it may be a structural issue. In my personal experience, my talus bone wasn’t moving freely. If it’s the former you better start working on your flexibility and if it’s the latter you may want to consider a physical therapist/chiropractor/doctor/rolfer, etc.
“But my knees are out over my toes, Ryan! I can’t do that!”
Everyone from my yoga instructor to my favorite fitness magazines are constantly reminding me to keep my knees behind my toes. And they’re right – to an extent.
We often hear this advice because for a greatly deconditioned society (read: the USA) putting the knees out over the toes may be a recipe for disaster. The anterior chain is lengthened and the patella often gets strained just trying to keep up. In fact, I recommend that only dedicated Olympic weightlifters or those with excellent mobility attempt full ROM squat with weight.
But body weight is a different story. If you’re a healthy individual then the human body has no problem squatting down.
When I lived on the cubicle farm I would take a 30 second break several times a day and pop-a-squat right there in my cube. It was an amazingly refreshing movement when I had been standing at a desk, or seated for that matter.
The changing face of fitness
To really appreciate the prevalence of fitness concepts like Ido and Movnat, you need to understand how things have changed over the past 60 years.
In the 50’s, people started to lift weights and exercise for the purpose of excelling at sports. In a nutshell, men would lift often and lift heavy. They used barbells and dumbbells in big compound movements and often lifted the weight over their head.
Then in the 70’s, bodybuilding really started to gain momentum in the USA and was the driving force behind weightlifting.
It was all about size. People trained to become statues. Flexibility and athleticism were secondary goals to quad development and a huge back. Consequently, isolation theory emerged – the idea that we had to train our body parts one at a time. Single plane machines of all shapes and sizes came onto the scene.
In the 90’s, it was Curves, pilates, yoga, marathons, the list goes on and on. On the one hand, this was great. Many different types of people were becoming interested in many different types of fitness. But on the other hand, many were easily duped into fitness programs that promised unrealistic results.
Product placement was also ubiquitous. Remember all those ab machines? In short, it was easy to equate fitness with some sort of product.
At the turn of the 21st century there was one constant theme that came up so often it was often misused. You guessed it: functional fitness.
But what’s interesting is that functional fitness is nothing new at all. In fact, this is what the strong guys of the 1950’s were doing. They ate reasonably well because many of the fast food chains and food preservatives of today hadn’t been created at that time and they didn’t have all the fancy weightlifting machines that forced their bodies to move in unnatural patterns.
But you know what people forgot? That all they really had to do to lose weight or increase their strength was two things:
(1) Make good decisions about what goes into your body
(2) and move a lot
That’s really all it boils down to.
So where does all this leave us?
When I look at the history of fitness outlined above, I feel as though we have been dabbling in different types of fitness and learning what works and what doesn’t. And today, it’s as though we’ve come full circle.
Methods like Movnat and Ido Portal are emerging as a means of returning to our roots. Collectively as humans, we are applying our knowledge of physiology and muscle building science and layering this over programs of pure movement.
We are learning that we can get strong, build mobility and protect ourselves from injury. But above all else, we can play in our bodies. We can do handstands. Crawl. Bench press. Jump. Swing from things.
So long as we remember that it’s all about the movement.
We have an interesting future ahead of us everyone.
By Ryan Wagner
Did you enjoy this post? I sure hope so. I write on a range of movement-fitness topics and just like you, I’m trying to be a better mover. Please consider signing up for my newsletter, I think you’ll enjoy more of my posts. You’ll find the sign-up at the upper right of this page :). And I don’t even try to sell you anything!
Athletic Human, Ankle Mobility Exercises
A tale of two fitness methods, Movnat and Ido Portal by Ryan Wagner